Daily TWiP – Max Yasgur, who rented out his farm as the site of Woodstock, dies today in 1973
Welcome to Daily TWiP, your daily dose of all the holidays and history we couldn’t cram into The Week in Preview.
Looking for a surefire way to upset your neighbors? Invite a couple hundred thousand hippies to crash at your house. Max Yasgur, who died today (Feb. 9th) in 1973, did just that when he rented out a field at his White Lake, NY, dairy farm to host the now-iconic Woodstock Festival.
Yasgur, a conservative Republican who supported the Vietnam War, was the largest milk producer in Sullivan County, NY. He decided to rent one of his fields to the organizers of Woodstock because, due to it having been a wet year, he was going to have to buy hay instead of being able to produce it himself. The $50,000 payment he received for renting the field would make purchasing hay less of a financial burden.
The festival’s organizers assured Yasgur that they were only expecting 50,000 people. It was a gross underestimation. At the peak of the festival, about 400,000 people were in attendance.
Initially surprised but recovering well, Yasgur soon bonded with the festival-goers, selling them food at cost or giving it away for free. He was appalled to discover that his neighbors (some of whom had threatened him for hosting the event) were trying to turn a profit by selling water to the hippies. Believing no one should have to pay for such a basic necessity, he provided water for free.
In spite of the ideological differences he had with most of the festival-goers, Yasgur was a staunch advocate of free speech and was genuinely upset by the prejudice and hostility toward the hippies that he witnessed amongst his fellow townspeople. 49 years old at the time, he felt older people needed to do more to close the generation gap, and even got on stage and made a speech to the crowds before Jimi Hendrix’s performance. You can watch a video of his speech at the following link: http://www.woodstockstory.com/maxyasgur.html.
The aftermath of the festival, unfortunately, was not nearly as beautiful as the ideals of peace and love it represented. The field was mess, thanks to torrential rains, a lack of sanitary facilities, and simply having been home to several hundred thousand people for four days, and several of Yasgur’s neighbors sued him for damages to their own properties. He eventually received a $50,000 settlement to help cover the costs of rebuilding his farm.
Yasgur never regretted his decision to host Woodstock, but he did turn down a request to rent out his field for a 1970 revival of the festival. Some experiences are meant to be once-in-a-lifetime.
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– Teresa Santoski