How The WoodStock Experience Changed The Face Of Festival Planning And Security Forever

Back in 1969 at a farm outside of White Lake, New York, a music event took place. It came to define the 60’s and we know it as Woodstock.

Despite its iconic status,  when it came to festival planning Woodstock was one of the most poorly planned, and poorly executed events of all time, and one that changed the face of event planning and festival security forever.

In the beginning

Woodstock was the brainchild of four unlikely business partners John Roberts, Joel Rosenman, Mike Lang, and Artie Kornfield. Initially Roberts was the heir to a pharmaceutical fortune so he had the money and, along with his friend Rosenman, they began searching for an idea that would make them some serious cash. As a result they placed an ad in the New York Times stating;

“ Young men with large investment searching for legitimate business opportunities

Surprisingly both Kornfield and Lang responded. What they proposed was a large music festival, the likes of nothing America, or indeed the world, had ever seen before. Needless to say Roberts and Rosenman were bowled over by the idea and immediately began printing tickets valued at $7 for one day, $13 for two, and $18 for three days. They then got to work hiring the catering, the security, and the bands.

Organisational disasters

On the surface they were doing everything right, but unfortunately it was soon to come crashing down around them. Firstly the site that the venue was due to be held at was an industrial park in Walkill, New York. However less than a month before the event the residents and city council ruled against it. In addition to this, the business partners had allowed ticket sales to escalate to 200,000 even though they’d estimated only 50,000 tickets being sold. Now they had the massive problem of where to put 200,000 people, only a month before the event was to start.

After much frantic searching they found a dairy farm in Woodstock large enough to hold the event. However, limited time meant that construction of the stages, entrances, and barriers weren’t finished on time and those that were, happened to be poorly constructed.

A free concert

On the day of the event hundreds of thousands of people started to pour in through the gates and insufficient security cover meant that those without tickets also managed to walk in without paying or being turned away. Eventually as more and more people came the situation became untenable. The organisers were forced to declare the concert ‘free’. At this point the dairy farm at Woodstock had over half a million people expecting a great time.

As the weekend wore on a culmination of bad weather plus a lack of food and water made the situation worse and as a result sporadic fights started to break out. This was exacerbated by the Hells Angels who were hired as security to keep the peace, but in turn were seen to be escalating the violence instead of controlling it. In addition because of the overcrowding, medical evacuation in and out of the area became virtually impossible and nearby highways became car parks.

Crippling debts

After the event had finally wound up, most attendees had a legendary experience but it wasn’t so for the organisers. They were left with crippling debts and faced over 70 individual lawsuits. Even when the business partners paid everything back they were still left with debts in excess of $100,000. Not only did this effectively wipe out Roberts pharmaceutical fortune but it ruined the others too.

Nowadays of course things are different and events have to be meticulously planned with the right ratio of professional security guards to attendees. Just like a jigsaw all aspects of an event from selecting the right venue, to parking, to security through to catering, all need time to come to fruition. It’s easy to see with hindsight where the events of Woodstock went so badly wrong and thankfully, festivals and events are now much safer,well-organised places.

If you’re organising an event no matter how big or small and are thinking about security then come and speak To MA Services Group. We’ve been the face of security for some of the largest festivals in Queensland and know just what it takes to organise such a large scale event. Contact us today on 03 9994 4107 and don’t let your event become another Woodstock!

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