Welcome to the Woodstock - Preservation Archives
Dedicated to the Historic Preservation of the Site of the 1969 Woodstock Festival
THE WOODSTOCK SITE
Hurd & West Shore Rds
"This is the largest group of people ever assembled in one place and I think you people have proven something to the world," Max told the crowd, "that half a million people can get together and have three days of fun and music, and have nothing but fun and music. God bless you all."
(Max Yasgur - August 1969)
unbeknownst to Sam and Bella Yasgur of Maplewood NY, that their son
would grow to be a counterculture icon. His name was Max, and he
for the rights of people with whom he shared little in common,
including matters of opinion. That he would champion for the
hippies’ right to assemble, speak and
on any topic important to them. Max Yasgur stepped into the history
books when he said there would be a festival on his land. It was a
landmark event, and it was called “Woodstock”.
Raised on a farm, Max attended New York University where he studied real estate law. He returned to his family’s farm in the 1940’s which was sold a few years later, and he moved to Bethel looking to expand. He married Miriam “Mimi” Miller of Monticello, they had two children, and by the late 1960’s, the Yasgur Dairy Farm had grown to be the largest milk producer in Sullivan County, complete with its own refrigeration complex, pasteurization plant and delivery routes. Max Yasgur was known across the county as being a strong-willed, hard working, man of his word, toting a pipe and having a powerful hand-shake.
In the summer of 1969 everything would change. Fifty miles down the road in Walkill NY, the planned Woodstock Festival had been driven out and alternative land was desperately being sought. A gentleman by the name of Elliot Tiber, a good friend of Max, was the person responsible for first bringing Max and Woodstock Ventures together. Yasgur had a large farm and an initial offer was made to rent his field for $50 dollars a day for a festival that might bring in 5,000 people Yasgur was aware of what had taken place in Walkill and felt it was a great injustice. Interested in this proposal, but making no promises, the farmer met the hippie in the alfalfa field - a field which Max had cleared himself. Festival promoter Michael Lang was immediately sold on the site shown to him by Max. Lang thought the land was perfect - a large flat plateau for concessions, progressing towards a gently sloping alfalfa field that created a natural bowl or amphitheater. There was a rise at the bottom, perfect for a stage, and a lake in the background. To Michael the land was magic and meetings were set to further discuss the matter.
When it came to business, Max welcomed rental fees for the event. The summer had been miserable and rainy, and Max saw this festival as a way of supporting his wife and children – not to mention a large farm and his workers. Max was a businessman himself, and he grew wise to Woodstock Ventures. Within a few days it hadbecome obvious to Yasgur that this would be more than a small event as an estimated 40,000 were now expected. Initially offered $50, Yasgur and Lang would again walk the land, and with pencil and paper in hand, Max figured in everything, including what his losses would be - the crop he would lose already in the field plus the cost to reseed the land for the following year. With a little persuasion from his son, the dairy farmer rented 600 acres of his farm plus surrounding parcels to the Woodstock entrepreneurs for a total of $75,000, and the deal was sealed right on that field.
Conservative was the appropriate look in Bethel - short hair and covered chests. So as word of Max’s proposal quickly traveled through town, and it brought about an outrage from townspeople and Sullivan County elders - someone from within was negotiating with longhairs. Personal threats were launched, and a sign popped up reading: “ Don't Buy Yasgur's Milk. He Loves The Hippies.” “The sign did it,” said Miriam Yasgur, “When Max saw that, I knew darned well he was going to let them have their festival. You didn't do that to Max.”
The use of drugs on his land bothered Max a great deal; LSD in particular. "Any kid I can get off drugs means more to me," he commented, "than endorsing some nutty product." Before he died, hundreds of festival-goers wrote to say that as a result of Woodstock and the personal ideals Max publicized later on, they quit drugs. As Yasgur put it: "To me this means everything."
Max attended a town meeting prior to the festival to defend himself, after hearing a number of complaints about the upcoming concert. Yasgur asked each official there if there were any legal stipulations, within their respective departments, that hadn't been met to accommodate the expected 40,000 people per day. When no reservations were raised, he addressed the entire meeting saying: "So the only objection to having a festival here is to keep longhairs out of town? Well, you can all go pound salt up your ass, because come August 15, we're going to have a festival!"
