Woodstock – The Cultural Effects by Katie Bohr The Woodstock Music and Art and Festival was held August 15 – 17, 1969 on a farm near Woodstock, New York. The farm was owned by Max Yasgur. It was a rock music festival and the starting event of the era known as the Counterculture. Attracted by the presence of the most famous rock music bands and performers of the time, a huge crowd of almost 500,000 fans camped in a meadow and for three days lived in a heavy atmosphere of amplified music drugs and togetherness. The event received nationwide publicity, and many people felt that the new way of life had proved itself.
But the illusion of success was hurt four months later at a free outdoor rock concert in California, featuring the Rolling Stones. It was spoiled by violence and ended with four deaths, one of them a murder. The Counterculture The counterculture was a social revolt among middle-class young people. Opposition to the Vietnam War and to a society that could pursue such a war, was at it’s core. It had both political and cultural points of view: people who participated in the cultural revolt were called hippies; the political movement was known as the New Left. The revolt had several starting points.
Between 1950 and 1964 the college population had more than doubled, reaching to about 5 million. Rock music helped popularize the freer alternate life-styles of young people. The civil rights and peace movements had made the failures of the existing system public. More liberal child – rearing practices had produced a generation that was not unfamiliar to freedom. A youth revolt had occurred in the 1920’s.
That revolt had concerned itself principally with matters of cultural style and personal behavior. It’s symbols were flappers, gin, and jazz (as the counterculture’s were long hair, drugs, and rock music). The Hippies The hippies dropped the traditional family in favor of other arrangements based on love. In practice, a person lived however long they wished with whomever they wished, in couples or in groups known as communes. Sexual relations in these groups might occur whenever mutual attraction was strong enough. Hippies chose to live in the present, to “go with the flow,” and to “hang loose,” over being “uptight”.
The partly religious nature of the psychedelic experience led many young people to forms of mysticism. Oriental philosophies, like yoga, Zen, Tibetan Buddhism, and the Chinese “I Ching” (Book of Changes), were studied, and their more easily accessible points of view were understood. Others followed Western occult pursuits, such as astrology, tarot, palmistry, and witchcraft. After LSD was banned in 1966, Timothy Leary founded the League for Spiritual Discovery, which recommended legalizing marijuana and LSD as religious sacraments. The Drugs Drugs played a major part in the cultural effects of the Woodstock festival.
Hallucinogens like LSD, Psilocybin, Marijuana, hashish, and mescaline worked as social catalysts. These psychedelic drugs completely altered perception, strongly strengthening the belief that society’s rules and institutions were optional. Hippies were often arrested for illegal drug activities. Suicides caused by LSD, connected with an epidemic of heroin and other “hard” drugs, destroyed the hope that psychedelic drugs might release human consciousness. The New Left The political aspect of the counterculture was lead by the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). This campus group inspired many students to political action.
Among it’s leaders, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, Abbie Hoffman, and Jerry Rubin gained nationwide fame. (These 4 people were also the head of the Woodstock Festival.) Alliances were forged with the “Black Panthers” and other radical minority organizations. The mocking style of the Yippies (Youth International Party) attracted many to the New Left. Both movements shared the goals of personal and societal liberation and had a common enemy : the decline of Western society. The New Left gained national visibility through protest demonstrations in support of the civil rights movement and against the Vietnam War. In 1968 there were violent clashes between police and demonstrators in Chicago at the Democratic National Convention.
A radical party, the Weathermen, developed in the SDS. Favoring the use of violence and terror, they went underground in 1969 and began bombings. Decline of the Counterculture While the counterculture developed a social system that might have worked for small numbers in an economy of plenty, it could not sustain the masses of late coming followers. The unconventional appearance, behavior, and beliefs of members of the counterculture started widespread fear among convential people. Long haired men were beaten up or shot at by alarmed citizens.
Among the thousands of young people attracted to hippie groups, some were social parasites and fugitives from the law. Violence occurred among them. When hippies moved to rural areas to form communes, they were unwelcome by the people around them. New Left groups were checked by FBI and other law enforcement agents, who compiled files and even tried to provoke illegal actions that leftists could be arrested for. Legal defense against conspiracy prosecutions bankrupted New Left treasuries, even when formal charges were finally dismissed.
The end of the Vietnam War removed the central issue around which it had mobilized it’s forces. One highly publicized late counterculture display occurred in 1974 : members of the terrorist Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) abducted 20 year old Patricia Hearst, of the prominent publishing family. She later joined the SLA and helped them to rob a bank. Captured by the FBI in 1975, she served nearly three years in prison. In 1981, during the course of a robbery of a Brink’s car in Rockland County, New York, two policemen and a guard were killed.
The radical suspects arrested has various counterculture affiliations; after prolonged state and federal trials in 1983-84, eight defendants had been convicted and sentenced to long prison terms. Although the counterculture failed to achieve the goals of some of it’s exponents, it did help produce some permanent changes in American life. Chief among these are a new interest in ecology, a more intense and less harsh sense of social and sexual roles, a greater openness to spiritual training and other forms of self development, a stronger confidence on personal experience as a sense of understanding, and an increased doubt of the motives, abilities, and honesty of business and political leaders. General Information About Woodstock Woodstock became a symbol of solidarity for the generation of flower children, Vietnam War protesters, hippies, and other young people in their revolt against “The Establishment”, which is another name for the United States Government. Most of the songs performed at Woodstock dealt with the Vietnam War, freedom, and the government. On August 15, Country Joe McDonald performed a solo of the famous “Fixin’-To-Die-Rag, a song that gave a sarcastic view of the government’s involvement with the Vietnam War. On Saturday, August 16, among the bands performing were Santana, Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, and The Who. On Sunday, August 17, Joe Cocker and the Grease Band, Country Joe and the Fish, Crosby, Stills. Nash, and Young, and Jimi Hendrix were four groups out of twelve to perform.