It’s the recipe for an unmitigated disaster.
You are expecting around 50,000 people to attend your music festival. Your team of four fresh-faced festival planners scrambled to find a venue at the last minute, and the best you could do was to rent out some pasture land from a local farmer.
Eager young concert-goers are already arriving and you haven’t even managed to get gates and facilities in place. Security? You have maybe a dozen or so security team members “trained” and ready to keep your 50,000 attendees safe and orderly.
But what about that 50,000 people? In the days leading up to the event, they begin to trickle in. Then that trickle turns into a stream. Then the stream turns into a flood. Soon, you are swamped with young concertgoers. They are abandoning their cars on local roads and trekking in on foot, a non-stop deluge of humanity drawn to this place at this time as if by some mysterious force.
By the time the festival is in full force, somewhere around half a million people have converged on your festival and maybe half a million more have attempted the journey. With no gates, you’ve given up any effort at collecting ticket money, and your festival has become free. You are just focused on keeping everyone alive for the next several days.
But admission isn’t the only thing that has become free. The festival attendees freely share their food and provisions with each other. They share their stashes of weed and psychedelic drugs. They share … well, pretty much *everything* if and when the mood strikes.
You brace for the worst. Will the crowds riot? Will people turn on each other and fight over food, water, drugs, jealousy? Will violence break out?
No. None of that happens. In fact, the gathering is exactly the opposite. In the midst of this chaos, a sense of peace, love, and harmony pervades the throngs of humanity grooving along to the headlining acts. For four days in August of 1969, the Woodstock Music Festival in Bethel, New York became the epicenter of the countercultural movement.
It takes moxie for what could easily have been a catastrophic melee to become a cultural moment, and Woodstock had it. Here’s how:
Moxie lives its ideals.
Maybe it was the drugs, or maybe it was the ideals, but concertgoers lived out what they had been preaching. Woodstock is so notable because nearly half a million people got together for several days in less than comfortable circumstances and no riots broke out.
The peace that pervaded the festival was in direct contrast to the anger, confusion, and division that permeated the larger culture. The struggle for Civil Rights was still fresh, and Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated just a year earlier. The Vietnam war was well underway, and a whole generation was struggling with the implications. The women’s rights movement was heating up, too.
And yet in the muddy fields of a dairy farm in upstate New York, nearly half a million young people gathered to hear some great music. The hippie ethic of living peacefully and joyfully pervaded the setting. These young people, perhaps exhausted by the cultural upheaval and anger and protests and injustice that had so shaped their lives, were intentionally living a different way. They were not holding tightly to what was “theirs” or guarding their own resources, but instead were instead supporting and resourcing each others’ right to simply “be.”
“You’ve proven something to the world,” said Max Yasgur, the dairy farmer who rented his fields out to Woodstock organizers. “…you’ve proven to that world that half a million young people can get together and have three days of fun and music and have nothing but fun and music and God bless you for it.”
For a glorious moment, the world got a glimpse of what the countercultural movement was trying to say: peaceful coexistence is possible. We can all just get along.
Moxie can be fickle and fleeting.
For decades, organizers have attempted to go back and recapture the cultural moment that was Woodstock. For decades, organizers have failed miserably.
Perhaps the most spectacular failure happened in 1999. Bare-chested concert-goers – inflamed by the rage-filled lyrics of headlining acts and angered by scarce and expensive supplies – flipped cars and set them ablaze. It took hundreds of law enforcement officers to restore order and three people were killed.
Other attempts, such as the most recent effort to organize a commemorative 50th-anniversary festival this year, have fizzled or simply not been very noteworthy.
It seems that part of the magical moxie of the original Woodstock is that it is simply not repeatable. Perhaps the moxie of that moment was specific to that place, that time and those people. Everything came together in just the right way. Perhaps there’s a synergy to moxie that we don’t quite grasp, and as much as we wish to recapture it, it’s just not meant to be.
If you listen closely, you can still hear the moxie.
Perhaps the reason it’s impossible to recapture the spirit of the original event is that the people who made it are gone.
The hippies that made Woodstock happen grew up and moved on. Some clung to their ideals, but many ended up living very conventional lives that didn’t look a whole lot different from their parents. Those same hippies gave us the “Me” 70s and the “Greed is Good” 80s.
Some of the headlining acts who gave groundbreaking performances were gone just a few years later, victims of drug or alcohol abuse.
But we have evidence of their moxie. A documentary crew capturing images and footage from the event and recorded it for posterity. Thanks to their work, we get a taste of Woodstock. They managed to capture a sense of the event, and more importantly, the people who lived it.
That’s part of the reason I love doing what I do. Our “Moxiementaries” help our guests carve out a space to pause and reflect and celebrate what’s important to them, and why.
If you could create your own moxiementary of your life, what would you capture?