Planning Woodstock

“Middle-aged housewives, small-town businessmen, and weather-beaten farmers are trading horror stories about hippies. There’s a real fear that they’re going to be overrun and molested by hordes of long-haired freaks. Wallkill town supervisor Jack Schlosser raps his gavel on the table, where he sits among six town board members. ‘Let Mr. Lang have his say’.”

I’m about halfway through Michael Lang’s book The Road To Woodstock, where the above quote comes from, and this whole idea of what it took to conceptualize and pull off that event has really grabbed my attention. (Michael Lang is the guy that came up with Woodstock.)

How often do we show up to events and completely take for granted the planning that led to our enjoyment and satisfaction, no matter the scale?¬†Someone had to put in a lot of time and money for that recent work conference, concert or holiday party. It’s easy to forget that part of the process.

So, after coming up with an idea (in this case, we’re focusing on Woodstock), consider finding:

  • Others that share your vision (after convincing them you’re not crazy)
  • The money (and determining how much is required)
  • The right time to hold your event (and allow yourself enough prep time)
  • Core team (creative, admin, promotion, production, legal, etc.), which could be hundreds of people
  • The location (finding the right place available at the right time)
  • Artists (that you can afford, that aren’t already booked)
  • Vendors (the right ones, paying the right price)
  • Security
  • Transportation plans (traffic flow, air transport)
  • Lodging (camping space for hundreds of thousands)
  • Basic infrastructure (electricity, running water)
  • A sanitation system (in this case)
  • Selling your idea to the locals (if it’s an unusual idea, in Woodstock’s case – yes)

Michael Lang pulled produced the Miami Pop Festival in 1968. He later took the budget from that event to help come up with a basic budget for Woodstock. From The Road To Woodstock:

“I had figured a total cost of about $500,000. I drew up a rough plan requiring a cash investment of $250,000. The balance would come from advance ticket sales. I figured $100,000 for talent deposits and $150,000 for pre-event staff, legal, office, site leasing, site prep, and production. I hoped to rent the Winston Farm for $5,000, but that was still up in the air. As a model, we figured 100,000 people attending a two-day festival at $5 or $6 a ticket per day. We could have our dream and make a profit. (Of course, this would all change as the concept evolved and the festival went to three days with an estimated audience of 200,000 per day.)”

Jumping immediately to what actually happened, from James E. Perone’s book Woodstock: An Encyclopedia of the Music and Art Fair:

“The influx of young people became something akin to a snowball rolling down a mountain. By the first day of the actual festival, it would be clear that there would be no way to collect tickets, due to the lack of preparation and the crowd, which by then numbered an estimated 400,000 people…Not only did the size of the crowd cause enormous traffic problems and necessitate the principals of Woodstock Ventures making the decision to make the festival a free event, but it also created serious problems in the areas of food and water supply, sanitation and medical care. It must be remembered that no one in the Woodstock organization had an inkling that more than perhaps 150,000 people would attend, and then over the course of three days. All of the advance plans had been done with this as a possible maximum head count in mind.”

Woodstock was an amazing event, and has had a fantastic historical perception. But it was the first of its kind as far as outdoor festivals go. There were countless unknowns, but I’d say Michael Lang and crew did a pretty killer job overall.

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