“I hear you are considering changing the zoning law to prevent the festival. I hear you don’t like the look of the kids who are working at the site. I hear you don’t like their lifestyle. I hear you don’t like they are against the war and that they say so very loudly. . . I don’t particularly like the looks of some of those kids either. I don’t particularly like their lifestyle, especially the drugs and free love. And I don’t like what some of them are saying about our government. However, if I know my American history, tens of thousands of Americans in uniform gave their lives in war after war just so those kids would have the freedom to do exactly what they are doing. That’s what this country is all about and I am not going to let you throw them out of our town just because you don’t like their dress or their hair or the way they live or what they believe. This is America and they are going to have their festival.”
Max Yasgur, addressing a Bethel town board meeting prior to the festival.
By the late 1960s, Max Yasgur was the largest milk producer in Sullivan County, NY. His farm had 650 cows. At the time of the festival in 1969, Yasgur was married and had a son and daughter. After the villages of Saugerties and Wallkill, NY declined to provide a venue for the Festival, Max leased one of his farm’s fields for a fee that festival sponsors said was $10,000. Opposition to the festival began soon after the festival’s relocation to Bethel was announced, and signs were erected around town, saying, “Stop Max’s Hippie Music Festival. No 150,000 hippies here. Buy no milk.” Yasgur also received both threatening and supporting phone calls – some callers threatening to burn him out. Friends described Yasgur as an individualist who believed strongly in freedom of expression, and who was angered by the hostility of some townspeople toward “anti-war hippies.” For Max Yasgur, hosting the Festival became a “cause.”
Among the acts to perform on August 17-18, 1969, the third (into the fourth) day of the Festival, were Joe Cocker and the Grease Band, Country Joe and the Fish, Ten Years After, The Band, Johnny Winter, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Sha-Na-Na, and, closing the Festival with a two hour set that began at around 9:00 a.m. on the morning of Monday, August 18, Jimi Hendrix.
Just before Joe Cocker’s early afternoon set, Yasgur addressed the crowd:
“I’m a farmer. I don’t know how to speak to twenty people at one time, let alone a crowd like this. But I think you people have proven something to the world–not only to the Town of Bethel, or Sullivan County, or New York State; you’ve proven something to the world. This is the largest group of people ever assembled in one place. We have had no idea that there would be this size group, and because of that, you’ve had quite a few inconveniences as far as water, food, and so forth. Your producers have done a mammoth job to see that you’re taken care of… they’d enjoy a vote of thanks. But above that, the important thing that you’ve proven to the world is that a half a million kids–and I call you kids because I have children that are older than you–a half million young people can get together and have three days of fun and music and have nothing but fun and music, and I God Bless You for it!“