During the last summer of the fabulous 1960s when the revolutionary forces of change where in high conflict with the counter revolutionary forces of staid and stability, there was one place and one voice that swayed the discussion forever. The place was Yasgurs farm. The voice was that of a man named Max. He was a farmer.
Joni Mitchel sang about the place:
- I came upon a child of God
- He was walking along the road
- And I asked him where are you going
- This is what he told me
- I’m going on down to Yasgur’s farm
- I’m going to join in a rock ‘n’ roll band
- I’m going to camp out on the land
- I’m going to try an’ get my soul free..
Max B. Yasgur (Dec 15 1919, Feb 9 1973) owner of a 600 acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York hosted half a million young people in one of the pivotal moments in rock and roll history. The Woodstock Music and Art Fair, An Aquarian Exposition had the permit revoked by the community only a month prior to the festival. Discrimination against long hair, bohemian clothing and outlandish behavior were the chief complaints. Max told a local committee that “if the generation gap is to be closed, we older people have to do more than we have done” Max followed up on that and leased his farm to the youthful producers for what he thought would be a crowd of about 150,000.
Word soon got out and locals started to boycott Yasgurs dairy and he received threats by phone and mail. He stood the high ground. “I hear you are considering changing the zoning law to prevent the festival. I hear you don’t like the look of the kids who are working at the site. I hear you don’t like their lifestyle. I hear you don’t like they are against the war and that they say so very loudly. . . I don’t particularly like the looks of some of those kids either. I don’t particularly like their lifestyle, especially the drugs and free love. And I don’t like what some of them are saying about our government. However, if I know my American history, tens of thousands of Americans in uniform gave their lives in war after war just so those kids would have the freedom to do exactly what they are doing. That’s what this Country is all about and I am not going to let you throw them out of our Town just because you don’t like their dress or their hair or the way they live or what they believe. This is America and they are going to have their festival.”
Thanks to Max Yagur The Woodstock Music and Art Fair, An Aquarian Exposition: 3 days of peace and music August 15 – August 18 1969 changed America for ever. Five hundred thousand people where directly impacted and another one million people were to be influenced later. I’ll never forget the morning I saw Max walk on stage in a pressed white shirt and say:
“I’m a farmer, I don’t know how to speak to twenty people at one time, let alone a crowd like this. But I think you people have proven something to the world — not only to the Town of Bethel, or Sullivan County, or New York State; you’ve proven something to the world. This is the largest group of people ever assembled in one place. We have had no idea that there would be this size group, and because of that you’ve had quite a few inconveniences as far as water, food, and so forth. Your producers have done a mammoth job to see that you’re taken care of… they’d enjoy a vote of thanks. But above that, the important thing that you’ve proven to the world is that a half a million kids — and I call you kids because I have children that are older than you are — a half million young people can get together and have three days of fun and music and have nothing but fun and music, and I God Bless You for it!”
Listening to that farmer that morning with his simple message my heart was filled with a great hope that I had never felt before or since. We can all come together if we try. Thank you Max for sharing your farm…and everything.