What Are Woodstock’s Most Important and Surprising Artifacts?

Bethel Woods Woodstock Festival Experience
Last year Woodstock celebrated its forty year anniversary. And this summer, The Museum at Bethel Woods is inviting all Woodstock attendees and 1960s enthusiasts to be part of preserving history for generations to come.

Without a doubt, Woodstock is a major turning point and defining moment in the history of live music. But what do these newly released artifacts tell us about its legacy and lasting impact on the modern musical festival?

Editorial Note: Article first published as New Woodstock Stories, Artifacts Showcased at Bethel Woods Museum on Blogcritics.

The Museum, which sits on the Woodstock Festival grounds, celebrates the unique experience of the 1969 festival and the legacy of the 1960s. And from now until January, the museum is calling on fans nationwide to help preserve and celebrate the history of the Woodstock experience.

In addition to celebrating artifacts previously collected by The Museum, a new special exhibition Collecting Woodstock: Recent Museum Acquisitions opened on July 29 and will run through January 2, 2011. The exhibit, which includes photographs, objects, and ephemera from the Woodstock festival, features thirty new festival images from 5 photographers; festival artifacts that have never been previously displayed; and a video compilation of rare Woodstock footage, interviews, home video of the festival, and live music audio from the concert.

To take a deeper look into the details and significance of the new Museum artifacts, I spoke with Wade Lawrence, Museum Director at Bethel Woods to tell us more about the items, some of which include Woodstock festival photographs shot by then 18-year-old Doug Lenier – Lenier’s photographs, a “journal of artists and performances” kept by Kevin Marvelle and iconic poster art by David Byrd and Arnold Skolnick.

Considering the proliferation, popularity and evolution of the modern music festival in the last forty years we also asked Lawrence about the impact of Woodstock on modern day musical festivals like Coachella and Lollapalooza; what items and artifacts would surprise fans the most; and what single artifact, if put in a time capsule, would represent the overall Woodstock legacy fifty years from now.

Q&A with Wade Lawrence, Museum Director, Bethel Woods.

What is the biggest difference between today’s modern music festivals like Lollapalooza, Coachella, etc and the Woodstock experience?

Our country has seen drastic changes in the way music festivals are conducted since Woodstock. Today’s festivals depend on massive corporate sponsorships, changing the feeling in a strongly commercial direction. Festivals today also often concentrate on specific genres — heavy metal, women’s music, and such. Many of the problems experienced at Woodstock in 1969 have been addressed, such as food concessions, parking and access, performer amenities, sanitation, and setup/teardown delays.

Fifty years from now, how do you think the modern music festival as we know it today will stack up against the Woodstock legacy?

In fifty years, the Woodstock legacy will be over 90 years, and it’s anybody’s guess what music festivals will look like. Hopefully, we will still find enjoyment in getting together under the sky to enjoy live music in a group setting.

I do not believe there will ever be another event that encapsulates the aspirations and brotherhood of an entire generation in quite the same way as Woodstock did — the sense solidarity, cooperation, and optimism that came to represent the three days of peace and music.

Woodstock Exhibit at The Museum at Bethel Woods

If fans were to read through the “Journal of artists and performances” kept by Kevin Marvelle what would they discover? What sort of misconceptions or myths of the Woodstock experience might be dispelled? What new discoveries of the performances might fans make?

Kevin Marvelle’s journal is a charming glimpse into the psyche of a typical music fan of 1969. The two most important “discoveries” about his journal are his corroboration of the performance order, which had been disputed and argued about for forty years, and his fairly detailed description of Pete Townshend’s on-stage run-in with Hoffman.

He liked seeing his favorite groups, but also enjoyed hearing the groups with which he was unfamiliar. Kevin’s musical likes and dislikes crossed musical genres, and he appreciated the performances of folkies like Joan Baez as well as rockers like The Who and Jefferson Airplane. If any misconceptions or myths are to be dispelled in what Kevin wrote, it would be that, at least from his viewpoint, it was all about the music — he wasn’t there for Abbie Hoffman’s political rants, nor did he find Sri Swami Satchidananda’s blessing very interesting.

What was Woodstock’s most profound impact on the modern music festival?

Woodstock did not invent the modern music festival — Monterey Pop, Atlanta, Atlantic City, Newport, and scores of other festivals from the 1960s created the genre, and the “shout-outs” that had been held in the village of Woodstock for several years before the festival was a direct influence.

What Woodstock did for the modern music festival, with its high-visibility documentary and world-wide press coverage, was to popularize the idea of the music festival. Woodstock effectively spread the word to an entire generation of young people — in the United States and throughout the world — that this is “our” music, “our” expression of freedom, and “our” party.

After Woodstock, the idea of a music festival, especially the multi-day on-site event, was completely understood by the audience.

What parts of The Museum will surprise music fans the most?

Bethel Woods is continually reminded by our museum guests that it is surprising to find a museum of such quality — in terms of research, story development, design, execution, and setting — dedicated to Woodstock and the Sixties. The preserved site and surrounding area, the world-class concert pavilion, and a museum that is so much more than a commemoration of an event all impress our guests. Even Woodstock attendees and people who consider themselves experts on the subject will come away with a better understanding of what happened here in 1969 and the events of the decade that shaped that festival.

The Museum features several artifacts and aspects of the Woodstock memory and experience. But if you had to preserve only one artifact or aspect of the Woodstock experience, what would it be and why?

I have two answers to this question. First, I would preserve a pair of artifacts that tell us volumes about the era and the coming change in popular culture: the Woodstock posters by David Byrd and Arnold Skolnick. Byrd’s poster epitomizes the psychedelic, art-for-art’s-sake posters of New York and San Francisco in the mid-1960s. The design was the message, not the words on the poster. The festival organizers were unhappy with the design because there was no room to advertise the bands or other information. They turned to Arnold Skolnick to design a new poster, and his “dove and guitar” design became the icon of the Woodstock festival. (Skolnick insists that the bird is actually a catbird, but world knows it as a dove). The iconic image became the “Nike swoosh” of the festival, marking the beginning of the logo-based branding of rock festivals (and the rest of popular culture).

My second answer is the journal. That small notebook says it all. It addresses the music and the fan experience, along with comments about “another nude guy” and the shortcomings or triumphs of one fan’s favorite musicians. It is a human artifact and represents the experience of many who attended the festival.

Admission to this special exhibition is included in the regular Museum admission. Fans can visit www.bethelwoodscenter.org for information on the process of submitting artifacts and additional details about the Bethel Woods Museum exhibit.

Were You At Woodstock?

What do you think is Woodstock’s lasting impact on the modern music festival? What makes it different from today’s music festivals?

Tell your story and let us know about some of your favorite Woodstock experiences in the comments below. And see how other fans have told their story in these exclusive Live Fix fan interviews .

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