Roots of the 1969 Woodstock Festival: The Backstory to “Woodstock”

This book explains definitively and for the first time why the festival was named after the town of Woodstock, New York, and why it continues to be so closely associated with this village, even though the concert actually took place in Bethel.

The project began as panel discussion among townspeople knowledgeable about the music scene in the late sixties. It was held on August 9, 2008, at the Colony Café in Woodstock (and followed by a contemporary “Sound-Out”). Panelists included Michael Lang, a Woodstock resident and legendary 1969 Woodstock Festival promoter; Jean Young, a co-author with Lang of Woodstock Festival Remembered; Bill West, active in local government since the 1960’s; Jeremy Wilber, former Town Supervisor and bartender during the sixties at the Sled Hill Café; and Paul McMahon, a local music icon. During the course of the wide-ranging conversation the audience learned how Lang and his partners developed the concept for the world-renowned Woodstock Music and Art Fair, and how their thinking was shaped by Woodstock’s legacy of art and music festivals.

A richly illustrated panel discussion transcript comprises the first part of the book. It is followed by a “roots of Woodstock” photo essay that highlights such Woodstock writers and performers as Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Allen Ginsberg, Pete Seeger, and Richie Havens. In addition it chronicles the Arts and Crafts origins of the town from the 1800’s, and highlights the town’s hallowed tradition of weekend-long musical concerts. These began in the early 1900s with Woodstock’s Maverick festivals, and stretched up through the countercultural Sound-Outs of the 1960’s. Bob Fass, a Woodstock Sound-Out emcee and host of WBAI’s Radio Unnameable for close to fifty years, has contributed a brilliant and evocative foreword to the book. Also included are a compendium of important Woodstock players, a map of historic 1960’s locations in the Woodstock area, and 115 images—many of them rare, vintage photos of the Woodstock music and art scenes.

About the Editors

Weston and Julia Blelock have had a presence in the Woodstock area since 1956. A close friend of their family wrote the first history of the town in 1959. (WoodstockArts recently published an “art book edition” of that early title.)

During the sixties Weston was at school in the UK, but summered in Woodstock. He attended several Sound-Outs and the ’69 Festival in Bethel. During the 1990’s he was a radio journalist in Canada. More recently he co-founded WoodstockArts, a publishing and production company. He is currently Vice President of the Historical Society of Woodstock.

Julia Blelock also grew up in Woodstock. She left town to pursue a marketing career in information technology, based in New York City and Los Angeles. She recently returned to Woodstock and has become an ardent promoter of area artists through her work for the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce & Arts and the Woodstock Arts Consortium. She is a co-founder of WoodstockArts.

Praise for the Book

“I believe in this book. It touches upon the important issues of life, music and art.”
—Artie Kornfeld, co-creator of Woodstock ‘69

“We must be in literary heaven, man!”
—Wavy Gravy, founding member of the Hog Farm and clown prince of the counterculture

“Woodstock in the sixties was a magical place. I soooo enjoyed seeing all the old photos, remembering all those people, and seeing the ones who were there before my time. I’m so glad to know that others saw the UFO over Pan’s field at the ’68 Sound-Out and not just myself! Thank you for all the hard work it took to put this wonderful archival record together.”
—Ellen McIlwaine, Sound-Out performer and slide guitar legend

“Reading all the stories about what made this world-changing event come together is absolutely fascinating. It’s history, it’s funny, it’s rock ‘n’ roll . . . ”
—Ken Dashow, host of Q104.3, Classic Rock New York

“A festival of books as Woodstock turns 40. Transcript of a 2008 panel discussion with Michael Lang and locals who were there.”
Publishers Weekly

“A thoughtful, profusely illustrated preserve of American history, highly recommended for lay readers and serious students of the Woodstock event alike.”
Midwest Book Review, 5-Star Rating

“An excellent book filled with many Woodstock memories. The photos alone are worth the price.”
—Norm Goldman,

“A 50-page black-and-white photo essay at the end of the book refreshingly cuts back to the folk roots and the Arts and Crafts heritage of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair .”
Library Journal

“The book is a fascinating read: there’s an interesting story on every page, and it is a must-have for anyone interested in the Woodstock Festival, the history of Woodstock or the counterculture movement in the United States.”
Catskill Mountain Region Guide

“The meat of the book is the transcript . . . The book also features vintage photographs of the Town of Woodstock and plenty of references. By focusing on the town’s philosophies and history, the book certainly adds a new and rarely sought angle on the festival. And it is a welcome angle.”
Times Herald-Record

“The Blelocks grew up in Woodstock, left and returned. Their unusual volume details events that led up to the festival. It also contains a section about the musical history of Woodstock leading up to the festival.”
—Albany Times Union

“Primarily comprised of a transcript from a symposium on the Sound Outs and bohemian flavor of the town prior to 1969 that took place last August, the book is worth owning for its Who’s Who of local characters and surprisingly evocative (and telling) superbly-captioned photos, filled out with info and anecdotes from a series of interviews the Blelocks conducted in recent years. As strong a glimpse of what the town was 40 and 50 years ago as any description found elsewhere.”
Woodstock Times

“Transcript of 2008 discussion about how musical “Sound-Outs” in town of Woodstock inspired the ’69 event in Bethel.”

“Delves deeper into the background of the festival than any other recent title.”

“For those wishing to know more about the upstate New York culture that gave rise to the Woodstock festival, [this book] examines the area’s burgeoning music scene, including the open-air Sound-Out[s] that inspired Michael Lang’s festival concept.”

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