Woodstock - A defining moment of a generation

Pre-University Paper, 2009

21 Pages, Grade: 14 Punkte

Free online reading



1. Background
1.1 Political Background
1.2 Countercultures
1.3 Black Movement
1.4 Women’s Liberation
1.5 Free Sex
1.6 Technological Process

2. Music and it’s political function

3. Woodstock – The Festival
3.1 Basic Information
3.2 How Woodstock happened

4. The Performers
4.1 Richie Havens
4.2 Sawami Satchidananda
4.3 Country Joe McDonald
4.4 Joan Baez
4.5 Sly & Family Stone
4.6 Jimi Hendrix
4.7 Others
4.8 Absentees

5. Atmosphere

6. The end of the 60s
6.1 The end of the 60s
6.2 Political victims
6.3 Death and drug victims
6.4 The Altamont Affair



For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated by hippies. I’ve always been attracted to their easygoing and light-hearted attitude towards life and their simple but satisfying ideals of peace, love and harmony.

The first time I came across them, I was very young. The fundamental experiences probably happened in my childhood and were induced by watching American movies set in the 60s and 70s such as “Hair” and “Forrest Gump”. The way my mother influenced me and the impression I gained never changed. On the contrary, the older I got and the more I understood the background stories, meanings and connections between all the occurring movements, events and conflicts in the time period between 1960 an 1970, the more fascinated and interested I have become.

For me Woodstock appears to be the musical and social highlight of this era. If you watch documentaries or live recordings of those three days, it gives you a vital climax of the awareness of life and the feeling that the people shared who were part of it.

It was remarkable how many radical and basic changes took place in this one decade. Most of them emanated from the US and impacted the rest of the world. The existing orders and standards seemed to get revolved and rearranged by social and political movements.

In understanding the importance and specialness of Woodstock, although it was mainly a musical event, it is necessary to give a short review of the political and social background of that time period in the US.

1. Background

1.1 Political Background

In the early 1960s young Democratic President John F. Kennedy had awakened hopes for deep changes in politics and society in the USA, to lead the nation into a modern state, trying to prevent further involvement in Vietnam. But when he was assassinated on November 22, 1963 it meant a shock for the whole nation. President Lyndon B. Johnson became his successor in the White House.

The cold war between the USA/the western world and the Soviet Union /the eastern world had led to a consistent fear of communism in the US. Therefore they finally got involved in the conflict between North and South Vietnam. But the violent conflict could not be solved fast or easily. It turned into a war. In the eyes of the government it was necessary to protect democracy, but more and more people became aware that the war that had started as a violent conflict in 1959, was not to be won (and would not end until 1973).

So there was the Anti War Movement. A high percentage of the American population rose in opposition to the Vietnam War protesting actively against the government and the military. Some of them because they objected to war in general and others, the liberals, believed that the best way of stopping the spread of communism was by encouraging democratic, rather than authoritarian governments (compare Bailey, p.19-29).

Nevertheless thousands of young men had to line up for military service. Some of them got drafted even right after they had finished high school. People started to challenge the voter age-limits by arguing: "If you're old enough to die for your country, you're old enough to vote."

1.2 Countercultures

The social revolution proceeded basically from the younger generation. Countercultures rose.

People were rebelling against the previous conditions, especially against the conservative norms of the time and disassociated themselves from the mainstream and older generations.

One group was called the “hippies”. Their goal was to live a life without violence but in peace and harmony between humans, races and peoples. Most of them were youthful dropouts of the middle and upper class who rejected a “superficial and materialistic society in general.”

Instead of profit and career they preferred “Love and Peace”.

The “Flower People”, as they were also called, were dreaming of the “Flower Power”. A power which exchanged guns with flowers and bombs with butterflies.

„If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.“ (The Mamas & the Papas, San Francisco, 1967)

California, San Francisco in particular, became the centre point for the Hippies in the 60s and 70s. To the general public it looked like nothing else than happenings, love, loud music, sex and drugs.

But there were in fact other issues at hand: protest against authoritarian structures and politics. Love and peace – party and protest.

“On one side of the bay lies San Francisco – on the other Berkeley with the famous University of California. This is where the political spark was ignited that later erupted in the streets of Berkeley”. (SWR: “USA – The Sound of …”, Part 12, Love and peace in San Francisco )

At first the political scene at the university consisted of small individual groups which stood up for civil rights, against atomic testing or for free speech. The University administration viewed the participants with displeasure. The conflict over free speech on the campus escalated.

One student, Mario Savio, a free speech activist, made a famous speech on December 2, 1964. When he came to Berkeley in the early 1960s he found an establishment that did not allow political expression on the campus. He deeply believed that speaking the truth and expressing one’s opinion was the peak of democratic citizenship. There was a sit-in to protest at the arrest of a student for distributing political literature on campus. The mood was very tense, everybody was excited because it was the first time anybody did something against the will of the administration. Against this “enemy” the various groups joined forces. The sit-in was followed by a protest rally. Savio told his audience they had to change the world, to throw their bodies on the “gears of the machine”

So students were awakened to a political consciousness that started to change the nation. The Free Speech Movement of the Berkeley campus spread the rebellion to universities throughout the USA and Mr Savio emerged as the symbol of it, demanding not to trust anyone over 30.

Support came from many sides, e.g. singer Joan Baez sang her protest. One year after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy she could prevent the students from using violence during the first student revolt. She also organized lectures about the theory of non-violence and civil disobedience.

Lightshows and psychedelic music became important in the hippie culture. Drugs were a part of the hippie trip experience. They enthused over the mind-expanding effect of drugs. Especially cannabis, cocaine and psychedelic drugs such as LSD became very popular, which gradually threatened the hippie movement to go down in the blur of narcotics.

The drugs were to elevate the combination of music, readings and meditation into a new experience of the senses. Lyrics were ambiguous, not just expressing black or white, but always suggesting some other level, open for interpretation.

But while some were demonstrating, having parties or were making love, other young Americans of the same age had to fight in Vietnam. The war had been going on for years, but gradually it escalated. Every month 20,000 young American soldiers left for Vietnam. The Anti-War Movement tried to prevent the transport of the draftees to induction. Support also came from civil rights leader Martin Luther King who spoke against it.[1]


[1] Information taken from SWR: USA- The Sound of…: Love and Peace in San Francisco

21 of 21 pages


Woodstock - A defining moment of a generation
14 Punkte
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
550 KB
Woodstock, 68er Music, Flower Power, Counterculture, Festival, Hippy Generation
Quote paper
Melanie Klug (Author), 2009, Woodstock - A defining moment of a generation, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/144948


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