July 23, 2009

Courtesy Michael Lang

New Exhibit Takes Stock of Woodstock

WASHINGTON — Rolling Stone magazine called the Woodstock Music and Art Fair "the most famous event in rock history."

What started as a festival of music, peace and love in August 1969 became a mammoth gathering "half a million strong," as Joni Mitchell later sang.

But Woodstock was more than that. It marked a moment when the news media first recognized music and entertainment as a cultural and commercial force.

The Newseum’s new exhibit, "Woodstock at 40: The Rise of Music Journalism," features rarely seen photographs and artifacts from the historic music event. Included are the images and stories of photographers Dan Garson, Henry Diltz and Mark Goff, along with an original Woodstock press pass, press kit and festival tickets; an authentic Woodstock poster from concert promoter Michael Lang’s personal collection; and the original working list of musicians and how much they were paid.

Woodstock’s impact on the press will also be explored in "Woodstock" — a Newseum-produced video featuring rare archival footage and musical performances — that will be shown on the 90-foot video wall in the Robert H. and Clarice Smith Big Screen Theater. USA Today’s Edna Gundersen, Barnard Collier of The New York Times and Jan Hodenfield of Rolling Stone explain the enduring effect Woodstock had on music reporting.

Photographs taken by Garson — a teenager who obtained a coveted press pass to cover Woodstock for his high school newspaper — are being exhibited for the first time, along with his camera and reporter’s notes.

 "The people were something else," Garson wrote about Woodstock. "Everyone was friendly and mostly cheerful, whether fully clothed or not." Garson died of cancer in 1992.

Diltz, the official Woodstock photographer, was a rising music photographer in Los Angeles when Woodstock promoter Michael Lang sent him a plane ticket and $500 to document the music festival. After Jimi Hendrix’s festival-ending performance, Diltz headed to Life magazine’s New York offices, where editors were planning a special issue on Woodstock. Life gave three of his photographs — of singers Grace Slick, David Crosby and Sly Stone — full-page treatment. Diltz went on to make a career photographing rock ‘n’ roll.

Goff covered Woodstock as a young reporter for Kaleidoscope, a Milwaukee-based alternative newspaper. From a small press pit just below the stage, Goff snapped close-up photos of musicians, including Joan Baez, Ravi Shankar and Sly Stone. His favorite memory of Woodstock is the spirit of the crowd.

 "It really was peace, love and music," Goff said. "People were dancing in the rain and dancing in the mud."

This exhibit was made possible through the generous cooperation of Rona Elliot and Genesis Publications, publisher of "Woodstock Experience," along with Woodstock executive producer Michael Lang, Brad LeMee and the family of Dan Garson, and Henry Diltz and Mark Goff.

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