At 5:07pm EDT on August 15, 1969 the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival began. The 40,000 expected people had grown to half a million. The crowd was treated to some of the top names in music of the day. They also faced torrential downpours, mud, hunger and insufficient basic amenities such as toilets and shelter, in what was deemed by the state governor as a disaster area. Out of circumstance, the crowd, mainly comprised of middle class youth, endured the conditions through the counterculture’s practices of caring, and sharing of all available resources, with those around them. It was a watershed event that defined a generation, and one of the greatest events of the 20th Century.
At the end of the 3 day celebration Yasgur took the stage and made his moving "I Am a Farmer" speech to the thousands of spectators, becoming a highly revered figure among the hippies. Max fought for them all, and they knew it. He became the father image for Woodstock and its patron saint.
In the months that followed the event, Max Yasgur’s name was dirt throughout Sullivan County, and he paid a high price for the profit he made. In addition to facing the scorn of neighbors, he battled first-hand the crisis created by the vast number of concert-goers, who crowded his 600 acres. On January 7, 1970, Max was sued for $35,000 in property damages by neighboring farmers.
Max had wanted that land to be developed into a park area. He offered 5 acres of land overlooking the stage area to the Town of Bethel for $1, but the community wanted nothing to do with it and indicated that it would not be welcome. For years following the concert, the people of Bethel opposed any publicity connecting them with the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival in any way and went so far as to exempt themselves from any New York tour guides. Mrs. Yasgur admitted: "The community did not want to encourage young people to come into the area."
In 1971, looking back at all that happened, Yasgur remarked: "The worst thing about Woodstock was that there were just too many. I wouldn't have done it if I knew there were going to be half a million instead of 40,000... Bethel is a rural town and can't service a crowd that big... I had no right to have any kind of affairthat would block vital services from reaching my neighbors."
Max sold his business and retired to a winter home in Marathon, Florida, where he worked as a realtor. There were a number of offers to market his name on merchandise, but he turned them all down, believing that it would be wrong to try to capitalize on something that was, in his words, "an accident". The only things that he said he disliked about Woodstock were the use of drugs, especially LSD and the immense size of the crowd, as it was far beyond his expectations.
Max Yasgur toured Israel about two years after the concert and had the opportunity to meet Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. Ben-Gurion went down the receiving line, speaking to each guest. Max said to Ben-Gurion, “I'm Max Yasgur of Bethel,” and Ben-Gurion shakes his hand and says, “Oh yeah, that's where Woodstock was, wasn't it?” said Liberty's Lou Newman, a friend of Yasgur's.
On Feb. 9, 1973, the dairy farmer suffered a heart attack, and was taken from us at the early age of 53. There were many who attended his funeral, and there were those who chose to pay their respects by visiting the site of the historical event that he made possible. He was laid to rest at the Ahavath Israel Cemetery, Liberty, NY., and will be forever remembered.
Max was, and still is, highly respected as a man of his word, for his idealism and for his modesty, for his peace and for his tolerance, and is best characterized by a comment he once made to his wife: "When I decide that I have to drive by someone in need of help and not stop, that's not the kind of world I want to live in."
1971, Yasgur completed five chapters of a book he was collaborating
all the material has been recorded. The Woodstock Letters would have
been a compilation of his favorite correspondence. Work was
cancelled when publishers convinced him people would be more
interested in an autobiography. Max eventually realized that people
were interested in what he had to say and would respect his idealism
and he began to record his personal memories and took a strong stand
against drugs. Included in his Woodstock memorabilia are hundreds of
notes from festival goers saying "Thanks for letting us use your
land". Maybe, someday, that book will come out, but for now, for his
wife and grandchildren, it's a precious record of a man who was
proudest as a successful farmer and as a good provider for his
The Woodstock Festival's Famous Father
|Sam Yasgur has
written an homage to his father Max Yasgur who played a crucial role
in the events leading to the Woodstock Festival.
The book is filled with both anecdotes and never before told stories about Woodstock and about Max Yasgur as a man, a father and ultimately, the most famous farmer in America.
About the Author
Sam Yasgur is an attorney who has served as an Assistant District Attorney and Deputy Chief of the Racket's Bureau for the New York County District Attorney's Office;as County Attorney of Westchester; a partner in the Hall Dickler law firm and currently, as Sullivan County Attorney. Yasgur is a graduate of Cornell University and the University of Chicago School of Law.