Have you heard of Woodstock? It was a period between August 15-18, 1969 when 400,000 people descended on Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in rural Bethel, NY. This place was around 40 miles southwest of Woodstock, NY.

While this music festival lasted for 3 days, its memories are still fresh in people’s minds who have attended it. Here are a few things that made Woodstock so popular.

Clothing Was Optional

The overall atmosphere at Woodstock was relaxed, and that included the attitude about the attendees’ clothing – or lack thereof. Naked people walking around the field, swimming, or even getting intimate in public was not an uncommon sight during the festival.

Walter Mills was still a teenager when he attended Woodstock. In 2009

“There were all these people running around naked and swimming naked in this muddy water. I yelled over to my friend to hurry over, “You’re not going to believe this.” I was 19, but I was still pretty naive. I remember looking out of our tent and there was this couple who just did it right there on the ground in front of us. I didn’t know what to do. Later, she was still naked and came over and started talking to us. I think I needed a shovel to get my jaw off the ground.”

A 17-year-old attendee from White Lake, NY, recalled:

“I took my parents to the festival site. When we passed the pond where people were skinny-dipping, two young men came out of the water naked. They saw my father and said, “Look, an old guy,” and proceeded to hug him while dripping wet.”

Some Acts Played In The Middle Of The Night, Through Storms And Electrical Shocks

The Grateful Dead’s set was plagued by weather-related electrical malfunctions with their equipment. The band’s drummer Bill Kreutzmann said:

“We were getting electrocuted on stage… We couldn’t even do a soundcheck because you couldn’t get near the microphones without drawing an 8-inch arc of fire.”

“Things went sorely wrong after [Grateful Dead] hit the stage. Everybody was running late of course, hippies had been putting on this thing… But what they didn’t tell us until the ’90s is they had all taken LSD just as they went onstage… About the middle of their set, it went dead silent… It was quiet for about an hour and then they started playing again. And so, I think somebody [had] figured out how to plug into an amplifier…

And we had to follow that, so it was literally 2:30 in the morning… I come running out and I look down there and I see a bunch of people [who] look a lot like me, except, they’re naked. And they’re asleep. They were all kinda piled together. It looked like one of those pictures of the souls coming up out of hell…

So we start rocking out in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, trying to get things going here. Finally I went up to the mic, kind of apologetically… and I said “Well, I hope you’re enjoying some of this, we’re having a great time up here… We’re rockin’ out!” Then way out there, about a quarter mile out, some guy is flicking his lighter. He says, “Don’t worry about it John! We’re with yaaa!” So in front of a half a million people, for the rest of my big Woodstock concert, I played for that guy.”

Good Or Bad, The Musical Acts Were Memorable

Jimi Hendrix closed the festival early Monday morning. One attendee who stuck around for his performance remembered:

“There were relatively few people still there. It was a disgusting mess of mud and wet blankets. It was time to go home and shower. And then there was this amazing talent playing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” I knew I was watching history. The importance of Hendrix’s performance and the power of his talent and showmanship was breathtaking and the highlight of the Woodstock concert.”

Hendrix’s performance of the national anthem was considered “unorthodox” by some and thus controversial at the time. When asked about it, Hendrix responded:

“All I did was play it; I’m American so I played it… They made me sing it in school so, it was a flashback, you know?… It’s not unorthodox… I thought it was beautiful, but there you go.”

According to members of Sly and the Family Stone (who performed immediately after her), Janis Joplin ended up being called back to do three encores. One attendee raved about her set:

“[Her] phenomenal voice: gritty, edgy, passionate, vibrant, and like no other.”

Another attendee singled out the performance from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young:

“They were so bad they were good.”

While another remembered the Who:

“…they were going nuts on stage.”

Still, some attendees felt the acoustics left something to be desired:

“The sound system wasn’t that great. The few places where you could actually hear the music were shoulder-to-shoulder people… I really didn’t hear the music until the movie came out.”

Drugs Were Plentiful But Weren’t For Everyone

When people talk about their memories of Woodstock, one of the things that consistently comes up is how, unlike bathroom facilities or food and water, drugs were easily attainable – especially since the security personnel at the venue weren’t all that interested in busting anyone.

Redditor u/hedronist remembered:

“It was shortly after my 20th birthday… We had tickets, but I have no idea where they went… Actually “no idea” sums up a lot of my experiences there because we were doing drugs at a Thompsonian level… Fortunately we didn’t get any of the “bad brown acid” because we showed up with our own 80 tabs of Orange Sunshine (ah, now that was great acid!)… Unfortunately, most of what I “know” is from watching the movie because… drugs. Sigh.”

Redditor u/isaac2004 heard about Woodstock from his father:

“My dad went when he was 17, he rode on the hood of a car for like 5 miles to get the last bit of the way… He got stoned the whole time and had a good time. He remembers them coming over the speaker informing people to not take certain acid.”

