Max Yasgur - Biography
Max B. Yasgur (December 15, 1919 – February 9, 1973) was an American farmer, best known as the owner of the dairy farm in Bethel, New York at which the Woodstock Music and Art Fair was held between August 15 and August 18, 1969.
Personal life and dairy farming
Yasgur was born in New York City to Russian Jewish immigrants Samuel and Bella Yasgur. He was raised on the family's farm and attended New York University, studying real estate law. By the late 1960s, he was the largest milk producer in Sullivan County, New York. His farm had 650 cows, mostly Guernseys.
At the time of the festival in 1969, Yasgur was married and had a son and daughter. His son, Sam Yasgur, was an assistant district attorney in Manhattan at the time of Woodstock.
After area villages Saugerties (located about from Yasgur's farm) and Wallkill declined to provide a venue for the festival, Yasgur leased one of his farm's fields for a fee that festival sponsors said was $50,000. Soon afterward he began to receive both threatening and supporting phone calls. Some of the calls threatened to burn him out. However, the helpful calls outnumbered the threatening ones. Opposition to the festival began soon after the festival's relocation to Bethel was announced. Signs were erected around town, saying, "Stop Max's Hippie Music Festival. No 150,000 hippies here. Buy no milk."
Yasgur, a thin man who wore glasses, was 49 at the time of the festival and had a heart condition. He said at the time that he never expected the festival to be quite so big, but that "if the generation gap is to be closed, we older people have to do more than we have done."
Yasgur quickly established a rapport with the concert-goers, providing food at cost or for free. When he heard that some local residents were reportedly selling water to people coming to the concert, he put up a big sign at his big red barn on New York State Route 17B reading "Free Water." The New York Times reported that Yasgur "slammed a work-hardened fist on the table and demanded of some friends, 'How can anyone ask money for water?'" Sam Yasgur recalled that "he told us to take every empty milk bottle from the plant, fill them with water and give them to the kids, and give away all the milk and milk products we had at the dairy."
At the time of the concert, friends described Yasgur as an individualist, who was motivated as much by his principles as by the money. According to Sam Yasgur, his father agreed to rent the field to the festival organizers because it was a very wet year, which curtailed hay production. The income from the rental would offset the cost of purchasing thousands of bales of hay. However, Max Yasgur believed strongly in freedom of expression, and was angered by the hostility of some townspeople toward "anti-war hippies." It became for him a "cause."
On the third day of the festival just before Joe Cocker's early afternoon set, Yasgur addressed the crowd.
Many of his neighbors turned against him after the festival, and he was no longer welcome at the town general store, but he never regretted his decision to allow the concert on his farm. On January 7, 1970, he was sued by his neighbors for area property damage caused by the attendance of the "flower children". However, the damage to his own property was far more extensive and, over a year later, he received a $50,000 settlement to pay for the near-destruction of his dairy farm. He refused to rent out his farm for a 1970 revival of the festival, saying "As far as I know, I'm going back to running a dairy farm."
In 1971, Yasgur sold the farm, and a year and a half later died in Florida of a heart attack at the age of 53. He was given a full-page obituary in Rolling Stone magazine, one of the few non-musicians to receive such an honor.
In 1997, the site of the concert and surrounding was purchased by Alan Gerry for the purpose of creating the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. In August 2007, the parcel that contains Yasgur's former homestead was placed on the market for $8 million by its current owner, Roy Howard. The Woodstock site had been the locale of frequent reunions.
In popular culture
Joni Mitchell's song 'Woodstock' (also covered by Eva Cassidy, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Ian Matthews and Richie Havens) was also referring to 'Yasgur's Farm':
- I came upon a child of God
- He was walking along the road
- And I asked him where are you going
- This is what he told me
- I'm going on down to Yasgur's farm
- I'm going to join in a rock 'n' roll band
- I'm going to camp out on the land
- I'm going to try an' get my soul free...
In addition, Mountain (who were also at the festival) recorded a song shortly after the event entitled 'For Yasgur's Farm'.
The Shaw/Blades project with Tommy Shaw (Styx) and Jack Blades (Night Ranger) had a hit song, "My Hallucination" off the "Hallucination" album, that also mentioned the farm: "In Yasgur's Farm a flower grows, where it stops nobody knows, I'm flyin'...."
The band Moon Safari has a song titled Yasgur's Farm on their album Blomljud
Yasgur is portrayed by Eugene Levy in Ang Lee's film Taking Woodstock.
Sam Yasgur wrote a book about his father, Max B. Yasgur: The Woodstock Festival’s Famous Farmer, in August 2009.
- Michael Eavis, the English farmer who has hosted the Glastonbury festival from 1970.