“Woodstock never happened – it was planned.” Some of us may have heard this quote before, but a greater understanding of what it took to pull the festival off comes from reading Barefoot in Babylon: The Creations of the Woodstock Music Festival (Spitz, 1969). This hard to find book can help one fully understand that Woodstock was a festival that took a great deal of planning, especially being the largest and grandest of its kind. For those of us who enjoy a good festival, there is perhaps no better publication recounting the minute detail that goes into planning such an event better than Barefoot in Babylon. On the 43rd anniversary of Woodstock, glance back at the best of all the books to detail how Woodstock was planned and found its place in history.
In reading this book, one notices not only the culture of the late 1960s and the prevailing anti-war attitude in the nation, but also the minutia that we commonly overlook when we go to a festival. Food, security, fences, water, stage set-up, the performers, traffic, bathrooms, medical assistance and the all around aura of Woodstock is given a full examination by Robert Stephen Spitz. In the decade following the festival and while things were a little fresher in the minds of those who made the festival come together, Spitz goes through detailed meetings and interactions that led to the festival’s creation. As problems arose, sleep was lost, people ingested bad acid (it was blue, not brown), deaths occurred, camaraderie was had between people from every part of the country and memories were the only souvenir beyond the rare ticket stub.
The struggles that Woodstock Ventures had in securing the site is a recurring theme throughout the book, something that festivals today still face. As Woodstock Ventures are constantly told there is no room at the inn, various townships such as Wallkill, NY, found ways to prevent the festival from taking place, with only weeks to go before fans arrived. There is an overwhelming feeling that you are there, and can visualize every moment of the festival, how the stage slipped six inches during a torrential downpour, security extorting money from the festival producers, possible mass-electrocution and the National Guard waiting on standby for what they thought would be a major health crisis. Regardless, the festival went off and the legacy of the efforts of two hippies and two businessmen culminated in the weekend we all know of as legend. Woodstock set the bar for all future festivals at the same time as influencing the creation of many festivals over the past four decades, so that more of us can experience that festival vibe by attending music festivals each year.
Tracking down a copy of this book takes some effort, as the book is out of print but there are a few online retailers who have used copies for sale. A 500 page book doesn’t seem like enough to tell the whole story of Woodstock from conception to cleanup, but every moment, every individual and every problem that arose – and there were so many – is detailed better than any other book on Woodstock. By the time you finish reading Barefoot in Babylon, you will still be shocked they pulled it off, thanks to Spitz’s precision documentation.
Barefoot in Babylon: The Creation of the Woodstock Music Festival, 1969
by Robert Stephen Spitz, 1979 Viking Press