12 Facts About Woodstock For Its 50th Anniversary

Tucker Ransom, Getty Images
Tucker Ransom, Getty Images

From August 15-18, 1969, an estimated 400,000 spectators attended Woodstock, a music event held in Bethel, New York, that quickly became a defining moment in the counter-cultural movement of the era. Nearly three dozen acts performed over the course of four days, ranging from the Grateful Dead to The Who to Jimi Hendrix, who closed out the show. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of this milestone in music history, we're looking at some of the things about the festival you might have missed.

1. Woodstock was banned from its original site because of toilets.

Attendees at Woodstock pose while sitting inside a car trunk
Three Lions/Getty Images

Woodstock was conceived in early 1969 by a group of twenty-somethings: Artie Kornfeld, Michael Lang, Joel Rosenman, and John Roberts. In January of that year, the four men—Kornfeld and Lang as music industry vets and Rosenman and Roberts as venture capitalists who provided the financial backing— formed the company Woodstock Ventures, named for the New York town that Kornfeld and Lang were scouting to build a recording studio in. Woodstock had long been known as an artists' retreat about two hours north of New York City, and even has its own "Artists Cemetery" for a variety of creative types.

The original site of the festival was intended to be at Howard Mills Industrial Park in Wallkill, near Middletown, New York. After negotiations with landowners, the four believed they had found a solution. But Wallkill residents shot the idea down, fearing that an influx of visitors—possibly under the influence of alcohol or drugs—would be potentially problematic. By insisting the concert's portable toilets weren't up to code and refusing to grant a permit, Wallkill effectively banned Woodstock from taking place there just a month before its scheduled August 15 start date.

2. Woodstock was saved by a farmer.

When Wallkill fell through, promoters turned to Bethel, New York, a small town with just 2366 residents where a farmer named Max Yasgur owned a 600-acre dairy farm. As in Wallkill, Bethel residents were not terribly enthusiastic about hosting a concert that would attract a considerable crowd. But Yasgur didn't share their apprehensions. Even though he was middle-aged, blue-collar, and as far from a "hippie" as he could be, he respected the desire of concert-goers to share in a communal experience and allowed organizers the use of his property for a fee of $50,000. He even came out at one point to address the crowd (above), congratulating them on the assembly. It was said he received as loud an ovation as Jimi Hendrix.

3. Woodstock wasn't meant to be a free concert.

The crowd at Woodstock is pictured
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Mounting Woodstock was not intended to be an altruistic venture. Kornfeld, Rosenman, Roberts, and Lang paid for talent, production costs, Yasgur's site, and incurred other expenses in the hope of profiting from ticket sales. One day's admission was $7; attending all three (which stretched into early Monday morning due to rain and technical delays) was $18. But as people began to show up to Bethel days before the scheduled start, the infrastructure was still incomplete. Fences still needed to be erected and ticket booths set up. With no practical way of turning away crowds, the partners decided to make it a free event for people who had not purchased one of the 100,000 tickets that had been pre-sold. Of the 400,000 who ultimately attended, 300,000 were never charged an admission fee. (The total number of attendees would have likely been more if not for traffic back-ups. Some people walked miles to the site.)

After expenses, the partners ran into a deficit. Two of them—Kornfeld and Lang—sold their share in Woodstock Ventures, the company they had formed to put on the concert. Roberts and Rosenman eventually saw a modest profit after other income sources, like the 1970 concert film Woodstock, were tallied.

4. Many cows were in attendance.

Attendees at Woodstock sit near their car
Three Lions/Getty Images

Yasgur's farm was a functioning site of business, which meant that the incoming crowds were going to be displacing the cattle usually present on site. His workers tried to corral them into a fenced area, but so many people ran over the barrier and set up campgrounds that they decided to just let the cows wander and mingle with attendees. One of Yasgur's employees, George Peavey, told United Press International that the cows and music fans "seem to be getting along together fine."

