The recent one-year anniversary of David Crosby’s passing got me thinking of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair. Commonly just referred to as Woodstock, it was held over 3 days from August 15 to 18, 1969. It was held on a dairy farm that was not at all designed for a large event such as this, which ultimately attracted over 400,000 attendees. Referred to as “3 Days of Peace & Music” this event became an iconic part of the late 1960s culture and is remembered as a time when most major music acts of the time came together to perform. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young were one of the featured bands and are one of the bands most associated with the event.
However, there was definitely a dark side to this event, mostly due to poor planning and inexperience. While hundreds of thousands of music fans arrived and were excited to be there, they did not think through what challenges a music festival on a dairy farm in upstate New York might have. Traffic to the venue effectively choked several roads leading to it. Security, food & water, and even bathrooms were all scarce. It nearly bankrupted the organizers as they didn’t sufficiently set up access control to require people to pay for tickets. Also, the many resulting lawsuits due to damage and other residual problems from the event dogged the event organizers for years. Weather plagued the event as there were intermittent rain showers during the event. Also, given it was a farm, there was no proper rainwater management, and most of the ground turned to mud during the course of the three days. Sadly, two deaths happened, one of them being a drug overdose. The Town Supervisor who approved the permits for the concert was not re-elected due to the community's dissatisfaction with the event. The trash left behind took weeks to clean, using bulldozers and large hauler trucks to move the garbage off the farm. The owner of the farm became ostracized in his own community. He never was able to use the farm as a farm after the concert and sold the property two years later.
While the net result of the festival was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the music lovers that attended, there were many lessons learned from this event as we look at modern venues for events:
1. The New York legislature enacted several laws to ensure that a venue and the organizers have the proper items in place to accommodate a large event such as this. The laws quickly spread to all the states.
2. Adequate supplies like food and water need to be planned for the number of people you plan to attend.
3. Roadways to a venue need to be sufficiently up to the task. Also, traffic management needs to be a serious consideration, which involves working with local law enforcement.
4. Weather always needs to be monitored for any event, particularly for an outdoor event such as this.
5. Every event will create a major clean-up task! Planning accordingly will help the venue return to a pre-event state.
Many of these burdens fall to organizers; however, there are many things individuals can learn from an event like this. Those lessons include:
Learn as much as you can about the venue before attending. Most modern venues have a map of the venue and all necessary facilities published on the web. Even most temporary events will publish a broad outline of the event map to help people navigate where they want to be.
Think about what your individual needs are. If you are allowed to bring a water bottle with you, that can be very helpful. Knowing where restrooms, concessions, and other necessary services are and positioning yourself strategically for those things can make your experience much more enjoyable.
Don’t be afraid to walk away if something isn’t right! If you are observing people walking into a venue over gates and other access control items, if you see excessively long lines for simple things like food or restrooms, or if you see other obvious safety concerns, do the smart thing and leave. It’s tough, given the cost of most event tickets these days, plus the anticipation of being a part of the event and being able to experience those things. However, it is better not to put yourself in an unsafe situation and regret it later.
In summary, for the individual, it boils down to two things: knowledge is power, and trust your gut. Now put on that Woodstock soundtrack album and enjoy some of the greatest music from the 1960s!
Written by Brian Nestler, Co-Founder and CEO of Event Safety Plus
Stuck in the Mud