The Road Block in Bethel

Some of the residents in Bethel, a town with 3,900 souls, heard about the worries in Wallkill. About hippies, drugs, traffic. Most of the locals in Bethel saw the concert as something positive though, a way to earn some money. But there were about 800 (maybe more) inhabitants who, like those of Wallkill, were afraid of the influx, the kind of people who might show up. Public fury rose again; but this time it was too late. 

The 'anti-Woostock-residents' of Bethel tried to stop the concert with threats and a planned human barricade. But since the worries in Wallkill had given the concert free and valuable publicity, and more publicity meant more interest, it was simply just too late to cancel the whole thing. An order to stop the concert at this time would probably have resulted in chaos.

The reluctant locals tried to stop the spectacle anyhow—through threats and petitions. Everything failed. The last-minute strategy to stop the show by forming a human barricade across Route 17B also went down the drain because of the traffic jam. The day for the planned barricade Route 17B was already jammed up all the way down to Route 17—a distance of 10 miles! 

Just as in Wallkill, Woodstock Ventures had been lying about the expected festival guests. The figures mentioned to the Bethel were, say, 50, 000 people, tops. The Woodstock team knew, though, that many more people would come. Michael Lang was hoping for a quarter-million people, but he and the others kept their months shut since they "didn't want to scare anyone." Two weeks before the concert it leaked out that over 180, 000 tickets had been sold.

Woodstock Ventures tried to win the residents in Bethel over by offering a small pre-festival with free entertainment. The Earthlight Theatre and the rock band Quill were booked. But Ventures made a big mistake by not checking up on the theatre group, for the Earthlight Theatre did not perform Strindberg or Shakespeare, something the audience expected. No, this theatre group did a play called "Sex. Y'll Come." The very title of the play must have made people upset, and the fact that the 18 actors in the group were frequently stripping probably made those who were against the concert in the first place even more convinced. Or as Rosenman put it, " They went from being suspicious to being convinced."

 

Highway 17B Traffic Jam

On Tuesday morning, August 12, the first cars parked at the Woodstock site. By Thursday afternoon, August 14, Max Yasgur's alfalfa fields was "an idyllic commune of 25, 000 people." Even though many more people were to be expected, Upstate New York considered itself ready to face any problems. Organisers, city, county and the state officials knew what to expect and felt confident in their abilities to handle the traffic, the crowd control, sanitation, medical emergencies and any other unexpected problem.

What they had not planned for were 500, 000 attending.

Parking was a slight problem for the festival guests. At its worst, the traffic jam measured 20 miles. For natural reasons people grew tired of the slow—or let's say the non-existent—pace and simply just left their cars on the road. There were abandoned cars everywhere. 


Watching the time pass by...

Excuse me, but did anyone happen to see where I parked my car?

The organisers blamed the state police for the disaster. They claimed that the police had refused to enact the festival's traffic plan to direct the cars to pull off the highway and park in the fields off Route 17B. But as one officer put it; "Parked cars do not need much direction."

The traffic heading for the Woodstock festival acted in same ways like a vacuum cleaner—cars, and with them people who did not have any intention to visit the festival, got sucked into the stream and had no chance to get out. A young man, age 17, wanted to impress his fifteen-year-old girlfriend and invited her on a trip in his father's brand new 1969 Oldsmobile. If he had known what was waiting around the corner, he would probably have taken his bike. The two them got caught in traffic and ended up at the Woodstock site. Their parents did not know where they were and, worst of all, they could not find their way back to where the one-week-old car was parked.

That couple was only one of many who by accident ended up in Woodstock. There were, however, also people whose intention was to spend the weekend of their life in Woodstock—people who had planned and looked forward to the event for months. The traffic chaos killed those people's plans and excitement. Because of the traffic chaos the roads were closed and people did not manage to get through to Bethel. The only sensible thing to do was to turn around and go back home. 

The traffic jam also made it impossible to get out of Bethel. There were parked cars and people camping everywhere. The biggest problem for the locals during these three days would turned out to be trespassing. The festival guests put up their tents where they felt like it, in backyards etc. 
"Mrs. Graham found herself trapped on Yasgur's farm because her car was blocked in. She wanted out of the Woodstock Nation. "It wasn't my type of culture. It wasn't my type of upbringing. It wasn't my type of experience." She said. " I kind of blotted it out from my head. It was a frightening experience. I didn't see the love and the peace. I saw an overwhelming crowd, and I didn't understand what was going on."


Traffic chaos in Bethel.

The traffic chaos caused extra work for the organisers who frantically started to search for helicopters to shuttle in artists and supplies. Luckily enough there was an airport not to far away from Bethel and from there the musicians could get picked up. To get hold of helicopters turned out to be pretty hard. The first helicopter available could only shuttle in single-act artists, which resulted in a change of the programme. The first day of Woodstock should have featured folk musicians such as Tim Hardin and Arlo Guthrie, among others. It is true that Tim Hardin was onboard the first helicopter and therefore theoretically could have opened the festival. But theory isn't always applicable to practice and the truth was that even though Hardin was in place he was too stoned to enter the stage. Lang chose to go for Richie Havens, and at 5:07 pm Eastern Daylight Time on August 15, 1969, "Three Days of Music and Peace" started.

Three hours later, poor Havens was still playing. The expected helicopters were late, and since he was the only one capable of playing, he had to keep on. While improvising his last song "Freedom," a helicopter landed and Havens could finally leave the stage—probably completely exhausted and with aching fingers.

The helicopter that landed was a large U.S Army helicopter. It is a bit ironic that one might think the U.S Army in some ways made Woodstock come true. After all, most of the crowd was against the war.


No traffic in the skies

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