5. Jimi Hendrix got $18,000 to perform.

Booking big-name acts didn't come cheap. Jimi Hendrix was Woodstock's highest-paid performer, earning $18,000 (roughly $125,000 in 2019 dollars, accounting for inflation). Creedence Clearwater Revival, the first act booked, received $10,000. The Who received $6250 (although another report has them receiving $11,200) and Joe Cocker made a relatively paltry $1375. Sha Na Na got $750, while Quill was the most economic booking at $375.

6. Woodstock's musical acts needed to be helicoptered in.

Musician John Sebastian performs at Woodstock in 1969
Tullio Saba, Flickr // Public Domain

The traffic leading into the event was so awful that Sweetwater, which was due to open the festival, didn't make their scheduled start. (Richie Havens went on instead.) The band was airlifted to the grounds by helicopter so they could go on second. A number of other performers also traveled by air to circumvent the traffic issues.

7. Woodstock's crowd was actually very well-behaved.

Attendees at Woodstock are pictured
Three Lions/Getty Images

Despite concerns from both Wallkill and Bethel over the anticipated misbehavior of attendees, virtually no reports of violence ever came out of the festival. When those in attendance used telephones to place long-distance calls back to home, local switchboard operators were amazed that all of them said "thank you." Lou Yank, the chief of police in nearby Monticello, declared them "the most courteous, considerate, and well-behaved group of kids I have ever been in contact with in my 24 years of police work." The only real impropriety came as a result of concession food shortages, driving some attendees to loot nearby farmland for corn and produce.

While it's possible law enforcement could have arrested many, many people for marijuana possession, they opted not to. As one state police sergeant said, there "wouldn't be enough space in Sullivan County, or the next three counties, to put them in."

8. Even the ice had acid in it.

Attendees at Woodstock in 1969 are pictured
Paille, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Woodstock has a well-earned reputation for being a trip in more ways than one. Drug use was pervasive and seemingly inescapable. In 2009, the Who's John Entwistle told Billboard that he decided to drink a bourbon and Coke and realized that someone had spiked the ice with acid. The use of psychedelic drugs was estimated to have resulted in 25 "freak-outs" every hour the first night of the festival; emergency medical staff and members of a commune known as the Hog Farm sat with attendees until the drugs wore off.

9. The Who's set was crashed by Abbie Hoffman.

Performing on day two of the festival, British rock band the Who experienced an interruption when political activist Abbie Hoffman (who had co-founded the Youth International Party the previous year to protest the Vietnam War) rushed on stage to protest the imprisonment of White Panther Party leader John Sinclair. Pete Townshend swung at Hoffman with his guitar and ushered him off-stage. It was probably worth the hassle, as Townshend later said he thought their performance boosted sales of their Tommy album.

10. There were public service announcements between each act.

In an era before cell phones, trying to communicate with friends in a sea of humanity was challenging. To try and facilitate important messages, a member of the production staff named Edward "Chip" Monck (seriously) took to the microphone to deliver announcements, alerting the crowd to unattended children or to notify people where to find help. "Kenny Irwin, please go to the information booth for your insulin," he said. "Paul Andrews, Mike needs his pills and will meet you where he did yesterday." In the above video, you can also hear someone—possibly Monck—warning the crowd about some potentially harmful "brown acid" making the rounds.

11. The original Woodstock site is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

A plaque stands at the original site of Woodstock in Bethel, New York
Mario Tama, Getty Images

Cementing its status as a historic site, the concert area was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2017. The farm is now known as the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. It contains a campus, museum, and 15,000-seat amphitheater. The site will be host to a number of 50th anniversary events, including performances by Ringo Starr and original Woodstock acts Arlo Guthrie and Carlos Santana the weekend of August 16, 17, and 18, 2019.

12. Even the garbage had a message.

People clean up the garbage left behind at Woodstock in 1969
Three Lions/Getty Images

Woodstock's pacifist vibe extended to the extensive clean-up required after the crowds began to dissipate following Hendrix's closing performance on Monday, August 18, 1969. By then the audience had dwindled to just 25,000 or so. When Hendrix was finished, a crew set about picking up the considerable garbage left behind. Surveying the concert site in a helicopter, co-promoter Michael Lang noticed that workers had started to shovel the trash in formation. A peace symbol appeared, made up of the litter left behind.

