Commentary: Woodstock again? Just let it go!

The effort to commemorate memory of the August 1969 Woodstock festival by holding another such event was understandable, but was doomed from the outset. For many reasons, the original cannot be duplicated.

The main activity planned to mark the occasion was called Woodstock 50. Unfortunately, it was not at the late Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in rural Bethel, New York, where folks rolled in the mud and swam nude in the pond, but was moved to the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland. Chances are there would have been no disrobing there.

Second, the list of acts at the seminal concert was awesome. Heck, even the acts which turned down the invite to the 1969 Woodstock festival reads like a Who’s Who list. Before it was canceled, the Woodstock 50 fiasco already saw Jay-Z, John Fogerty and the Black Keys bail. That’s a long descent from Santana, the Grateful Dead and The Who to begin with. So one wonders who was left to play.

Dr. Samuel B. Hoff

Further, attempting to repeat of the 1969 Woodstock magic forgets the time frame of the event. From the Vietnam War to race issues to the Charles Manson murder spree, the Summer of 1969 was unique in its ugliness, offset by the oasis of drugs, sex, and music that Woodstock embraced. Richard Nixon was president then, later to be reelected only to resign in disgrace amid imminent threat of impeachment. While there seem to be similarities with Donald Trump, at least Nixon enjoyed a popularity rating over 50 percent.

There are probably a few things which the Woodstock 50 organizers did not want to repeat from the first festival. For example, Michael Lang and his associates underestimated costs for the 1969 event by about $1.4 million and let many concertgoers in free for safety reasons. Second, as many as 80 lawsuits were filed against the Woodstock Venture group that ran the original, most by Yasgur’s farmer neighbors for property destruction. Luckily, the 1970 documentary on Woodstock helped defray these expenses, but the experience presaged the litigious society we have become since.

Endeavoring to repeat the past is impossible: history happens in real time, not reel time. Rather than attempting periodic replication of great events, we should respect them for the happening they were and not ruin their authenticity by staging a weak sister. Woodstock was both a product and mover of its time. Who remembers what transpired on the 25th, or 30th, or on the 40th anniversary of Woodstock? No one will miss a 50th version of this one-time nirvana.

Dr. Samuel B. Hoff is George Washington Distinguished Professor of History and Political Science at Delaware State University.

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