Woodstock: The Farmer Who Rented Out Land for the 1969 Concert Was a Vietnam-Supporting Republican Who Wanted to ‘Close the Generation Gap’

In 1969, a three-day music festival took place in a muddy field outside Woodstock, NY. The event was a chaotic mess, with way more people showing up than expected, and not enough services for them. Despite this, Woodstock became a defining event of the generation. The performers included legends such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Arlo Guthrie, Joe Cocker, Joan Baez, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and many more.

Many of them spoke out against the Vietnam War, a stance that most of the crowd strongly supported. But none of this would have happened without the man who rented them the field. And he wasn’t who you’d expect to host such an event. 

Fans sitting on top of a painted bus at the Woodstock Music Festival, 1969
Woodstock | Archive Photos/Getty Images

The plan behind Woodstock

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According to Time, in 1969, four men came up with an idea to raise money to build a music studio near Woodstock. They would sell tickets to a music festival that would last three days. They figured they’d be able to sell about 50,000 tickets, and so they set about finding a place to host the event. 

They struggled to find a venue until they found Max Yasgur, who owned a 600-acre dairy farm about 50 miles from Woodstock. Yasgur was an unusual person to partner with the free-spirited, youth-oriented event. He was nearly 50 years old, a staunch conservative, and he supported the Vietnam War. 

But Yasgur also believed in free expression, and as he said, “If the generation gap is to be closed, we older people have to do more than we have done.” On top of that, there had been an unusual amount of rain that year. He was facing a big bill because he was going to have to buy hay for his cattle, instead of growing it. The rental fee would help him out too. 

Woodstock was a surprise sensation

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On August 17, 1969, the Woodstock Music Festival kicked off. History reports that the organizers expected about 50,000 attendees, but by the time the weekend arrived, they had sold over 186,000 tickets. Even that number turned out to be less than half of how many actually showed up. Nearly 500,000 people descended on Yasgur’s farm, and the scene was chaos. 

It rained that weekend, and the concertgoers were covered in mud. There weren’t enough bathrooms or first aid stations, and basic goods like food and water were scarce. Some of Yasgur’s neighbors tried to capitalize on the situation by selling water to the crowd, but he thought it was wrong to profit off a basic need. He posted a large sign on his barn, letting people know they could get free water there. 

The aftermath

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Even before the event, Yasgur’s neighbors weren’t happy about it. Some posted signs reading “Don’t buy Yasgur’s milk. He loves the hippies.” When huge crowds showed up, they were even less thrilled. According to The Telegraph, having nearly half a million people living in muddy fields with no bathrooms left behind a terrible mess. 

Yasgur’s neighbors were so upset about the damage to their nearby properties that they sued him for hosting the event. Yasgur himself eventually received a $50,000 settlement to repair the damage to his farm.

He was approached about hosting another music festival the next year, but he turned the opportunity down that time. Nonetheless, he reportedly never regretted having the festival on his property.