It was recently announced that Woodstock 50 has been cancelled.
The fifty year anniversary celebration of the iconic music festival that happened almost spontaneously in the Summer of Love in 1969 was suddenly abandoned. It had been scheduled for August, to take advantage of the warm weather and summer vacation from school.
It was being billed as an ambitious attempt to recapture the magic of the hippie-fest that made history on a 600 acre dairy farm in upstate New York. It was to be the modern version of the historic mega concert that became a cultural trademark of a unique musical era.
But it’s not going to happen. Organizers said it was an impossible hill to climb, to get all of the pieces in place to pull off another amazing three day musical extravaganza. They shut it down because of the risk of breakdowns that might dishonor the legacy of the original Woodstock. Plus, ticket sales were slow and sponsors were unhappy with the coordination of security, logistics and cash flow.
I think it was probably a good decision … but for different reasons.
Woodstock 50 was an illusion, a mirage in the entertainment desert. It looked good from a distance, but upon closer inspection, it was not ever going to be the oasis that organizers had hoped it would be. It is just too removed from that quixotic era. Rebooting Woodstock would be like capturing lightning in a bottle. There are literally no similarities between the music and culture of 1969 and 2019.
In the 60’s and 70’s the music culture was ubiquitous, like cellphones are today. Beatle John Lennon alluded to this phenomenon when he said, “We’re more popular than Jesus now.” There were dozens of musical genres thriving, driving fashion and advertising themes, all designed to impart joy to the listener. Many of the bands of that time are still touring, and had been scheduled to appear at the anniversary concert. The music of that era has become the soundtrack of our lives.
During that era we would meet up at local public parks and hold free concerts. Usually consisting of a couple of local bands and a lot of hippies selling sandals, moccasins, tie dye t-shirts and dresses while burning incense and secretly smoking weed. It was all about brotherhood, fun and frivolity.
It was a Love-fest. We really did love each other and our country and we were openly patriotic. There were no gang wars or race riots. We had our worries about Vietnam and the military industrial complex, but most of that was driven by a very small minority, and it was tangential to our core interests. We called our public parties “Love-Ins.”
Woodstock was a music and art festival, but it was really a giant Love-In. Concerts today aren’t so much about the music or art as they are about advocacy. Bands differentiate themselves by what social movement they align themselves with: Women’s empowerment, gender anxieties, saving the planet or sex without guilt get most of their attention.
I know, times have changed. But Woodstock 50 would have been an exhibition of nihilism, and cost $450 per ticket! While the Woodstock Generation was upbeat and determined to be happy, the Culture of Me is determined to amplify points of contention. They’re more interested in congratulating themselves for their collective compassion for their self-righteous causes. The Culture of Me is less concerned with serious musical accomplishment and more interested in the opportunity to address their social and environmental concerns.
At Woodstock in 1969 there were dozens of folksy lyricists like Richie Havens, Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie and John Sebastian. The one thing they all had in common was the skill with which they played their musical and vocal instruments, and the romance of their lyric and melodies. Their goal was to make the audience smile and cheer and feel good.
The idea that music today is the same social lubricant that it was in the late 60’s and early 70’s is misguided. As a society, we do not use music the way we did then. It has become a social justice educational device and a psychological flak jacket to insulate listeners from the tsunami of dystopian media negativity that floods our senses 24/7.
The closest thing we have seen to matching the energy and spontaneity of Woodstock in the past few years were the Donald Trump campaign concerts. The populist candidate toured the country filling stadiums with thousands of men, women and children of all creeds and colors, who often waited for hours in traffic jams and long lines. They all had a singular purpose: To celebrate restoring the health and well-being of Americanism.
Trump’s monologues were music to the ears of many Americans who have been starving for a good old fashioned revivalist hoedown! They came together to celebrate and hear someone tell them it was OK to play the music of America again for the entire world to dance to. He filled stadiums by making his audiences joyful again!
His appearances weren’t music events, they were a Love-fest!
This fall, when the campaigns start to heat up, I think we’ll once again see a new manifestation of Woodstock.