By the Time They Got to Woodstock

August 7, 2019

Fifty years ago, more than half a million people descended on upstate New York for the Woodstock Music and Art Festival. A lot of famous people were there, and we’re not just talking about the bands and singers on stage.

Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith

Legendary American rock band Aerosmith played Woodstock…the 25th-anniversary edition in 1994, that is. The group formed in Boston in 1970, not long after a formative summer of ’69 for its members He saw future Aerosmith members Tom Hamilton and Joe Perry play in their band, and befriended them. In August, Tyler and Perry attended Woodstock together. (One of Tyler’s favorite acts to play at Woodstock was Janis Joplin. Her inclination to wear lots of scarves and draped clothing is what inspired Tyler’s famous stage bit of covering his mic stand in scarves.)

Billy Joel

Around the time that he formed his first major band, a psychedelic rock duo called Attila, future soft-rock superstar Billy Joel hit Woodstock to take in performances by his fellow scenesters. In particular, he really wanted to see Jimi Hendrix play. But Joel had a terrible time. First, Country Joe and the Fish’s protest song “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die-Rag” rubbed him the wrong way. “I don’t like somebody telling me how to think,” Joel said in 2014. Also upsetting the singer-songwriter: the event’s revolting portable toilets. That was the last straw and Joel took off early…long before Hendrix played.

Abbie Hoffman

Countercultural political activist and leader of the “Yippies” Abbie Hoffman was as much an icon of the ‘60s generation as the acts that played on the Woodstock stage, such as Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead, and the Who…whom Hoffman actually tried to join on stage. In protesting the arrest and imprisonment of activist John Sinclair, Hoffman rushed the stage during a break in the music. While guitarist Pete Townshend made some adjustments to his amplifier, Hoffman stole a microphone and delivered a profanity-laced speech about Sinclair’s jailing. While Townshend would later say that he agreed with Hoffman’s political stance, he was very much against him forcing his way onto the stage. And that’s why he smashed Hoffman in the back with his guitar and made him leave. No camera crews for the Woodstock documentary managed to capture the moment.

Tim Russert

TV journalist and Meet the Press Tim Russert grew up in Buffalo, New York, not terribly far from the site of the Woodstock festival in Bethel, New York. While on a break from college, the 19-year-old Russert trekked to Woodstock. He once mentioned on Meet the Press that he attended the festival while wearing “a Buffalo Bills jersey” and carried in a case of beer under his arm.