Points of view

Woodstock 1969-2019: The Crucial Differences Between Today’s Music Festivals and Their “Dad”, Who’s Turning 50 This Year

15.03.2019 | By PAOLO BOCCHI

Summer 1969. A certain spot in the middle of the vast American continent was about to host a gathering of more than 500,000 people, who would bring about something unrepeatable, a one-time event in history. The music festival era was about to begin. But nothing would ever be like Woodstock. Here are the reasons why


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He’s the last one to step onto that stage.
He’s black, half Cherokee and left-handed.
“Wrong”, in every possible way.
Everybody will remember him forever.
He’s dressed in white, like his guitar, a Fender Stratocaster;
a guitar that, in a few minutes,
in Jimi Hendrix’s hands, on the stage of Woodstock,
during the last performance of the schedule,
would become a weapon.
A “weapon of peace”.
It’s August 18, 1969.
It’s history, with the H to the I to the S to the T to the O to the R to the Y all f***in’ capital!
It’s history.

All of a sudden, the notes of the American anthem turned into the sound of bombs dropping, screaming, grenade explosions, bullets shot straight from that guitar to the audience. That morning, on that stage, Hendrix transformed, from ‘just’ the best guitarist ever into an immortal artist who took a firm position against his country’s authorities and the war in Vietnam, going on on those very days. He gave the world — both his contemporaries and posterity — something that will always be worth listening.
Hendrix’s Woodstock version of Star Spangled Banner is not just a guitar music performance: it’s Picasso’s Guernica, it’s Goia’s The Third of May 1808, it’s Banksy’s Walled Off; it’s art reaching its highest form.


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50 years later.
So what’s the point in still talking about Woodstock today?
Maybe the point is remembering and looking into the difference between the dad of all music festivals and all that, today, is loosely defined as “Woodstock”. To be “Woodstock”, or at least a distant relative of its, thousands of people and a stage are not enough. Neither is the rib festival, nor the latest 20-year-old deejay; neither are 10,000 smartphone screens glowing nor MDMA-powered bodies; neither is sleeping in bags nor 50-year-old bands with members in their 70s playing the same old riffs over again. Smoking “the sh*t out of it”, having sex under the stars, dancing like no-one’s watching: either of these is just not enough.
Not even remotely.
Because Woodstock was, has been and will forever be something utterly unique and unrepeatable.
Woodstock was the dream, the utopia, the magic.


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Woodstock was the flame that powered the youth’s counterculture movement. A light that shone as short as three days, from Friday August 15th 1969 to the morning of August 18th, when it went out forever taking away from us all the hope for a different world, the moment Jimi Hendrix, on that stage, finished “playing the war”.
Woodstock was “culture and counterculture” facing each other head-on, no rules, no-holds-barred, no limits, for three days; a clash that brought about a tornado of pure energy, never seen before and never to be seen again.


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Woodstock was a three-day world apart: an inclusive, peaceful planet, where race wasn’t a thing, where love was free for real, where drugs served as a bias-crushing tool for a deeper self-knowledge, where the “look” matter didn’t matter and, at the same time was a crucial means of self-expression, where self-respect came right after the respect for others, where difference was the most beautiful thing, that you would display with pride and be fascinated by.


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Woodstock was the event where — with no need for violence of any sort — the energies, dreams, commitment, projects and visions of a whole generation and their mindful and inspired counterculture met up, giving the world a concrete, visible answer to the age-old question “What if…”
Then came dark times: the Years of Lead, Reagan’s hedonism and the Spice Girls.
Heroin, AIDS then heroin again.
That’s why any given Tomorrowland, Glastonbury, Coachella or Exit just can’t compare to it.
Because it feels as if we’re only left with an empty shell, called Festival.
Whose substance is gone.
Gone forever, maybe,
since that morning of August 18th 1969,
when Jimi Hendrix, dressed in white,
played the war
on that stage.