When organizers of the Woodstock Music & Art Fair settled on the slogan "3 days of peace & music," few could have known that a more apt tag line would have added " ... and 50 years of bragging about it." Considered by a certain generation its pinnacle cultural achievement, the experience of 72 hours on Max Yasgur's farm in Bethel, N.Y., in August 1969 has generated as many hours of glorified content as there were LSD trips on the grounds -- or at least it seems that way.
But if you're willing to look beyond the baby-boomer propaganda, Woodstock as an event was still a visual and aural feast that drew not just a generation of spirited young rebels but also ascendant artists, photographers, writers, filmmakers and sound guys.
The bill made legends out of many: Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, Sly & the Family Stone and the Who, among them.
That the first Woodstock was well-documented wasn't a foregone conclusion. Portable video cameras weren't yet common, to say nothing of smartphones, but Woodstock promoters had arranged for filmmakers to document performances on 16 mm color film. They hired some of the best rock photographers to capture the scene and the vibe. They knew to get all the performances onto high-quality tape, and they booked sound engineers Eddie Kramer and Lee Osborne to record them.
With the freaks, stoners, rockers, folkies and groovers of America (and the grandchildren who love them) once again celebrating Woodstock -- the mud, love, pot, brown acid, granola, community, nakedness and music -- here are some of the best recordings, films and books that came out of those three days and nights.
WHAT TO LISTEN TO
"Woodstock: Back to the Garden" (Rhino)
The definitive new 50th anniversary archive from the lauded archival imprint is the full, minute-by-minute recording of the Woodstock concert. Issued as a limited-edition 38-CD box set, the project was meticulously produced by archivist and writer Andy Zax and Rhino Entertainment's Steve Woolard, with the transfers produced by Brian Kehew and Zax. Sourcing the original 8-track masters and back-up monitor recordings, the team worked to separate fact from fiction.
The result is nothing short of stunning. As Zax notes in an opening essay, some of the Woodstock myths have come to be understood as fact: "1/8I3/8f we're still thinking and arguing and opining about the meaning of Woodstock after half a century, shouldn't we at least have a set of baseline facts about what happened there?" By the end of that last disc, those facts are incontrovertible.
The set is available in a number of formats, including curated highlight collections on LP, CD and digital download. Those unable to procure the already-sold-out full set should get the blank Maxell cassettes ready. Starting Aug. 15 at exactly 5:07 p.m. Eastern time, Philadelphia noncommercial radio station WXPN (and wxpn.org) will present a 72-hour synchronized broadcast called "Woodstock -- As It Happened -- 50 Years On." Tapping the "Back to the Garden" box, the station will play, to the minute, the entire roster of performances, as well as the bounty of between-set onstage announcements. You'll need about three dozen XLII-90s.