Jimi Hendrix Playing at Woodstock

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Jimi Hendrix Playing at Woodstock


By: Henry Diltz

Date: August 18, 1969

Source: Diltz, Henry. "Jimi Hendrix Playing at Woodstock." Corbis Corporation.

About the Photographer: Henry Diltz began his career in 1963 as a musician, playing banjo and clarinet for the Modern Folk Quartet, a band he co-founded. After the group disbanded, he began focusing on music photography, working with groups including The Lovin' Spoonful and Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Diltz remains an active photographer and by 2006 had provided photos for more than 200 album covers.


In 1969, the youth movement of the 1960s was in full swing. Rock music had taken America by storm, the Vietnam War provided a rallying point for anti-government protests, and Timothy Leary's admonition to "Turn on, tune in, drop out" was being taken literally by thousands of young people. Sensing an opportunity, four young men decided to organize what they hoped would be the largest rock concert ever, surpassing the previous record of 20,000. They chose a location near Bethel, New York, naming their planned event The Woodstock Art and Music Fair.

The fair organizers leased 600 acres of alfalfa fields from Max Yasgur, a dairy farmer, and began signing bands. Some of the biggest names in 1960s pop music were contracted, including the Who and Jimi Hendrix. Advance ticket sales soon outgrew the original plans, topping 75,000 and causing Yasgur to consider breaking his lease. He decided to honor the lease when an angry neighbor put up a sign reading "Local People Speak Out/Stop Max's Music Festival/No 150,000 Hippies Here/Buy No Milk."

So many people came to that field in New York that the organizers stopped trying to charge admission partway through the event. Estimates of attendance vary from 300,000 to 500,000. Depending on the number chosen, Woodstock was, for several days, either the second or third largest settlement in the state of New York. The New York Thruway was so clogged with cars attempting to reach the concert that it was closed down by the state police. The festival, scheduled for three days, stretched to four.

During those four days, rainshowers turned portions of the huge alfalfa field into mud. Thousands of people bathed nude in a nearby pond. Alcohol, marijuana, and other recreational drugs were freely consumed. The event became a massive celebration of what has been called the counterculture, a set of cultural choices made in conscious opposition to the traditional symbols of American adulthood, including neatly-coiffed hair, and unquestioning support for the U.S. government. Much of the music emanating from the stage was overtly political. Thousands sang along with Country Joe's anthem, "Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die Rag," with its chorus "And it's one, two, three, what are we fightin' for?/Don't ask me I don't give a damn/Next stop is Vietnam." There was one death from a drug overdose and another person died after being run over by a tractor, but given the large number of people and the inadequate facilities, the gathering was notably peaceful.

As the concert stretched past the weekend into Monday morning, performer Jimi Hendrix faced an unenviable task. Originally scheduled to close the event the previous night, Hendrix took the stage on Monday morning with a poorly rehearsed band and a lethargic audience exhausted from the previous three days. Once on stage, Hendrix delivered what is today considered one of history's most important rock performances, combining personal hits with improvised numbers and even a heavily reworked rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner." By its conclusion, the set became one of the most memorable events at Woodstock.



See primary source image.


Woodstock has achieved such mythic significance—helped by the best-selling Woodstock record and epic three-hour movie, which eventually enabled the concert project to turn a profit—that Americans who were young adults at the time of Woodstock have often been referred to as the Woodstock Generation or Woodstock Nation. Yet the significance of Woodstock is debatable. Political protest and popular music were already defining 1960s youth culture before the concert took place.

Nevertheless, Woodstock has become a powerful symbol, both positive and negative, of the youth culture of the 1960s. Conservative commentators have derided the event as exposing the emptiness of the pleasure-driven values expressed by the music and literature of the time. In 2003, Wall Street Journal editor Daniel Henninger wrote an essay, "Anti-Woodstock," in which he suggested that "youth culture in America is a lifestyle, emphasizing the thing that youth tend to be very good at: thinking about themselves.… Some say the youth culture began at Woodstock, the celebration of song, self and mud in 1969." Henninger went on to suggest that the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003 is an anti-Woodstock that is teaching young men and women "commitment to the military's culture of selflessness." As an example of "remarkably well-spoken, courteous and other-directed" youth reliably produced by Marine training on Parris Island, he cited an incident where a reporter in Iraq offered to let four Marines use his satellite cell phone to call home. One Marine, Henninger said, "ran off to get his sergeant who hadn't talked to his pregnant wife in three months" and the others offered to call the parents of a dead comrade rather than their own families. Unfortunately, the cell-phone incident turned out to be mythical; the Wall Street Journal later appended a notice to the essay identifying the anecdote as a "false tale" that had been "circulating widely on the Web."

The stereotyped image of the 1960s that has formed around Woodstock is almost equally mythical: a contemptible (or glorious) vacation from history during which flowers, beads, drugs, and electric guitars displaced reality. The actual period was far more complex. Arnold Skolnick offered his own modest summary of Woodstock: "Something was tapped, a nerve in this country, and everybody just came."

Jimi Hendrix is considered one of the most creative and influential guitarists in history. He died in 1970 while on tour in London, England.



Bennett, Andy, ed. Remembering Woodstock. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2004.

Cross, Charles. Room Full of Mirrors: A Biography of Jimi Hendrix. New York: Hyperion, 2005.

Spitz, Robert Stephen. Barefoot in Babylon: The Creation of the Woodstock Music Festival. New York: Viking Press, 1979.


Anonymous. "Pushing the button." The Economist (December 16, 1995).

Norman, Michael. "The 'Holy Ground'of the Woodstock Generation." New York Times (August 16, 1984).

Sierz, Aleks. "Read your roots." New Statesman (December 6, 2004).

Web sites

Google Video. "Jimi Hendrix - Woodstock Improv 1969." January 20, 2006. <http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=2460058168987804953> (accessed July 5, 2006).

Woodstock Preservation Archives. "Statement on the Historical and Cultural Significance of the 1969 Woodstock Festival Site." September 25, 2001. <http://www.woodstockpreservation.org:81/archmat/FinalSigState.pdf> (accessed May 26, 2006).

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