Global Developments and Live Performance
The 1960s were a tumultuous decade. Against the backdrop of global crisis and in opposition to
military campaigns, large portions of the postwar generation expressed oppositional political
stances and formulated alternate cultural practices. The 1969 Woodstock live music festival,
which brought some of the period’s leading rock music artists to an audience of almost half a
million, became the widely visible climax of American counterculture.
Woodstock has persisted in public memory as an iconic event of the 1960s partially for its
extraordinary coverage. Michael Wadleigh’s 1970 documentary film Woodstock: Three Days of
Peace and Music, which offers authentic, intimate, and detailed perspectives on the festival,
received critical acclaim in many forms and has reached a remarkable box office gross. It is
regarded as the quintessential concert documentary on rock music.
Based on your background knowledge from textbook readings and your individual analysis of
the film as a primary source, write an argument-driven and evidence-based essay in response
to the following question:
In what ways did the 1969 live music festival Woodstock reflect 1960s counterculture,
and to what extent was it an effective response to the challenges and concerns that
young Americans faced?
To present an informed and original response, you might want to consider the following
questions for inspiration as you watch the documentary and prepare your essay:
⦁ What literal, visual, and aural elements of this primary source speak to key developments of
the period such as sexual liberation, the Civil Rights movement, alternate lifestyles, drug
consumption, and anti-war protest?
⦁ In what ways do attendees (on and off stage) express “otherness,” or deviation from
established norms, or opposition toward mainstream culture (think: song messages, spoken
statements, behavior, conduct, appearance, fashion etc.)?
⦁ What do the featured songs (lyrics and music) say about hippie lifestyle and counterculture?
How do they point at the generational divide between babyboomers and older Americans?
⦁ What specific political issues are central to the event? What stances are expressed in
performances (such as those by Joan Baez, Crosby Still Nash & Young, Jefferson Airplane,
Country Joe McDonald, and Jimi Hendrix)? What positions do interviewees from the audience
⦁ What meanings do sex, drugs, and rock music have in the context of the festival’s microcosm?
Are their primary purposes of passive (think: escapist) or active (think: oppositional, contrarian)
⦁ What demographic groups within the general populace (think: age, race, sex, gender etc.) did
this festival attract, and who appears to be absent, or at least underrepresented, and why?
⦁ How did the festival site relate to the “world outside” in analogy to how postwar youth culture
related to American society at large? What elements (think: shapes, colors, iconography etc.)
characterized the open-air venue aesthetically? How did contemporary witnesses outside the
festival site respond to the event?