During one long, hot, rainy weekend in August of 1969, what happened on a dairy farm in upstate New York changed the course of rock music, and stamped an indelible image on American culture. But it didn’t start out that way. John Roberts, Joel Rosenman, Artie Kornfeld, Michael Lang. A military man, a lounge band guitarist, a record label executive, a rock band manager. The business venture of these unlikely partners became part of the fabric of American history primarily because it was such a huge failure.
The Band took the stage at the Bethel, New York festival around 10 p.m. on Sunday night after passing storms led to a delay of several hours before the evening’s performances started. Yasgur’s Farm was in rough shape by that point in the weekend as recounted by Helm in his This Wheel’s On Fire memoir. “You kind of felt you were going into a war,” he wrote. “There weren’t any dressing rooms because they’d been turned into emergency clinics . . . The crowd was real tired and a little unhealthy.”