- The Washington Times - Friday, April 24, 2009

Run for the hills. The official Woodstock “brand” is approaching like some big hallucination.

On a wave of patchouli and trademarks, the 40th anniversary of Woodstock is looming over America in a pulsating rainbow of commemorative merchandise, collector’s items, reunion concerts, social networks and licensed memorabilia.

Is it the Age of Nefarious?

Consider that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has issued 211 assorted trademarks for the term “Woodstock” - along with 385 for “freak,” 166 for “hippie,” 113 for the somewhat related term “Summer of Love,” 54 for “hippy,” 48 for “Yasgur,” 24 for “tie dye,” 23 for “flower child,” and 14 for “hippie chick.”

Better hurry and snap up those Woodstock goodies, folks. You’ve only got 112 shopping days left until the actual anniversary Aug. 15, recalling a massive music event that celebrated good will, mud, rain, drugs and questionable attire, among other things.

“My advice is that folks should just take what interests them and they find entertaining and leave the rest. There is plenty to go around. And if they find the message of ‘peace and love’ something that they can use - use it,” said Country Joe McDonald, who performed “Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag” and other 1960s anthems on the Woodstock stage almost four decades ago.

“I have nothing but good memories of the event and am the only musician that was there from beginning to end. All three days,” he added.

The gyrating hippies of yore might be baffled at the commercial outcome of their free-spirited adventures, however.

There’s a nice Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock air freshener, a Woodstock baby romper and refrigerator magnet bearing a photo likeness of an original Woodstock ticket.

Warner Home Video will soon release a nine-hour version of the 1970 film “Woodstock,” complete with a 60-page reprint of a Life magazine commemorative issue, a Lucite display of “vintage” photos and an iron-on patch of the Woodstock emblem.

The original upstate New York farmland that was once the concert site has now become the $100 million, 15,000-seat Bethel Wood Arts Center and adjacent museum, where curators still seek “artifacts” from the half-million people who eventually found their way to the event.

The old farmhouse belonging to Max Yasgur - who once owned that rolling farmland - is now an event site, museum and art gallery.

Tickets to Woodstock in 1969 were $6 a day; the price for a single ticket for the Doobie Brothers in concert now approaches $100.

It’s hard to keep track of it all.

“It might seem somehow wrong to merchandise Woodstock, but marketers don’t create needs, they satisfy them. My sense is that there is a need to remember Woodstock and it is natural for people to want tangible things to remember major cultural events,” said John Tantillo, a marketing and branding analyst who pointed out that there are tacky souvenir shops at Gettysburg and other hallowed sites.

“The positive side of Woodstock merchandising is that it says we as a culture want to remember. This is not just a flash-in-the-pan event. This one has legs, and real marketing tells us that,” Mr. Tantillo continued. “That said, in the current economic environment, it will be interesting to keep an eye on how these sales pan out. If they prosper, I think it probably confirms that the Woodstock phenomenon is going to be a long-lasting one.”

Woodstock merchandising has been an factor for a while, however.

Signature Networks - a division of Sony Entertainment - created the “Woodstock Lifestyles Brand” in 2006 as a licensing vehicle for fashion and home decor items.

Some critics claim the commercial underpinnings have been present since the beginning, questioning whether Woodstock was a true cultural phenomenon or an ad man’s dream.

“Woodstock was a hippie Disneyland, a triumph of public relations and old-fashioned merchandising perpetrated on unwitting, stoned trolls,” wrote David Dalton in Rolling Stone on the 30th anniversary in 1999.

The concert was no “emblem of what the ‘60s were supposedly all about,” Mr. Dalton added. “It’s a myth of such dismaying dopeyness … not the beginning of the Age of Aquarius, but its death knell.”

But contemporary Woodstock entrepreneurs insist that their hearts are in the right place. Particularly cyberspace.

Woodstock has entered the world of Twitter and Facebook.

Launched just a week ago, Woodstock.com features a live music social network, “exclusive content,” collectibles store, outlets for environmental and civic activism and Wikistock - an interactive online encyclopedia of the 1969 event, according to Sony Music, an official sponsor.

“Woodstock began as a dream and became a reality that exceeded our wildest expectations,” said Michael Lang, founder of Woodstock Ventures and an organizer of the new Web site - and the original concert.

“That dream lives on and our hope is that Woodstock.com will harness the power of 21st century technology to the communal idealism and values that continue to grow out of Woodstock,” Mr. Lang said.

Earlier this month, Mr. Lang announced he hoped to stage a free Woodstock anniversary concert for at least 150,000 people featuring a mix of the old (Crosby, Stills and Nash) and new (Phish).

The heavy metal flavor of the 30th anniversary concert - which featured Metallica and Megadeth - won’t be repeated, and no wonder. Attendees rioted, then set fire to the concert site, a former Air Force base upstate.

“We would like to harken back to something a lot more sentimental,” Mr. Lang said at the time. ” ‘99 was more of an MTV event. The music was much too angry for me.”

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