David Hasselhoff's Strange Connection to the Fall of the Berlin Wall

re:publica, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
re:publica, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Americans might know David Hasselhoff best as the star of pre-peak television series Knight Rider and Baywatch. But in Germany, he’s been a popular singing attraction since 1985, when his album Night Rocker became a sensation. In June 1989 Hasselhoff released Looking for Freedom, an album with a title track that seemed to speak directly to citizens in European countries seeking democracy. That track had been playing since 1988 in anticipation of the album’s release.

On November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. Was it coincidence, or did Hasselhoff help incite a revolution?

In a new interview with Time, Hasselhoff takes no credit for that seismic change in Germany, despite the fact that some of the actor's fans have knitted the two memories—his popularity and the dissolution of the wall—together, leading some to believe he was partly responsible. Some of the same people who began chipping away at the wall dividing East and West Germany had been humming the song for months prior. Some have even told Hasselhoff his music helped inspire change. Others held up signs thanking him for the fall of the wall.

“You’re the man who sings of freedom,” a woman once told Hasselhoff, before asking for his autograph.

The wall, of course, came down rather abruptly, shortly after a premature announcement that East Germans could take advantage of relaxed travel restrictions, and Hasselhoff demurs when asked if he played a role. “I never ever said I had anything to do with bringing down the wall,” he told Time. “I never ever said those words ... There was the guy from Knight Rider singing a song about freedom. Knight Rider was sacred to everyone and hopefully we’ll bring it back as a movie. I was just in the right place at the right time with the right song. I was just a man who sang a song about freedom.”

After the wall fell, Hasselhoff was invited to sing on a crane hovering over its remains on New Year’s Eve in 1989, which you can witness in the video above. Hasselhoff recently returned to Berlin for another series of concerts to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the wall being torn down.

[h/t Time]

10 Fascinating Facts About INXS

INXS's Michael Hutchence in Mystify: Michael Hutchence (2019).
INXS's Michael Hutchence in Mystify: Michael Hutchence (2019).
Dogwoof

Over the course of the 1980s, INXS went from fledgling Australian pub rockers to global superstars. Although frontman Michael Hutchence died in 1997, and the band finally called it quits in 2012, INXS remains hugely popular. There’s a widescreen 4K Ultra HD restoration of the band’s 1991 concert film Live Baby Live coming to theaters, as well as a new documentary, Mystify: Michael Hutchence. In celebration of this INXS resurgence, here are 10 facts about the band.

1. INXS was a band of brothers (and three other guys).

Like the Bee Gees, who also formed in Australia, INXS featured three brothers: Andrew (keyboards), Jon (drums), and Tim (guitar) Farriss. Rounding out the sextet were Garry Gary Beers on bass, Kirk Pengilly on guitar and saxophone, and of course, Michael Hutchence on lead vocals.

2. Midnight Oil’s manager came up with the band's name.

The group was known as The Farriss Brothers (and for a little while, The Vegetables) before changing its name to the much cooler INXS. That suggestion was made by Gary Morris, manager of Aussie rock heroes Midnight Oil. Morris was inspired by IXL, a brand of jam, and the English new wave band XTC, who’d recently toured Australia. Although INXS is read as “in excess,” Morris wanted the band to market themselves as “inaccessible,” the adjective that seems to have inspired the moniker.

3. INXS was almost a Christian band.

Not every idea Gary Morris had was a good one. During his brief stint as INXS’s manager, he tried to sell the boys on hardcore Christianity, which he’d embraced after attending a Billy Graham crusade. “He wanted us to write songs about Christ and to promote a drug-and-alcohol-free and a no-sex-before-marriage proper Christian lifestyle,” bassist Garry Beers wrote in the band’s official autobiography. These were the guys who would later write “Devil Inside” and “Original Sin”—they didn’t go for it.

4. They didn’t go global until their third album.

INXS were strictly an Aussie phenomenon until their third album, 1982’s Shabooh Shoobah. It gave the group their first entries on the Billboard Hot 100—"The One Thing" and "Don’t Change"—and reached #46 on the Billboard 200. It also became INXS’s first Top 5 album at home in Australia.

