Exactly 50 years ago this weekend, 300,000 people piled into vans and buses and made their way onto a field in Bethel, New York.
What followed left a legacy that has persisted to this day. With its ethos of peace and love, its residual scent of incense and its legendary LSD-fueled performances, Woodstock is still most definitely part of our culture.
Image via National Geographic
Woodstock 50 failed, but in some ways, it never could've happened today. What made the original Woodstock so special (according to most of the writers who've been there) was a sense of persistent optimism, a sense that there was something to believe in, and a sense that the world was theirs to take.
What made the festival possible was the sense that everyone there had the right to take what they wanted from a landscape and leave it behind, covered with trash.
Sound familiar? It's because that's exactly what the young people of that generation are doing to our world right now, as leaders and as adults. By refusing to take action on climate change, our leaders and older generations are failing us.
According to The New York Times, "Millennials have every right to point out how Woodstock represented baby boomer privilege in crystalline form. We got a free marathon all-star concert. (I don't begrudge my $18.) We swarmed a previously unspoiled dairy farm and its surroundings. We absolutely thought we were the center of the universe. And afterward, someone else had to clean up the giant mess we left behind. Insert the global-warming analogy."
This is one of the reasons why Woodstock couldn't happen today, and why the idea of an anniversary festival always felt off. The original festival represented an ideal that has since expired, a kind of optimistic freedom that far too easily spiraled into cultish thinking and wasteful behavior.
If we were to have a festival today that reverberated like Woodstock did, it would have to be ideologically different. It would have to be about community and treating the land with respect. It would have to be about having a vision of a better world—not just a world where people can be free and can take whatever they want.
Image via bethelwoodscenter.org
I have always loved the idea of Woodstock, and the ideals that were so glorified during that time have seeds that any political movement can use to their advantage. But we are not living in the 1960s anymore. This is today, when we face one of the biggest threats to our planet and our livelihoods in human history.
Even though Woodstock couldn't happen today, some of its spirit can still come in handy. The festival was amazingly organic: a spontaneous rising-up of young people in support of a dream. It proved that magic can happen when people come together. That magic won't happen through a corporatized music festival, though. Instead, it'll happen if we change the way we think about ourselves, and see that we have an opportunity to build a better world only by changing the way we view our relationship to the earth.
As young people, most of us know that we can't be another generation of boomers. We're absolutely not the center of the universe, and that kind of thinking is what got us into this mess. It's time to start making music that reflects that knowledge. It's time to act like we're part of something much larger, connected to everything else in the universe—a common revelation had by LSD-influenced hippies, no doubt, except this time, our survival depends on putting that into practice.