EASY ED’S BROADSIDE: Woodstock 50 at the Reality Distortion Field
Peter Kraayanger - Pixabay License
If you aren’t aware of it, you soon will be. This August will mark the 50-year anniversary of the music festival we all know as Woodstock. The three-day festival was a counterculture zeitgeist, reflecting the rapid changes in society and culture from a generation that swelled in number after the second world war, questioning and redefining many of the values, mores, and behavior of those before them. It is viewed as a touchstone in time not merely for the music, but for the unplanned forces of the sheer size of audience, disruption of service, weather, and perhaps most importantly, a perceived lack of chaos.
It’s been noted that if you believe all the people who said they attended Woodstock, it would add up to well over ten times the number of those who were actually there. Through the news coverage, the film and its subsequent soundtrack, and countless books and recollections, it has been seared into our collective memory banks. Studied, dissected, altered, memorialized, commoditized, monetized, and taken far beyond what it really was: three days in the rain with a lot of people and some great music.
A man named Bud Tribble who worked in software development back in 1981 used the term “reality distortion field” to describe Steve Jobs. He said he picked up the term from a Star Trek episode. It is also said that Jobs himself studied the concept when he attended college in 1972. Andy Hertzfield, another early tech dude, described it as “the ability to convince himself (Jobs) and others to believe almost anything with a mix of charm, charisma, bravado, hyperbole, marketing, appeasement and persistence. It was said to distort an audience’s sense of proportion and scales of difficulties and made them believe that the task at hand was possible.” (Folklore)
Earlier this year it was announced that during the third weekend of August there would not simply be one 50th anniversary festival, but two. The first would be at the original site in Bethel Woods (no, Woodstock did not take place in Woodstock) and the second would be the “official and authorized” event held at Watkins Glen, over 150 miles to the west. I didn’t find this surprising, but I did wonder how long it would take for a Broadway show to get produced, a holographic tour to be announced, perhaps one of those cruises on a ship in the Caribbean with some of the original performers, a special to be aired during a PBS pledge drive, and of course a Time-Life infomercial hawking something, anything … it doesn’t matter what.
In a matter of weeks there was a change in the wind. The Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, the nonprofit organization that bought the 800-acre farm where the 1969 festival took place and has since created a “unique educational, performance, and retreat environment focused on building creative capital to inspire individuals to contribute positively to the world around them,” pulled out of the announced festival and replaced it with a series of smaller events to be held throughout the year. There will be new exhibitions at their museum, weekend concerts that sometimes will include wine and craft beer tasting, and on that August weekend they’ll show the director’s cut of the film and have two concerts. One will feature Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band, Arlo Guthrie, and Edgar Winter. The next night will be Santana and The Doobie Brothers. A third concert has yet to be announced.
Meanwhile, a group called Woodstock 50 is licensing the name and rights for the official Watkins Glen event from Woodstock Ventures, which is owned by three-fourths of the original team: Michael Lang, Joel Rosenman, and the family of the late John Roberts. The other original co-producer, Artie Kornfeld, will also join the group in some capacity. This was Lang’s statement when he announced this year’s event:
“It’s time to put the speculation to rest and officially announce that Woodstock 50 is happening. The original festival in ’69 was a reaction by the youth of the time to the causes we felt compelled to fight for – civil rights, women’s rights, and the antiwar movement, and it gave way to our mission to share peace, love, and music. Today, we’re experiencing similar disconnects in our country, and one thing we’ve learned is that music has the power to bring people together. So, it’s time to bring the Woodstock spirit back, get involved and make our voices heard.
The Woodstock 50th Anniversary will be about sharing an experience with great artists and encouraging people to get educated and involved in the social issues impacting everyone on the planet. It’s so inspiring to see young people today channeling their passion into causes they care about. That’s something that’s always been a part of Woodstock’s mission, and it’s a big focus at the 50th festival.
The original site in Bethel is wonderful, but much too small for what we’re envisioning. Watkins Glen International gives us the ability to create something unlike any other commemorative event and something uniquely Woodstock. It’s a beautiful location and an ideal site.”
For the record, Watkins Glen International is not a bucolic farm with rolling hills and meadows. It’s where they hold NASCAR events and is known as the mecca of North American road racing. It’s also hosted several extremely large concerts, including the 1973 Summer Jam and two Phish fests.
Lang has also produced two previous Woodstock anniversary concerts, in 1994 and 1999. The latter event, at Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome, N.Y., ended with riots, fires, and allegations of sexual assault. “Woodstock ’99 was just a musical experience with no social significance,” Lang told Rolling Stone. “It was just a big party. With this one — Woodstock 50 — we’re going back to our roots and our original intent. And this time around, we’ll have control of everything.”
I’m an admitted cynic and skeptic, so race car tracks and rock music just remind me of the Altamont concert. Sorry, don’t mean to rain on the parade.
Earlier this week, following reports that the event was having financial issues, representatives for Woodstock 50 confirmed that organizers had wired several million dollars to several major talent agencies representing acts playing Woodstock 50, and one agency boss confirmed to Billboard that, as of Monday evening, their artists had all been paid in full. A source also confirmed to Billboard that festival organizer Superfly, which is handling the logistics of the massive camping festival, had also received full payment.
The festival lineup has yet to be announced, but the rumors suggest Dead and Company, Chance the Rapper, Imagine Dragons, The Killers, and up to possibly 80 acts will be taking the stage. With few nearby hotels, there is quite a bit of work to be done to prepare for an expected 100,000 campers. And as we already know from past history, the weather at that time of the year in New York is always a crapshoot.
Again, from the Billboard article: “There’s also a larger question of how the event will fare in a crowded festival space, and whether Woodstock will be able to attract a millennial audience interested in spending three days with older music fans. One industry insider told Billboard, ‘The next step is to put it on sale and then see if anyone cares enough to buys tickets.’”
For myself, I’d rather stick to the memories of 1969 and forgo a manufactured event that is cloaked in the political-correct ad-speak of “encouraging people to get educated and involved in the social issues.” Let’s at least be real: It’s simply an event to make money, and if you choose to go, please stay safe and be aware of overdosing on the orange Metamucil. Now that could be seriously dangerous.
Many of my past columns, articles, and essays can be accessed at my own site, therealeasyed.com. I also aggregate news and videos on both Flipboard and Facebook as The Real Easy Ed: Americana and Roots Music Daily. My Twitter handle is @therealeasyed and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.