A former Redditor shared:

“My mom commented on how by the third day people were giving drugs out for free but fighting over food and water. She said that she spent a lot of time in a makeshift hospital tent because my dad’s best friend took a crazy combination of pills and started having seizures. My mom dragged him to the tent and one of the “doctors” begged her to stay and help because she was one of the extremely few sober people. She was a farm girl from Nebraska and had experience with veterinary medicine. So while my dad partied she helped people OD’ing.”

But as Redditor u/fluor_guy stated, not all the attendees were high all the time:

“Sure there were plenty of people tripping out, but the idea that everyone who was there was a [stoner] druggie is a stereotype and false. There were plenty of others like me who were drawn by the times and the music.”

Some Remember That It Didn’t Just Rain Rain, It Also Rained Daisies

It rained at Woodstock. A lot. Sometimes it poured. But apparently rain wasn’t the only thing that fell from the skies during the festival.

As Redditor u/bobanddave stated:

“One thing I remember was that we had a light shower on Saturday afternoon and everyone started chanting, “No Rain, No Rain…” for a while. Soon the sky cleared and a helicopter flies over and starts dropping what looked like several bushel baskets worth of daisies on the crowd. I might still have the book around somewhere with the daisy I pressed into it.”

Woodstock Had A Lifelong Effect On Some Attendees

Woodstock took place more than 50 years ago – more than long enough ago that some of the memories of what it was like have probably faded. But to many of the attendees, the festival had a lasting effect on their lives.

One attendee from Middletown, NY, remembered:

“I went there a very confused, naïve 17-year-old who did not feel a connection to anyone or anything. I left knowing I was connected to an entire generation of people who thought like I did – a true revelation, and one that has stayed with me throughout my life.”

Another 17-year-old attendee came to the festival from Smallwood, NY:

“Prior to [Woodstock] I was a fairly “straight” high school athlete. After the festival, my eyes were opened to something that I had been looking for but didn’t know what it was until I experienced it. This was a life-changing event for me.”

Howard Loberfeld told Today that attending Woodstock made him more willing to trust:

“I was raised not to trust people and to be wary of strangers. And here were 500,000 of them who were being so nice and so happy and just listening to the music and sitting in the mud. It really gave me a different perspective of humanity.”

Many Parents Were Not Happy About Their Kids Attending

Everything about Woodstock was meant to appeal to a younger audience, especially those who might consider themselves anti-establishment/counterculture. But some parents were hesitant about letting their kids attend, especially considering that the news reports about Woodstock tended to focus on the negatives.

As Howard Loberfeld told Today:

“I went with a sleep-away camp… The dichotomy between what was really happening and the news reports sent our parents into a tailspin. Every one of them called the camp and said “Get my kid out of there! We heard there’s deaths, we heard there’s no bathrooms, we heard there’s no food and we heard there’s drugs!”

One attendee from Flushing, NY, remembered how her parents weren’t happy with her when she got back from the festival:

“After seeing the news stories about Woodstock all weekend the family members were not very happy with us, but were glad we made it home safely. We had no idea it was on the news everywhere. My boyfriend took the brunt of the family questions, “How could you bring her there?!” That is the boy that I [have been] married to for 41 years. We have 6 grandchildren who are amazed when we say, “We were there!”

Other young attendees chose to ignore their parents’ concerns:

“I was going to buy my ticket that afternoon after work, then my friend called and said, “Don’t bother, the fences have been torn down, free concert!!!” Yea! Once we got there, there was no leaving, too much going on, did not want to miss it! [My] parents were very upset, [they] had told us not to go out there.”

Another attendee managed to strike a bargain with his mother:

“[I traveled] up with friend[s] and girlfriends in my mother’s borrowed Corvair. In the end, I had to make good on the deal that I had made with my mother. She would lend me her car to go if I agreed to cut my hair after I returned. A deal is a deal. It was well worth it, and my hair grew back.”

The Vietnam War Was Not Forgotten

The musician said:

“I never had a plan for a career in music, so Woodstock changed my life… An accidental performance of “Fixin’-to-Die,” a work of dark humor that helps people deal with the realities of the Vietnam War, established me as an international solo performer; then the movie came out and the song went on to become what it still is today.”

Ironically, it was members of the 102nd Aviation Assault Helicopter Command who stepped in to provide aid to the concertgoers, flying in food and medical supplies and transporting patients who needed more treatment than the on-site doctors could provide to hospitals. The organizers of Woodstock recognized this help. As one MC told the crowd:

“They’re with us, man – they are not against us.”

Many attendees had also been to Vietnam, and/or would go after the festival. One attendee remembered:

“One thing that always comes to mind is that I met two friends that I did not know were going. They were with a guy I had not met before. He was on leave from Vietnam. When he went back to ‘Nam he found out that his entire company had been killed in a battle. If he had not been on leave for two weeks, he would have died and never came home.”

