Capturing the Echoes of Woodstock: A Race Against Time

Published March 2, 2024

The Woodstock festival of 1969 remains a significant cultural milestone, embodying the zeitgeist of the 1960s. Despite being named after Woodstock, the event took place far from its namesake, in Bethel, New York. Nonetheless, it has become intertwined with the history of the era. An astonishing 450,000 individuals gathered on Max Yasgur's farm, drawn by the allure of 'three days of peace, love and music' from August 15th to 17th. The audience, primarily comprising teenagers and young adults then, are today's seniors whose first-hand accounts risk slipping into oblivion as time marches on.

Gathering the Voices Before They're Lost

Under the looming concern that recollections of Woodstock might disappear with the passing of its attendees, the Museum at Bethel Woods is undertaking a massive five-year project. This initiative seeks to travel across the United States to record and document the oral histories of those who experienced Woodstock firsthand. Rona Elliot, a 77-year-old music journalist who was part of Woodstock herself, has joined the museum as a 'community connector'. She emphasizes the importance of gathering the narrative mosaic that formed the 1960s directly from those who lived it.

A Nationwide Effort to Preserve History

The museum's efforts, inspired by historian Studs Terkel's approach to oral histories, began in 2020 and involve meeting with individuals to hear and record their unique stories. To support this extensive historical endeavor, grants totaling upwards of $235,000 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services have been secured. These funds enable curators and connectors like Elliot to criss-cross America, engaging with those who hold pieces of the Woodstock puzzle. The journey has taken them from Santa Fe to Florida, onto cruise ships, and through cities such as Columbus and San Francisco, as they capture the eclectic tales of individuals like Richard Schoellhorn, a former security guard turned volunteer at Woodstock, and Akinyele Sadiq, who recounted his transformational experience at the festival.

From Private Recollections to Public Archive

With over 500 oral histories already recorded, the museum curators continue their quest and plan to revisit locations like New Mexico and California while adding Boston and New York City to their itinerary. The project's final years will focus on sorting through these historical accounts and reaffirming the connections between those who shared the Woodstock experience. Elliot is passionate about the initiative, seeing it as a means to educate people about Woodstock's cultural significance beyond just its musical legacy.

peace, music, history