By the time I got to Woodstock…
By Ellen Fruchtman, President
It was 50 years ago, August 15-18. I was only 14 years old. By the time I got to Woodstock, it really was half a million strong. A different time. And the memories are most certainly faded. Woodstock was not only a celebration of peace, love and music, but it was also the ultimate study of how an iconic event was built on the social media of the times and what we call today, viral word-of-mouth marketing. It was how I got to Woodstock.
Woodstock was marketed in print and in radio – mostly local New York radio. I don’t recall seeing or hearing an ad (I mean I was 14 and who read the newspaper?) other than a few weeks prior on a crackling transistor radio working overtime to secure a signal (any signal) from my location in Hunter, New York. It was there that I was a Junior Counselor at a summer camp called Lincoln Green. Hunter, New York was some 80 miles from Bethel. The modicum amount of news and talk we received from that transistor radio spoke about some concert happening not too far away. Sounds like some amazing performers. What the hell? We had to check it out. The rest, of course, is history. True it is somewhat of a blurred history for me, thank you awful memory, (and other outside influences which we won’t talk about in this article).
There are mixed facts about the following. Some say the expectation of attendance was approximately 20,000. And that the producers had an expectation of well more but didn’t want to let on for fear it would be canceled. Other accounts speak about 100,000 pre-tickets being sold. Regardless, no one expected 500,000 people plus would descend on the small city of Bethel and Max Yasgur’s dairy farm.
Most of the people heard about it from friends. Some heard how difficult it was going to be to attend the festival, including traffic and other variables, and yet none of that served as a deterrent. In fact, it apparently made everyone more convinced they wanted to attend more than ever. It was billed as a “weekend in the country”. Sounded very appealing. Highways and local roads came to a standstill. There was bad weather. A lack of facilities, food and water. And yet, no one seemed to care. They kept coming. That’s how strong word-of-mouth actually was.
It’s interesting to note the media, of which there were few in attendance, emphasized the problems. Headlines read “Traffic Uptight at Hippiefest” and the New York Times wrote an editorial called “Nightmare in the Catskills”. A part of that editorial said the following: “The dreams of marijuana and rock music that drew 300,000 fans and hippies to the Catskills had little more sanity than the impulses that drive the lemmings to march to their deaths in the sea. They ended in a nightmare of mud and stagnation…What kind of culture is it that can produce so colossal a mess?” Coverage ended up changing somewhat based on the phone calls parents made to the media, having heard from their children who were in attendance. Ahh…phone booths. Concertgoers were enraged to hear from their parents that the news was so bad, they made calls themselves to report on the happenings to local stations. Misleading coverage, which too, was spread by word-of-mouth. My, things really don’t change. Personally, I just remember thinking to myself, “I hope my parents don’t find out I’m here. And, I hope I can get back to camp by the next day so there isn’t a missing report filed with the police.”
Fifty years ago, a massive three-day concert came off without much of a hitch. A peaceful celebration which will go down as one of the greatest rock and roll events in pop-culture history. Yes, no violence. Woodstock is a study in what great word-of-mouth marketing can accomplish.
“Said, I’m going down to Yasgur’s Farm…Gonna join in a rock and roll band…Got to get back to the land and set my soul free.”
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