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Celebrating Woodstock: What the Festival Did for Pop Culture 50 Years Ago

The upcoming Austin City Limits (ACL) music festival is one of the longest-running festivals in the United States, bringing together legendary acts for two weekends of exciting live music. These acts range from hard rock legends Guns N’ Roses to teenage stream-queen Billie Eilish, combining for one giant musical event like no other. But before the ACL, before Coachella, and before Lollapalooza, there was Woodstock.

The Woodstock Arts and Music Festival was a 3-day celebration of art and music held at a 601-acre dairy farm in the town of Bethel, New York. The festival marks its 50th anniversary this year, so let’s take a look back and see how this famous celebration paved the way for music as we know it today.

Woodstock was initiated by Michael Lang, Artie Kornfeld, Joel Rosenman, and John P. Roberts back in 1969 and was originally pegged to be three days of peace and music. At the time, the motivation for Woodstock was to raise money so that they could build their own recording studio. Little did they know that what would transpire in those three days was an event that would be forever etched into the annals of music history.

Indeed, legends such as Santana, Grateful Dead, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix with his band Gypsy Sun & Rainbows hit the stage that fateful weekend — a sign of things to come for the iconic festival. Through the years, many bands and artists would follow in their footsteps and grace the Woodstock stage. Bob Dylan, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nine Inch Nails, and Green Day all appeared in the 1994 version of the festival, signaling a new phase as newer acts began signing up to appear at the festival.

Despite the changes, the essence of the festival remained the same. This was most evident at Woodstock ’99, when rock band Rage Against The Machine appeared. Lottoland’s list of rock songs that changed the world features Killing In The Name, and it was during this song that the band decided to set fire to the United States of America flag. This was said to be in protest of the rampant discrimination and institutional racism in the country. In the eyes of many, the flag burning was akin to Jimi Hendrix’s rousing rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner, which in itself was a statement against the Vietnam war.

Five decades later, it’s clear that Woodstock was the beginning of a shift in the way the world saw rock n’ roll. A feature published in the New York Times on the lasting effect of Woodstock detailed that other monumental events such as Live Aid used Woodstock as a point of reference. This is an indisputable sign that Woodstock ushered in the age of giant music festivals and paved the way for Live Aid and the multitude of festivals, both ongoing and in the works, today.

UPDATE: However, in an unfortunate turn of events, the celebration for the 50th anniversary of the first-ever Woodstock has fallen through, which means that no official commemoration will occur for the festival’s golden anniversary. But if you think about it, all festivals that celebrate music, in a sense, also celebrate Woodstock and those glorious days of peace and music back in ’69. Woodstock lives on through its legacy in this way, so perhaps another 50-year wait wouldn’t really hurt anyone.

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