August 18, 1969 is a date that was the apex of a social revolution. That was the date of Woodstock, a weekend music festival whose impact was felt around the world. The music festival occurred forty years ago but is still remembered not only by the sixties generation, but by those who followed. Many who attended said it was a “life changing event.”
Woodstock is remembered as a time of hippies, drugs, love, peace, freedom of ideas and revolution of accepted mores. In short, youthful hedonism and 60’s excess. But, I want to examine Woodstock from an entrepreneurial point of view.
I recently went to visit friends who live in Livingston Manor, New York. Little did I realize that they live not far from Bethel, the site of Woodstock. My friend spent his summers in a home adjacent to Max Yasgur’s pasture, where Woodstock was held.
The setting today is a pastoral hillside with a small marker indicating where Woodstock took place. On the hillside is the Woodstock Museum and a small outdoor concert area, mostly for classical music. What a change but still worth seeing.
Woodstock was pure entrepreneurship–people with an idea and a passion! For sure, this was not a MBA mentality. They were, as Tom Peters states “Ready, Fire, Aim.” The concept came together very quickly. Although they had some business experience, it was not great experience. The original goal was to raise enough money from the festival to fund a music recording studio in upstate New York, where some of the artists lived.
The original site was an industrial park in Wallkill, New York. Contracts were already signed, but town people became nervous about the potential crowd. An audience of 50,000 was the initial target. But these young entrepreneurs were adaptable. In June, Wallkill town people were still raising issues and Woodstock Ventures quickly found another location that was willing to accept them. Imagine, changing locations with less than 75 days to concert time!
The major marketing activity would be word of mouth. And, there was no internet to spread the word. They thought they would need three major acts to get the buzz going. Jefferson Airplane was the first to sign at the incredible amount of $12,000. At that time, they usually received $5,000 to $6,000. The next to sign was Creedence Clearwater for $11,500 and then, The Who, for $12,500. In total they spent $180,000 on talent. These promoters were risk takers. Just think…a concert in a pasture, over 100 miles from New York and without any major population nearby.
The concept slogan of “Three Days of Peace and Music” was cultivated very carefully in the underground press. Publications like the Village Voice and Rolling Stone were used along with some ads in the New York Times. Artie Kornfeld, one of the original Woodstock producers said, “The cool PR image was intentional,” using counterculture symbols and phrases. This is another entrepreneurial cornerstone; you must identify your market. The advertising and public relations was targeted for a specific group—young, peace loving and hip. This audience spread the word from the east to west coast.
Woodstock was over the top successful. It is estimated 400,000 to 500,000 people attended on a rain soaked, muddy field. The New York Thruway was clogged and created one of the worst traffic jams experienced.
Woodstock is now a brand. These promoters had an idea and were passionate, adaptive risk takers who identified an audience. They had a message targeted to that audience and were proactive in creating word of mouth marketing that was “cool” and easy to spread.
To be successful in tough times, you need similar traits. You need ideas and a passion to execute them. You need to be adaptive when necessary and make investments (risk taking) to promote the concept. Lastly, you need to identify your audience and choose the best vehicle to get attention.