By Ashly Moore Sheldon • August 14, 2019
What do you get when you create a three-day rock concert featuring dozens of legendary artists, throw in 500,000 hippies, mud-filled fields, loads of drugs, and myriad mishaps? Woodstock may be the most renowned music festival of all time, but it didn't go off without a hitch. The four young men who organized the event had little experience and their path leading up to the event took many unexpected twists and turns. Though they hoped to make money on the venture, they ended up over $1 million in debt. Overrun by the unexpected numbers and more than 50,000 early arrivals, they were forced to waive admissions fees. Rainstorms, vendor cancellations, and massive traffic jams further complicated matters. But for the audience—"half-a-million-strong"—Woodstock was more than just a concert. It became a cultural touchstone, hearkening back to a more innocent time, when America's youth believed that the world could be changed by peace, love...and rock-and-roll, of course.
Woodstock 50th Anniversary: Back to Yasgur's Farm
With interviews and insights from dozens of those behind the scenes, from organizers to performers to technicians, this new book offers a comprehensive look at the seminal event. As an attendee himself, Mike Greenblatt provides a visceral description of the experience, mud, drugs, music, and all—a surreal and transcendent tale of a mythical moment in time.
The Road to Woodstock
The New York Post describes this book as a "vivid and lively account of those hectic and historic three days... The best fly-on-the-wall account, tantamount to having had a backstage pass to an iconic event." As one of the four organizers, Michael Lang provides an insider's view on the historic event.
Taking Woodstock: A True Story of a Riot, a Concert, and a Life
This memoir was written by Elliot Tiber, who helped secure the Yasgur dairy farm for the concert after the original venue fell through. Tiber includes other stories from his life, including his experiences as a closeted gay man experiencing the Stonewall Riots and his relationships with such luminaries as Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams.
The Woodstock Story Book
Featuring 240 full-color pictures captured by photographer Barry Levine, this book by Linanne G. Sackett presents a chronological account of the epic festival. This book is great for anyone who was at Woodstock, wishes they had gone, or just wanted a bird's eye view.
Woodstock: The Oral History
Rolling Stone calls this book the "definitive study of the mega-concert." Author Joel Makower gives an electrifying account of the rock festival that defined a generation. Told exclusively in the voices of the event's creators, it features firsthand stories from such people as David Crosby, Abbie Hoffman, Richie Havens, and many more.
Small Town Talk: Bob Dylan, the Band, Van Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Friends in the Wild Years of Woodstock
This book, by Barney Hoskyns, focuses on the town of Woodstock, New York. The tiny Catskills town was the original planned venue of the concert. Frequented by Bob Dylan, among others, this community of brilliant, dysfunctional musicians served as the inspiration for the seminal 1969 festival.
Despite persistent rumors that he would show up, Dylan didn't make an appearance at Woodstock. Nonetheless, the lineup was extraordinary, including Arlo Guthrie, Ravi Shankar, Santana, CCR, Sly and the Family Stone, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Joe Cocker, Blood, Sweat, and Tears, and The Band—just to name a few. Here are some books about a few other notables who took part.
And a Voice to Sing With
At the age of eighteen, Joan Baez, was an international star with a Time magazine cover story; ten years later, she took the stage at Woodstock. Along with her notable musical legacy, Baez made a name as a prominent activist, marching alongside MLK and being jailed for her support of the draft resistance. Her memoir shares personal stories from her eventful life.
Home Before Daylight: My Life on the Road with the Grateful Dead
This revealing book by Steve Parish tells of his experience as a roadie, and eventually manager for one of the most revered bands in history. Parish became a permanent fixture of the Dead family, forming an especially close bond with the late, great Jerry Garcia.
Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young: The Wild, Definitive Saga of America's Greatest Supergroup
For new group CSNY, Woodstock was only their second gig! Publishers Weekly calls this new book by acclaimed music journalist David Browne "the most comprehensive biography of the group to date." The four men differed wildly from one another and struggled for cohesion interpersonally. But together, few groups achieved such magical synchronicity.
Janis Joplin electrified the Woodstock audience with her performance of Try (Just a Little Bit Harder). Just a year later, the rock legend died of a drug overdose at age 27. This intimate biography, written by her younger sister, Laura Joplin, follows her wild ride from awkward small-town teenager to rock-and-roll queen. Celebrating the joyous experimentation and creativity of the sixties, the book provides a compassionate examination of one of the era's greatest talents.
Room Full of Mirrors: A Biography of Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix closed out the show with an incendiary performance of The Star-Spangled Banner, which would become emblematic not just of Woodstock, but the entire counterculture movement. Here music journalist Charles R. Cross vividly recounts the life of Hendrix, from his difficult childhood and adolescence in Seattle through his incredible rise to celebrity in London's swinging sixties.
Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell
Joni Mitchell may have penned the quintessential song about the legendary concert, but she wasn't there. Appearing on The Dick Cavett Show instead, she had to rely on television footage and reports from then-boyfriend Graham Nash. "The deprivation of not being able to go provided me with an intense angle on Woodstock," she told an interviewer afterward. Music critic David Yaffe reveals her backstory, from her Canadian upbringing to the child she gave up for adoption to her many notorious love affairs.
What does Woodstock mean to you? Do you remember when it happened? Or maybe you just wish you did. Share your stories with us. And be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, to get daily book recommendations and more.