5. Nile Rodgers changed a key lyric in the band’s first #1 hit.

INXS recorded their fourth studio album, 1983’s The Swing, with super-producer and former Chic bandleader Nile Rodgers in New York City. Rodgers played a key role in shaping “Original Sin,” which later reached #58 in America and became INXS’s first #1 single in Australia. First, he asked his buddy Daryl Hall to sing backup on the chorus. Then he suggested Hutchence change the line “dream on, white boy/dream on, white girl” to “dream on, black boy/dream on, white girl.”

“I come from an interracial couple,” Rodgers said. “Psychologically that makes it a bigger statement. Even when I rang up Daryl Hall to sing on it his manager thought it was too controversial. But I think the record would have been bigger had I not talked them into changing the lyrics.”

6. The head of Atlantic Records thought Kick was trash.

When INXS first played their sixth album, 1987’s Kick, for Atlantic Records president Doug Morris, the response was less than encouraging. “He put his feet up on the desk and closed his eyes from the minute the record went on to the minute it finished,” said the band’s longtime manager Chris Murphy in 2017. “When it stopped, he said, ‘I’ll give you $1 million to go and record another album. This is not happening, this is sh*t.’” Morris couldn’t have been more wrong. Kick reached #3 on the Billboard 200 and spawned four Top 10 hits, including the #1 smash “Need You Tonight.”

7. Andrew Farriss annoyed a cab driver while writing the band’s biggest U.S. hit.

INXS was nearly done with Kick when producer Chris Thomas decided they still needed a few more songs for the album. He convinced Andrew Farriss to meet up with Hutchence in Hong Kong, where the singer had an apartment, and write some new material. While waiting for a cab to the Sydney airport, Farriss came up with a tasty guitar riff. He rushed to record a demo, complete with drum machine, while his frustrated cab driver looked through the window.

After 40 minutes of tinkering, Farriss got into the car, made his flight, and presented Hutchence with the tape. The frontman loved the track and dashed off some lusty lyrics in minutes. They called the song “Need You Tonight,” and in January 1988, it became INXS’s first and only #1 song in America.

8. There was some speculation over the cause of Michael Hutchence’s death.

Michael Hutchence of INXS in 'Mystify: Michael Hutchence' (2019)
Dogwoof

Hutchence was found dead on November 22, 1997, at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Double Bay, Sydney. The coroner’s explanation was suicide by hanging. At the time, Hutchence was reportedly in a depressed state due to several factors, including an ongoing custody dispute between Paula Yates, the mother of his daughter, and Yates's ex-husband, rocker and Live Aid organizer Bob Geldof. Yates later questioned the official cause of death and suggested Hutchence had died from autoerotic asphyxiation. Further complicating matters, another of Hutchence’s exes, model Helena Christensen, reveals in the 2019 documentary Mystify: Michael Hutchence that the singer suffered wild mood swings as a result of brain damage he suffered when a cab driver punched him outside a Copenhagen restaurant in 1995.

9. INXS tried to carry on with several other lead singers.

After Hutchence’s death, INXS took about a year off before returning to the stage. They did so in November 1998 with Jimmy Barnes of the group Cold Chisel on lead vocals. The following year, they enlisted singers Terence Trent D’Arby and Russell Hitchcock for a concert celebrating the opening of Stadium Australia. From 2000 to 2003, Jon Stevens of the band Noiseworks took the helm, and in 2005, the group used the reality series Rock Star: INXS to audition a new frontman. The winner, Canadian singer-songwriter J.D. Fortune, toured with the band from 2005 to 2011. The last man to grab the microphone was Northern Irish singer-songwriter Ciaran Gribbin, who joined in late 2011 and stayed on until INXS’s final show in November 2012.

10. For their final show, INXS opened for Matchbox Twenty.

In November 2012, during the final show of a tour supporting American pop rockers Matchbox Twenty, INXS announced they were calling it quits after 35 years. It may have seemed like a random and non-glamorous finale to their career, but the show was in Perth, Australia, where the band had lived in the late 1970s. INXS ended the concert with one of their most beloved singles, “Don’t Change,” with Matchbox Twenty frontman Rob Thomas helping out on vocals.

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