To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, we’ve collected 50 facts about the iconic festival and the myths and legends it has spawned. This article covers the finances, and who came off better and worse from the event.
$18 – The price of an advance ticket
It may not fit the legend of free love and free music, but Woodstock was intended to be a profit-making enterprise by the three organisers – Michael Lang, Joel Rosenman and John P Richards. The tickets weren’t free – advance tickets cost $18 if bought from record stores in the New York City area, or via a post office box. That’s slightly more than $125 (£100) in 2019 money.
Had things run to plan, Woodstock would have charged $24 on the door for those arriving ticketless. The problem? The fencing and ticket booths weren’t finished in time. The crowd ended up being a lot larger than the 186,000 who bought advance tickets…
View image of Tickets for the Woodstock festival in 1969
$75,000 – the amount it cost to hire Max Yasgur’s farm
The Woodstock team had problems finding a site where the festival could be held. The plan was originally to hold it as close as possible to the town of Woodstock, in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains (Bob Dylan was known to frequent the area). Forty-nine-year-old dairy farmer Max Yasgur allowed the festival to use some of his idle pasture land in Bethel for the handsome sum of $75,000 – that’s roughly $523,000 (£430,000) in today’s money.
$1.60 – the hourly wage for workers on the site
If you were working at Woodstock, it would have taken you a touch more than 11 hours to earn the price of a ticket to the festival.
$2,000 – Santana’s hourly wage, based on their 45-minute set
Santana’s set on the second day of the festival (16 August) provided one of its highlights. Legend has it that manager Bill Graham, who was the most powerful concert promoter in the country, forced the band onto the bill, and that Carlos Santana was hallucinating on stage from mescaline that he received from Jerry Garcia. Whatever the stories, the band powered through a 45-minute set that included future staples such as Evil Ways and Soul Sacrifice. It was also astonishingly lucrative, the band earned an hourly rate of approximately 1,250 times the festival worker’s hourly wage.
View image of Santana on stage at the Woodstock festival in 1969
$10,000 – Creedence Clearwater Revival’s fee
The first thing the Woodstock organisers needed to do was to sign a big enough name to attract interest. In April 1969, the first booking came: Creedence Clearwater Revival. The band had only weeks before released the song Proud Mary, which peaked at number two on the US Billboard Hot 100. According to the band’s own drummer, Doug Clifford, it opened the floodgates. “Once Creedence signed, everyone else jumped in line and all the other big acts came on.”
And what did it cost? $10,000, or nearly $69,800 (£56,850) in 2019’s money.
Jimi Hendrix – the highest-paid act on the bill
Jimi Hendrix might have had to wait several hours to play his ‘headline’ set – played well after the witching hour at 8am on the Monday – but the fee no doubt calmed any frustrations. He and the Gypsy Suns and Rainbows walked away with $32,000 ($223,300/£184,100 in 2019’s money) for their troubles, nearly three times what The Who were paid.
View image of Jimi Hendrix
$1.4m – the amount of debt the promoters were initially left with
The fact the fences couldn’t be erected in time meant any hopes of keeping ticketless fans out went up in smoke. Hundreds of thousands of hippies and music fans descended on Yasgur’s dairy farm, and all those feet, shoeless or not, turned the rain-soaked ground into a morass. The damage was so extensive that the organisers had to shell out an extra $50,000 ($349,000/£287,000) so that Yasgur could feed his cattle over winter.
12, 000 to 18,000 – ticket refunds because the roads were blocked
Many festivalgoers abandoned their vehicles miles from the festival because the traffic jams were so bad, and trudged on foot to the site. But as many as 10% of the ticketgoers who bought tickets beforehand couldn’t get to the festival at all. An investigation by the State Attorney General’s office forced the festival to refund thousands of ticket buyers who couldn’t get to the site because the roads had been closed.
View image of Traffic jams on the road to the Woodstock festival
$1 – the price Food For Love was charging for burgers when their stall was burned down
A crowd of 400,000 people required gargantuan amounts of food. But Woodstock was so big that the traditional stadium caterers weren’t prepared to support it. “No one had ever handled food services for an event this size,” wrote Michael Lang in the 2009 book The Road To Woodstock. “They didn’t want to put in the investment capital necessary to supply such a huge amount of food, on-site kitchens, and personnel, plus transport everything upstate. And what if we didn’t draw the crowds we projected?”
View image of Festivalgoers eating the food on offer at Woodstock in 1969
In the end, three entrepreneurs (who had tellingly never before run a food business for live events) banded together to create Food For Love. Things did not go well. By all accounts they were woefully unprepared for the size of the crowd, with the concession stands not even being finished.
Worse was to come. As supplies of food dwindled, the Food For Love team decided to raise the price of their burgers from 25 cents to $1. The hungry hordes were not happy and two of the concessions were burned to the ground.
$50m – box office takings of the Woodstock film in the US in 1970
Part of the Woodstock cultural legacy is built not only on the festival itself, but also from the documentary that captured the mud-daubed event, warts and all.
View image of Filmmaker Michael Wadleigh and his wife and film crew member Renee Wadleigh at Woodstock
Directed by Michael Wadleigh and brought to life by no less than seven editors – including Oscar winner Martin Scorsese and his long-time creative partner Thelma Schoonmaker – the film was a sprawling three-hour trawl through the musical performances and the anything-goes encampment swelling around them.
It set the benchmark for concert films and became one of the biggest box office successes of 1970 – grossing more than $50m, which dwarfed the $600,000 it cost to make.
If you liked this story, sign up for the weekly bbc.com features newsletter, called The Essential List. A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Music, Culture, Capital, Future and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday.