Max Yasgur Rented Out His Farm for Woodstock. His Neighbors Sued Him

Max and Miriam Yasgur on their land after the Woodstock Music & Art Fair.

He may not have been as hip as Jimi Hendrix, but Max Yasgur played as important a role in the original Woodstock, which took place 50 years ago, beginning Aug. 15, 1969.

Woodstock’s organizers were four men in their 20s — Artie Kornfeld, Michael Lang, John Roberts and Joel Rosenman — who had originally had the idea to hold a music festival at Howard Mills Industrial Park in Wallkill, N.Y., about 30 miles from the town of Woodstock. But only about a month before the festival was to occur, the town succeeded in banning the event. Having been rejected by other potential venues, they were running out of options.

But, during their rush to find a replacement venue, event organizers were contacted by a resident of nearby Bethel, who thought the town could offer an option. The ensuing focus on Bethel led to a meeting with a local real estate agent, who drove one of the organizers to see a dairy farm there. The man who owned the farm: Max Yasgur.

Yasgur, who was then approaching age 50, agreed to lease some of his land to festival organizers.

His reasons were both monetary and idealistic. He was paid a reported $75,000 for the use of 600 acres of his land, though reports on the exact sum differ. However, he was also something of an iconoclast — a pro-Vietnam War political conservative who firmly believed in the right of free expression (even if the expression came from people whose lifestyles and beliefs were very different to his own). He once remarked to the New York Times that, “If the generation gap is to be closed, we older people have to do more than we have done.”

The farmer’s decision to accommodate a vast gathering of hippies was less than popular in his community. Some gave him the cold shoulder, while others threatened him with arson, boycott of his dairy products, and physical attack. Though not everyone in Yasgur’s town was anti-Woodstock, there were many who had no interest in closing any “generation gap.” Some residents began displaying signs that said, “Don’t buy Yasgur’s milk. He loves the hippies.” The threat of boycott would actually harden Yasgur’s resolve. His wife, Miriam Yasgur, recalled how, after her husband saw this sign, she “knew darned well he was going to let them have their festival.”

Disapproval of the festival did not prevent some neighbors from trying to capitalize on it; once Woodstock was underway, they began selling water to the thirsty masses. Yasgur was incensed that people would turn something as fundamental as water into a money-making enterprise. On the side of his barn that faced the road, he put up a large sign to inform everyone that he had “Free Water.”

Appearing on stage during Woodstock’s second day, Yasgur received a hearty response when he addressed the crowd—which was much larger than he had expected. The same could be said for his neighbors, who had dreaded the idea of some 50,000 concertgoers rocking out in …read more

Source:: Time – Entertainment

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