Not much has changed in Bethel in the last 50 years. Life is slow. The same old buildings and farms dot the land along Route 17B, but in 1969, a quiet road was anything but.
The Woodstock Festival rode into town on the seat of its pants. You see, it was never supposed to be there. It was always meant for Wallkill, 45 miles to the east, but after everybody and their brother opposed it, it left the festival’s promoters scrambling.
With no more than two weeks to spare, the town of Bethel, with the promise that no more than 50,000 people would be in attendance, approved it.
Two days before the festival began, traffic jams began to flood a two-lane road, and by the first day of the concert, forget about it: Nothing was coming in and nothing was getting out. Cars for as far as the eye can see were left abandoned — on the road, on the shoulder, anywhere a car would fit.
One person who abandoned a car was Richie Havens’ bass player, who had to walk about 30 miles to get to the site. Havens and his band were the only performers to get into Bethel without assistance from a helicopter.
About the site: It wasn’t exactly what you’d think of a performing arts center today. It was Max Yasgur's alpaca farm. He believed in the cause of what Woodstock was trying to do, and for $10,000, agreed to rent his property for the festival, even if his neighbors were deeply opposed to it.
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All told, about 400,000 people attended Woodstock during the Summer of Love, eight times more than anticipated. Food, water, and hygiene were in short supply, and drugs were in high demand. With so many things going awry, one thing held true: the mantra of peace and love.
When it was all over, Woodstock’s promoters were left with a $1.5 million debt. They even had to pay $72 in a lawsuit to a local farmer because his cow stopped giving milk following the festival. They were undeterred, however, and began planning Woodstock II for the following year. Bethel promptly declined, never forgetting what happened on Yasgur’s farm in 1969 — the good and the bad.