How Many People Died at Woodstock, The Logistics of Providing Health and Safety of 500,000 People Were Pretty Much Ignored Imagine the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina: hot, humid, hundreds of thousands of people stranded without enough food or water. Now imagine that scenario, but with Joe Cocker flailing bluesily in the background. Congratulations. You’ve just imagined Woodstock.
Let’s talk about numbers. From the beginning, Lang had planned on 250,000 coming to the festival. About three times the number of people who attended his largest concert to date, The Miami Festival. So the guy was in over his head from the get-go. Wallkill residents took a look at Woodstock Ventures sanitation plans for a crowd of 50,000 and shook their heads in bemused disgust. One resident summed it up best:
I was in the Army when divisions were 40,000 or 50,000 men. Christ almighty, the logistics involved in moving men around… I said at one point, “I don’t care if it was a convention of 50,000 ministers, I would have felt the same way.”
Knowing now that Lang secretly expected five times as many as he planned for, and that his potty plans were crap to begin with (get it?!) and that 10 times as many as he expected came, it’s a wonder the event didn’t end in concert goers flinging human feces at each other in a degraded tribal meltdown.
On top of the fact that there were -3 toilets for every 10,000 concert goers, a torrential rain started slushing that port-a-potty overflow into one nasty poop stew by Saturday.
But the problems were bigger than just the collective digestive waste of 500,000 people. The traffic started slowly piling up outside Bethel on Tuesday, five days before the concert was to start. Thousands of cars were abandoned for up to 20 miles from Yasgur’s farm, as kids gave up on driving and decided to hoof it to the festival. Local residents were trapped. Performers had to be helicoptered in (often in military copters, LOL IRONY.)
And remember that cute idea of selling tickets at the gate? What gate? The gate, fence, and all semblance of keeping Woodstock anything but an open invitation to anyone with warm breath in their bodies was plowed over early in the game.
So not only were concert goers, the surrounding townspeople, a mess of poop and a whole lot of dippy metaphysical rhetoric trapped at Woodstock by an army of abandoned vehicles, the promoters severely underplanned concessions for a three day romp on a farm. The original concession services ran out of food early, and its reinforcement truck got raided by unchill hippies (unchillipies?) on the way in to the concert.
By Friday, THE FIRST DAY OF THE ACTUAL FESTIVAL, Woodstock Ventures was out of food. Then they had the gall to ask their confined neighbors for sandwich donations. About 750,000, if they didn’t mind. Some locals felt so sorry for the hungry kids that they did what they could to help. Members of the Monticello Jewish Community Center started making sandwiches with 200 loaves of bread, 40 pounds of meat and two gallons of pickles. Food was being airlifted from in from a nearby air force base. It must have been cool to have your communist free-for-all ideals materialize in the form of pickle sandwiches prepared by your square neighbors.
To be fair, only three died. Though that is two more than how many died at the helter skelter rapefest known as Woodstock ’99.
Let’s break down the Woodstock death toll:
One burst appendix
One heroin overdose
One kid run over by a tractor
One of these deaths is not like the others. The burst appendix… that’s just crap luck, right? Having an unnecessary organ explode in the middle of half a million people? That’s like trying to having a baby during the Hebrew exodus from Egypt. Good luck getting some attention.
The overdose was an 18-year-old veteran of the Vietnam War, which sucks even more. He was given care at an impromptu clinic set up at a school outside Yasgur’s farm (which was probably better than the OD’s treated at the Freak Out tent, a makeshift infirmary where nurses and veteran trippers talked down twitchy, paranoid jokers who took the brown acid).
Hundreds of other medical cases treated involved kids showing up with severely cut feet. Others showed up temporarily blinded from staring at the sun. But that’s probably an issue at any large gathering, right?
But the strangest death was the 17-year-old kid who was snoozing in the mud, cuddled up in his sleeping bag, oblivious to the noise and vibrations and exhaust of the tractor that ran over him in cold blood. The driver was never identified, but what are you going to do? It was muddy. He didn’t know. Come on, you’re driving a tractor through Woodstock, what are the odds you’re going to run over a hippie?
Still, that kid died at Woodstock, unlike 497,000 of his generation who will most likely die of heart disease, complications stemming from Type 2 diabetes, dementia, inoperable tumors, elder neglect/abuse, suicide, freak tractor accidents, freak kidney failure accidents or AIDS. Which would you choose?