When it comes to pop-cultural significance, even Woodstock has a shelf life. Fifty years after the original defined a generation (whether they wanted it to or not), the most recognizable festival in the history of rock music will not have the anniversary celebration that everyone figured inevitable. On July 31st, Woodstock 50 died its final death, with promoter Michael Lang finally giving up on the event he first discussed back in 2014 after a festival season that began with a stellar lineup announcement and ended with two lost venues, bailing investors, a move to Maryland (and a reduction from three days to one), and even a cameo by one of Donald Trump’s lawyers.
Instead of Woodstock 50 becoming a defining event for a new generation of fans, Lang’s would-be festival instead drew some unflattering comparisons to Fyre Festival. Now, as we approach this 50th anniversary weekend, the only officially sanctioned Woodstock commemoration will be a series of concerts at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. Headliners including Ringo Starr, Santana, and John Fogerty will mark the milestone with evening concerts; the grounds will be closed to non-ticket holders.
This low-key celebration seems unlikely to capture the public’s attention the way that the high-profile anniversary festivals of the ’90s did for good (Woodstock ’94) and ill (Woodstock ’99). That will put it in good company; there have been just as many unknown Woodstocks as there have famous ones. This year doesn’t just mark the 50th anniversary of Woodstock: it also marks the 40th anniversary of Woodstock ’79 and the 30th anniversary of Woodstock ’89.
Although these two events never received the acclaim of their more-famous siblings, they’re still packed with lessons about the history of music festivals, Woodstock’s ever-changing legacy, and evolutions in the music industry that still impact listeners today. With that in mind, let’s dive into the forgotten histories of these two Woodstock anniversaries, helped along by reports that appeared in newspapers throughout New York state in 1979 and 1989.