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Remembering Woodstock

This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of Woodstock!

The music lineup for Woodstock was iconic. A myriad of the musicians featured in 33 1/3 frontlined the festival, including Neil Young, Jimi Hendrix, The Band, Sly & the Family Stone, and more. For instance, in The Band’s Music from Big Pink music writer John Niven tells a fictionalized but historically driven account of The Band’s 1968 album that helped to define Woodstock as a hippy mecca.

With 50 years of Woodstock behind us, so many of our impressions of the festival are clouded by romantic distortions. There are millions of people who regard Woodstock as a cultural touchstone, one which many of us weren’t alive to claim firsthand. Enshrined in history with the makings of a myth, Woodstock proves that sometimes a historical narrative posseses more cultural capital than the event itself.

1969 was a year defined by political diviseness and national strife, a dissonant moment that left an entire generation of young people feeling disillusioned. Despite a series of organizational gaffes, Woodstock became a musical utopia, the wellspring of festival fashion, and a beacon of anti-establishment resistance. It embodied ideals that still resonate even after five decades of retelling.

Although “cultural appropriation” was not yet part of the national consciousness, a Native American inspired aesthetic symbolized the counter-cultural movement brewing at Woodstock. Ironically, what once represented an ernest declaration of political identity is now commercially packaged to appeal to the masses at festivals like Coachella. The disconnect between Woodstock “the event” and Woodstock “the memory” isn’t exclusive to fashion. In the current era of political turmoil, nostalgic visions of Woodstock’s anti-establishment protest culture gloss over valid criticisms of baby boomer privilege defined by Vietnam and Civil Rights. Luckily, there are voices that continue to complicate the romanticized vision that is pervasive in the mainstream narrative.

Woodstock is a cultural moment so vast in influence that it continues to capture the nation’s historical imagination five decades later. As we revisit the legend, it should not only be scrutinized for its contradictions, but also reflected upon as a peaceful call to action during a time of discord. Excavating and re-telling that story may help us understand the story of today.

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