The other day I watched the PBS documentary on the August 1969 Woodstock festival. While I heard a lot about the event, I had never really understood what actually occurred over those three days to make it so legendary. The film did a nice job recapping key aspects of the event. While there were many wild and amazing aspects of this first its kind festival — the incredible set of musicians who came together, the craziness around the organization, the general spirit of the event — what I was most taken by was the amazing community component of Woodstock.
For an event that wasn’t well organized but yet hosted over 400,000 people (Burning Man hosts 70,000 people), there were no major conflicts and general backlash from community. This was in the face of limited food, inadequate toilets, an overcrowded space, bad weather, terrible traffic, insufficient medical supplies and staff, and much more. People came together and shared what they had in food and shelter. Even folks from the neighboring towns chipped in to provide assistance to attendees and event organizers. And though things were far from perfect, the audience had an amazing time and it was a peaceful gathering.
The reason things worked well at Woodstock despite obstacles come down to a few key things:
Setting expectations. From the beginning the organizers focused on creating not only a music festival but an event of peace. This can be seen from the posters for the event — “3 Day of Peace and Music”. Setting proper expectations creates an image in the mind of attendees on the type of event they are going to be participating in and how everyone will generally be conducting themselves.
Self selection. Setting expectations with the right marketing in turn attracted a certain type of person to Woodstock. Woodstock spoke to people who were simply looking for a good time and good music, and who were generally peaceful. Even when things didn’t go as planned, you see how this type of crowd came together to make things work anyway.
“Fun police”. Instead of police or normal security, they got a travelling commune group called The Hog Farm to assist with keeping the festival cheerful and happy. They helped to spread peace, happiness and laughter throughout the event using kindness instead of force to keep festival goers in the right mind set.
A great event above money. When it became clear that the event organizers were not going to be able to handle the crowd and ticket sales, the organizers forfeited profits for keeping to their commitments of holding a proper music festival. They explained the situation honestly and directly to the audience and they did the best they could anyway. Honest communication, while keeping to their primary commitment.
Asked for help. The event organizers looked for help and came up with creative solutions to problems. When the traffic became impossible for artists to show up by car, they organized helicopters for artists. When food was running out, they got the local community to assist. When they ran out of medical supplies, they got assistance from the Army.
While obviously the music at Woodstock was legendary, when I look at society 50 years later, it feels like we have almost completely lost our sense of community. Woodstock serves as inspiration and how clear and honest ingredients, versus threats or anger can create a positive and cooperative experience, overcoming even tough conditions. I would love to see more organizations and governments adopt some of these practices.
Below is the trailer for the film. The full movie can be watched on Netflix.