The Awful Traffic Forced Richie Havens To Improvise A Three-Hour Opening Set

The traffic leading into Woodstock was so bad that many people ended up just abandoning their vehicles and getting to the venue on foot. One woman remembers she and her family were heading to their vacation spot in White Lake, NY, when they got caught in the festival traffic:

“All I remember about the traffic is that there was LOTS of it, and it never budged. Vehicles with drums and guitars hanging off them, in every color of the rainbow, with people emerging from their cars and vans to break into impromptu song whilst waiting for the traffic to move. It was surreal.”

The traffic also delayed the artists and the start of the festival. Richie Havens was scheduled to be the fifth artist to perform. Instead, the folk singer ended up opening the festival. He had planned to do a 20-minute set. In a 2004 interview for NPR, Havens explained he ended up playing for nearly three hours, as Woodstock’s organizers asked him to stay on stage until other artists arrived. Havens recalled:

“So I’d go back and sing three more… This happened six times. So I sung every song I knew.”

Havens’s famous ad-libbed “Freedom” performance to the tune of “Motherless Child” had a big impact at Woodstock, which took place at a time when the country was divided by issues like the Vietnam War and the fight for civil rights. Havens said:

“The word “freedom” came out of my mouth because this was our real particular freedom… We’d finally made it to above ground.”

Things Were Just As Chaotic For The Musicians

“We really didn’t care [when] we went, but a lot of people did… The group that was supposed to be the headliner came, “No, we’re supposed to go on last, we’re the stars of the show!” And Sly just said, “Okay, fine. They want it, let ’em have it man.” Just like that. And not in any angry way. Because we never even thought about [that], we never went up there with the mind, “Oh, we going to blow those guys away, it was never like that…”

Although neither Robinson nor any of the other members of the band revealed which group she was talking about, the Who immediately followed them on stage on Day 2, followed by Jefferson Airplane, who ended up closing out the Saturday lineup at 8 a.m. on Sunday.

Sly and the Family Stone also said one of the most memorable parts for them wasn’t at the festival, but at the hotel 20 miles away where all the bands were staying. Drummer Greg Errico said:

“I could picture vividly – we had the whole top floor, all the groups. Actually we had the whole Holiday Inn, but I remember the top floor where we were… and you know in the old Holiday Inns the doors would open to the rooms [that] would adjoin… It was like one big, you know, convention. And it was Janis, Hendrix, us, the Who, were all running around, the Southern Comfort’s going and the whiskey and beer…

We hadn’t been up [to the festival] yet. And we know there were helicopters and there was roadblocks and all this stuff that was kind of out of control was on the news. And so we’re kind of like trying to gauge what’s going, what are we getting into here, what’s happening… It was, you know, all the groups wondering, what are we going to do? Are all these people there? What’s going on up there? There’s no food… it’s out of control, it was like fear and excitement and anxiety…”

Bathroom Facilities Were Very Difficult To Come By

The organizers of Woodstock were not prepared for the huge crowds – reportedly they were expecting no more than 50,000 people to show up. As a result, there were not enough portable toilets available.

Redditor u/bobanddave was in college when he attended Woodstock:

“If you had to take a pee, you had to plan about 45 minutes ahead of time since there were so many more people than planned that the hundreds of porto-sans weren’t enough and had decent lines.”

Redditor u/row_guy didn’t attend Woodstock. But his dad did – and found an alternative to the portable toilets:

“My dad went, totally sober the entire time… He always said it was raining, muddy and miserable. Had to pee in a coffee can because it was so crowded.”

Some People Embraced The Mud More Than Others

Some attendees, such as one teenager from Manhattan, seemed to enjoy the conditions:

“The heat, the humidity, and the thunderstorms – August in the Catskills! Body surfing in the mud.”

One teen from Huntington, NY, remembers diving right in – literally:

“…I was one of the major participants in sliding down the hill in the mud. We would get a running start, and then slide through the mud for what seemed like 50 feet.”

Others, found it less appealing:

“Discomfort. The rainy, muddy nights followed by hot, smelly days.”

Redditor u/dalaisputnik heard about the conditions from his wife:

“My wife and her sister went. My wife was still pre-senior year of high school (16 at the time), got separated from the people she went with [and] spent most of the time fairly miserable in the rain and knee-deep mud…”

Hendrik Hertzberg wrote in a piece for The New Republic:

“Our sleeping bags and clothes got hopelessly soaked and muddied. Our spot was right next to a sort of aisle – a thick, slippery, brown river of boots and muck. As we lay there, trying to sleep, a constant, never-ending stream of people moved back and forth. All night long, without cease, their feet sloshed and stomped and slammed a few inches from our heads. Some of these passers-by were chemically disoriented. Their panic and confusion made them heedless of their steps. The rain, the mud, the unending shuffling and tramping, the constant fear of having one’s face trodden on – all this made sleep difficult.”