US History

Woodstock's 50th Anniversary Celebrates More Than A Rock Festival

For Woodstock's 50th anniversary, the site of the original 1969 concerts is celebrating the '60s as a whole.

Woodstock's 50th Anniversary Celebrates More Than A Rock Festival
Ric Manning / CC by 3.0

"Well, the great rock festival is now history." 

"The sponsors said it was going to be three days of peace and music. It was that, all right, and much more."

Woodstock happened 50 years ago, and today, we remember the festival for its hippie vibes, its musical legacies and its massive audience of 400,000 people

It was, at its base, a rock festival — but at its core, it was a culmination of nearly everything that happened that decade: anti-war movements, civil rights demonstrations and even the moon landing.

"We don't look at Woodstock as a three-day event full of music. We look at it as what transpired in the decade and what created that particular happening. When you start looking at the decade, and you look at the young people and what was going on, it's very clear that it was a decade of change. It was a decade full of creativity. It was a decade of dialogue. It was a decade of protest. It was a decade of activism, and movements were created as a result of it."

Darlene Fedun is the CEO of the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts — the site of the original 1969 Woodstock festival and a major organizer of some of this year's 50th anniversary events. 

"I think that's what's most important is that folks are looking at this as a yearlong celebration."

Bethel Woods' '60s-focused series, dubbed "Vibrations," runs the gamut from "Woodstock" documentary screenings and panel discussions to art workshops and concerts. 

The events go beyond the 1969 music festival but directly connect to the decade's legacies of activism and human achievement.

"For me, because I'm a classical musician now, but I started as a rock and pop guy. And so to go back to being close to where Woodstock happened is already a sort of spiritual experience for me."

Eric Whitacre is a composer and self-proclaimed "space nerd." His film and composition "Deep Field," which celebrates the Hubble Space Telescope's discovery of the Deep Field image, is part of Bethel Woods' "Vibrations" series.

"Ultimately, what I ended up telling in the story is not just the expansiveness of it, but the human story, the human drama of dreaming of something, struggling, failing and then overcoming that failure to finally make something.

"I felt like, in terms of science and music, they're almost the same discipline. ... They speak to the best of who we are. I believe that when people come together, and are part of something larger than themselves, they can make extraordinary things happen."