On this day, Aug. 15, 1969 — a time of cultural upheaval more tangibly disruptive than that of the current day — more than 400,000 people and 32 musical acts found their way to a dairy farm in New York for “An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music.”
The event, which would become known in the American vernacular as “Woodstock,” was a legendary failure — which is to say, a failure that became a legend.
The location was settled late in the planning process. Roads clogged with traffic. Grounds got muddy. The organizers gave up control of the gates. The masses were fed by the grace and generosity of area residents, but also by the euphoria of mind-altering additives.
In short, it was groovy.
Naturally, then, there’s nostalgia. The last few years have seen a cavalcade of 50th anniversaries — not just tragedies but also triumphs like the moon landing. A Woodstock 50 festival would have had to be in the works.
But like its progenitor, the effort suffered organizational woes. The location was elusive. Ticket information was, too.
Perhaps it’s best to leave Woodstock to its legacy. The original festival was a communitarian moment during a movement of the same — lightning in a bottle. In today’s fraught environment of public safety and accountability, it’s hard to imagine pulling off any such gathering with casual disregard.
In any case, today’s young people have other interests. Like video games, to name one. According to a Washington Post-University of Massachusetts Lowell poll in 2018, almost three-quarters of Americans ages 14 to 21 had either played or watched multiplayer online games or competitions in the previous year.
Last month, the 16-year-old winner of the inaugural Fortnite World Cup took home $3 million. About 40 million players had tried to qualify for the competition.
“The point of the game is simple,” the New York Times once reported for the sake of those who don’t play: “Be the last man, woman or child standing. Kill everyone else.”
It’s wrong, as it was at the time of Woodstock, to try to pinpoint the motivating thrust of an entire generation.
But it’s worth wondering, as the British singer/songwriter Nick Lowe did in 1973 as the hippie movement was fading out: What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?