Credit for its success doesn’t necessarily go to Lang, who at the time was a young head shop owner whose only other event had been a failure; or the other co-founders, all of whom were inexperienced men in their 20s. No, Woodstock was saved at every step of the way by decidedly non-groovy regular people.
Some of them were even “old” and maybe “squares,” to use the parlance of the day.
First, there’s the well-known story of Max Yasgur, the dairy farmer who stepped in to give the festival a venue after it was booted from its original location 40 miles away in Wallkill, N.Y.
“Max Yasgur was a law-and-order Republican. But he also believed in personal freedom and freedom of expression, and that’s what he hung his hat on,” said neighbor John Conway in the PBS documentary “Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation.”
Then there was the advertising. One of the things the citizens of Wallkill were opposed to was Woodstock’s original poster — created by the Fillmore East club’s in-house artist, David Edward Byrd — which featured a nude woman, Cupids, hearts and arrows in a blend of psychedelic and neoclassical styles.
It also notably didn’t feature the names of any of the bands playing. And after the move to Yasgur’s farm — the wrong location.
The posters had to be redesigned, but Byrd was nowhere to be found. (He told the Los Angeles Daily News he was spending the month in a Caribbean village with no phone.) So in stepped Arnold Skolnick — a New York advertising artist in his 30s who was more “Mad Men” than “Easy Rider.”
“They gave it to me on Thursday … and I brought it by to them on Monday afternoon,” Skolnick told the Stamford Advocate in 2010. “It was just another job, but it became famous.”
The catbird perched on a guitar was a simple design made with paper cutouts. Lang later claimed credit for the design, but Skolnick says that isn’t true.
Both Byrd and Skolnick ended up attending the festival, but Skolnick left on the first day when he saw how crowded it was getting. Trapped by the incoming traffic, he and his wife stayed in a nearby hotel until they could go home.
“If I had been 16 or 17, I probably would have enjoyed it,” he told the Advocate.
Now 82, Skolnick is still making art in Easthampton, Mass, where he lives. The poster didn’t make him rich — since he was a hired gun, he doesn’t own the rights to it. He has received only one royalty check, for $15, he said.
By the second day of the festival, long after Skolnick had split, the organizers had run out of food. And that’s when the citizens of nearby Bethel, N.Y., many of whom weren’t too keen on being inundated by hippies, came to the rescue.
After a plea for help on local radio, residents pulled canned goods from their pantries and produce from their fields.
“It was on the radio, bring whatever you can. And I decided to send eggs, because it’s an egg area,” said resident Gordon Winarick in the PBS documentary. “So we hard-boiled hundreds of thousands of eggs.”
The donations were delivered via helicopter, almost certainly saving hangry hippies from rioting.
Speaking of helicopters, there were many unexpected costs for Woodstock organizers. And when they couldn’t get fences built on time, they lost the ability to make money. That came to a head Saturday evening — when many of the biggest acts, such as Creedence Clearwater Revival and the Who, were scheduled to play. Some had refused to go onstage unless they were paid in cash beforehand, according to History.com.
Woodstock organizer John Roberts, a 23-year-old heir to the Polident fortune, agreed to put his trust fund up as collateral if they could find an emergency loan. Shortly before midnight, they persuaded a local bank manager to open up and give them the funds.
Unfortunately, the name of that bank manager — like good vibes and 8-track tapes — is lost to history.