The former site of the Woodstock festival is now a cultural center
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Looking Back at the Woodstock Festival, 50 Years On

On the 50th anniversary of this seminal cultural event, we note connections between The Met exhibition “Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll” and the historic 1969 music festival

Today is the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock festival. Five decades ago, over the course of a remarkable long summer weekend, more than 400,000 concertgoers from across the U.S. descended upon the rolling hills of a dairy farm in Bethel, New York, for the Woodstock Music and Art Fair. Together, this vast multitude shared three days of open-air live performances by some of the era’s greatest names in music.

The site of the Woodstock festival as it looks today in Bethel, New York

The festival showcased more than 30 musical acts: Joan Baez, Jefferson Airplane, Sly and the Family Stone, Ravi Shankar, Janis Joplin, Joe Cocker, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and many other notables, playing on an outdoor stage where they were sheltered from intermittent rain—but the attendees weren’t. In the end, the massive gathering wound up being a raucous, crowded, muddy, collective experience that remains unique in the annals of rock history.

Photograph © Baron Wolman

The first act to perform at Woodstock was American singer-songwriter Richie Havens. On Friday, August 15, he kicked off the event with 10 songs, closing with his signature “Freedom (Motherless Child).” The artist’s name appears twice in Play It Loud, notably in a 1967 Filmore Auditorium poster by Bonnie Maclean (below, bottom center), which we have adapted for several exhibition-related items.

Original rock posters on view in “Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll”

The next day at Woodstock, the Grateful Dead performed for an hour and a half, including “Dark Star,” one of their early classics. The group’s appearance in The Met exhibition includes “Tiger” and “Wolf,” two of front-man Jerry Garcia’s famous custom-made electric guitars. In the band’s honor we are offering unique Dancing Bear products by Smathers & Branson.

Another Woodstock band with a Play It Loud connection are The Who, who did a 25-song set at the festival, including tunes from their magnum opus, “Tommy.” The acclaimed British foursome are well represented in the exhibition by several of their instruments (below) as well as in bold and graphic rock posters.

“The Who” gallery installation at The Met, from left: Gibson Thunderbird IV electric bass, 1964, played by John Entwistle; Gibson SG Special electric guitar, 1969, played by Pete Townshend; Premier Music Intl., Ltd. “Pictures of Lily” drum set, 1966–67, played by Keith Moon; Epiphone electric guitar, 1961, played by Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend; Gibson Les Paul Deluxe electric guitar, 1973, played by Pete Townshend

Also on view in the exhibition is a harmonica set (ca. 1967) formerly owned by Paul Butterfield of the Butterfield Blues Band, another important act at Woodstock that performed one of the final sets at the festival. Butterfield used the harmonicas throughout his career

Finally, in an apt bookend to Play It Loud, the closing act at Woodstock was Jimi Hendrix. As part of his explosive set at the festival on Monday, August 18, the legendary artist radically reinterpreted “The Star-Spangled Banner” on the 1968 Olympic white Fender Stratocaster that was temporarily on display in Play It Loud at The Met until July 1. Still on view in the exhibition are Hendrix’s Gibson “Love Drops” Flying V guitar—as well as a fragment of a 1967 Fender Stratocaster that he played (and then set fire to and smashed) at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival.

Celebrate 50 years of Woodstock—and the current Play It Loud exhibition—by shopping for related products here. And learn more about these and other great musicians —and their instruments—in the best-selling exhibition catalogue.

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