The fence or the stage?
Three days before the Woodstock weekend festival in July 1969, the construction manager posed this question to the event’s organizers: Would you rather have the fence or the stage?
There wasn’t time to build both.
Town officials had been assured in the spring that no more than 50,000 would attend, however by the end of June, 186,000 advance tickets had already been sold. Kids bought them at New York record stores or by mail to the Radio City post office in Manhattan for $18 apiece, which equates to $123 dollars in today’s money.
Now bear in mind, the producers still planned to sell tickets at the gate for $24 each. The only problem was… they didn’t have a gate.
But they also didn’t have a stage yet, and people were starting to arrive. Young people had driven across the country—2,000 and some 3,000 miles—to attend.
As these young folks set up tents by the thousands, and it became clear there would be no way to collect tickets… or payment, the choice was still not easy. But they made it anyway.
The stage. Focus on the stage.
Otherwise the crowd was libel to get unhappy!
So the producers, who had hoped to be awash in money, wound up taking a bath after paying for the 32 performers, the venue, the food, the security (Hog Farm members – known as the “P’lease Force”), and the mere 600 porta-potties to serve what grew to nearly 500,000 concertgoers.
But it was a legendary three-day weekend.
In the words of Max Yasgur, the farm owner who hosted the event:
- “I’m a farmer…I don’t know how to speak to twenty people at one time, let alone a crowd like this. But I think you people have proven something to the world — not only to the Town of Bethel, or Sullivan County, or New York State; you’ve proven something to the world. This is the largest group of people ever assembled in one place. We have had no idea that there would be this size group, and because of that you’ve had quite a few inconveniences as far as water, food, and so forth. Your producers have done a mammoth job to see that you’re taken care of… they’d enjoy a vote of thanks. But above that, the important thing that you’ve proven to the world is that a half a million kids — and I call you kids because I have children that are older than you are — a half million young people can get together and have three days of fun and music and have nothing but fun and music, and I – God Bless You for it!”
Today I pose the question to you… which will you build: the fence or the stage?
Too many of us spend our time constructing walls to keep other people out. God knows that’s how I used books in my childhood. Anytime someone else wanted to initiate conversation, I hid behind the pages of Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys.
We also build fences to hide behind, figuring that if someone wants to see us badly enough, they’ll have to come through the gate. And that will prove they like us, which in turn will show we’re worth something.
Today, though, I use books to build bridges. They’re conversation starters, not enders.
Your life… your story… is worth sharing. But when you play small—either because of laziness or fear or any other excuse—it’s like you’re keeping the world away from the best party on earth.
It’s time for you to choose the stage, and to build a solid platform on which to stand!
P.S. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, and a new documentary has been released, “Woodstock: Three Days that Defined a Generation,” which highlights how the show was both a muddy mess and a miracle. But you might also check out the 1970’s rockumentary, “Woodstock: Three Days of Peace, Love… and Music” for even more live footage of the music itself.