40 years later, Woodstock a thriving business

Sat Aug 15, 2009 3:07am EDT
 
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By Ray Waddell

NASHVILLE (Billboard) - Back in 1969, Woodstock organizers billed their three-day festival as "An Aquarian Exposition." But although the concert became free when an expected crowd of 200,000 grew "half a million strong," it was conceived as a business proposition.

And the business has endured. Woodstock Ventures, the firm that oversees the licensing and intellectual property related to the Woodstock festival, is still run by the original producers of the event. And for several decades now, that once ragtag group of hippies has evolved into -- if they weren't already -- good businessmen with savvy instincts.

For Woodstock's 40th anniversary -- officially August 15-18 -- the breadth of projects and merchandise is staggering. Rhino and Sony will deliver albums of performances, Warner Bros. will release the original film and the Ang Lee-directed narrative feature "Taking Woodstock," VH1 and the History Channel will air a documentary by Barbara Koppel, several publishers will release books, Target will sell anniversary-themed merchandise, and Sony is launching a social networking/e-commerce site, Woodstock.com.

"We're not perfect. There are some small decisions we would have changed here and there, but for the most part, if we weren't happy with the way something felt, then we didn't go ahead," says Joel Rosenman, one of the original organizers and now a partner in Woodstock Ventures. "And that's because what happened in 1969 and how it feels to us is more important than pretty much any commercial consideration."

'COULDN'T GET ARRESTED'

What happened in 1969 is now rock 'n' roll history. Conceived by entrepreneurs Rosenman, Michael Lang, John Roberts and Artie Kornfeld amid a backdrop of social upheaval, the three-day concert had an impact that resonated far beyond the confines of Max Yasgur's farm in Bethel, N.Y. With the formation of Woodstock Ventures before the festival, the producers also had the foresight to realize that the event was worth documenting in what ended up as the now-renowned Warner Bros. film and soundtrack album.

"We couldn't get arrested when we were putting Woodstock together," Rosenman says. "We had no production credits among the four of us that would get anybody to take our phone call. The only way we booked bands was to pay them much more than they'd ever been paid before. And the only way we got a film deal was, two days before the event, Artie Kornfeld managed to talk Warner into it. (Director) Mike Wadleigh had to reach into his own pocket to buy film stock."

The weekend of the event, Rosenman had a sound truck and a 12-track recording facility on-site and camera crews ready. The resulting film has captured the imagination of music fans ever since, creating a resource that instills interest in the event in one generation of music fans after another.   Continued...

 
<p>T-shirts on sale are displayed near the site of the original Woodstock Music Festival in Bethel, New York August 14, 2009. REUTERS/Eric Thayer</p>