Collecting: Woodstock

The 50th anniversary of Woodstock is coming up next year. This original concert ticket sold for $39 in March 2018.

During a hot summer in 1969, rock fans overran a dairy farm for “3 Days of Peace & Music” and changed music forever. This was Woodstock.

When you think of an archeological dig, you imagine attempts to uncover the relics of the ancient worlds. Pyramids and pharaohs, Roman aqueducts and temples, festival hippie beads and guitar picks. Wait, what? Guitar picks in the ancient world?

Well, as it happens, Max Yasgur’s dairy farm near Woodstock, New York is now the focus of a serious archeological excavation by the Binghampton University’s Public Archeology Facility to determine where the stage of this most famous of rock concerts was situated. “We can use this as a reference point,” said project director Josh Anderson. “People can stand on that and look up at the hill and say, ‘Oh, this is where the performers were. Jimi Hendrix stood here and played his guitar at 8:30 in the morning.’”

In fact there were 32 performers in all with an estimated 400,000 concert going “hippies’” sharing an often muddy, rainy field with little in the way of sanitation, food, or overnight accommodations, other than what you brought with you. Yet from August 15th through August 18th, 1969,  “Woodstock was a spark of beauty” where half-a-million kids “saw that they were part of a greater organism,” according to performer Joni Mitchell. It is considered the most pivotal moment in counterculture history. That’s why the field was placed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2017.

Nearly 186,000 advance tickets were sold at $18 each ($127 adjusted for inflation) for the full three days of The Woodstock Music & Art Fair; individual day tickets were also sold for $6, $7 and $8. However, massive crowds quickly turned this into a free concert after more than twice the 200,000 expected attendance burst through the barriers without paying the $24 ($170) ticket at the gate. Promoters couldn’t keep order, so they kept the concert going instead. Today, those tickets have been auctioned from $15 for a one day ticket to as high as $600 or so for a full three-day ticket.

This original 1969 Woodstock poster sold for $2,400 in May 2017.

Naturally, there were full color posters announcing “An Aquarian Exposition in White Lake, NY” with the famous white dove (or catbird, depending on who you talk to) sitting on the neck of a guitar designed by Arnold Skolnick. He earned $15 ($106) for the poster design. Today, original Woodstock posters have auctioned from $500 to $7500 depending on print and edition.

This original Woodstock program sold for $300 in 2016.

There are also original programs for the event printed by Concert Hall Publications, Inc. featuring a closeup of a green field with a patch of yellow dandelions on the front cover with the words “3 days of peace and music.” Apparently, many of the originals were used as protection from the elements or burned as firewood during the concert. The program was later reprinted with some specific differences from the originals such as thinner paper and inconsistent printing quality (the word “of” on the cover should sit on a dandelion, for example). Depending on condition, the first printing of the official program sells for $200 to $800.  

And naturally, there are reproductions of the tickets, posters and programs being sold as well. How do you know if you have, or are bidding on, an original? Let the Woodstock Preservation Alliance, a nonprofit group dedicated to preserving the Woodstock site, help with that here.

This Janis Joplin Woodstock autograph sold for $4,999 in 2016.

Autographs from Woodstock performers such as Janis Joplin sold for nearly $5000 (a most difficult one to get considering her rather short career), while a Jerry Garcia signed three-day ticket sold for $870, and a Jimi Hendrix single autograph sold at $432. There are so many multiple signatures on programs, tickets, and record covers, too, that were auctioned from $300 to $3500.

The original dairy farm sign from the site of Woodstock sold for over $10,000 in 2009.

The most amazing collectibles, though, are always the most unusual. Woodstock was performed on the dairy farm of Max Yasgur, of course, and a tin sign advertising his dairy was auctioned for $10,625 in 2009. Yasgur was shunned by his community for leasing to the promoters of Woodstock, so he sold out soon within a year and moved away to Florida where he died shortly after at age 53 of a heart attack. The security jackets used at Woodstock are the most unusual collectible with a red one (there is a yellow one as well that sold for a similar amount in 2017) that sold at auction for $3,750 in 2011.

An original Woodstock security jacket sold for over $3,700 in 2011.

And so, after digging through the hillside of Yasgur’s former dairy farm, did they find anything of significance? If you consider pull tabs and pieces of broken glass of serious historic significance, then yes. That was about it. King Tut this ain’t. According to the Associated Press story, though, the spot of the original stage is under a layer of compacted fill, so they may at least be closer to establishing where the original layout may have been. And when was the last time you saw a pull tab from a can anyway?

Today a rather large concrete monument fitted with metal plaques, designed by Wayne C. Saward, marks the spot of the Woodstock festival. The plaque lists the performers and the date of dedication by the Gelish family (the owners of the land at that time) in 1984. While the nearby towns of Bethel and Woodstock hindered the original concert, they now embrace its historic status proving that love and peace really do conquer all…or…next year will be the 50th anniversary of Woodstock and many may be visiting then.

As Max Yasgur said, “If we join them, we can turn those adversities that are the problems of America today into a hope for a brighter and more peaceful future…”

If only.

Tom Carrier is a General Worthologist with a specialty in Americana, political memorabilia and he has been the resident WorthPoint vexillologist (flags, seals and heraldry) since 2007. Tom is also a frequent contributor of articles to WorthPoint.

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