Nearly half a million people arrived at what was meant to be just another concert venue, but became the symbol of a generation. (John Dominis/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

On August 15, 1969, people began to arrive at Max Yasgur’s quiet dairy farm just outside the rural town of Bethel, New York. Advertising itself as “3 Days of Peace and Music,” the Woodstock Music & Art Fair captured the spirit of the times at the height of the hippie counter-culture. Leading up to the festival, the ever-growing projected crowds had locals panicking, and media outlets like the New York Times rolling their eyes. And yet, as Woodstock unfolded, people began to realize that something special was going on. Legendary performances by artists like Joe Cocker, Creedence Clearwater Revival, or Jimi Hendrix awed crowds, but it was the attendees themselves that really captured the America’s imagination. In the peaceful, communal, free-spirited love that crowd of 500,000 showed each other, Americans (depending who you asked) saw either shameful, muddy squalor, or a beautiful dream of how we might be.

Traffic was the chief worry of locals near Woodstock, who tried repeatedly to stop the festival from happening. On that weekend, police stopped enforcing traffic laws, a state of emergency was declared, and even the local air base assisted in managing crowds. (James M. Shelley, CC BY-SA 4.0)

With attendees stuck in traffic, some enterprising locals sold hot dogs and drinks by the side of the road. Travel difficulties would be a nightmare for organizers, artists, and journalists the whole weekend, but added to the spectacle of the festival. (Owen Franken/Corbis/Getty Images)

Left: Initial press reaction, like this front page from the New York Daily News, was skewed negative. After the weekend, though, papers like the Daily News would praise the festival for its peaceful, orderly behavior, considering the size and weather. (NY Daily News Archive/Getty Images)

Right: Max Yasgur, pictured here backstage at Woodstock, was a 53-year old dairy farmer who rented out his farm to the festival. Though much older than most of the attendees, Yasgur was upset by the anti-hippie rhetoric of his neighbors, and believed the young folk had a right to express themselves. (Bill Eppridge/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Swami Satchidananda delivered the opening address at 7:10 P.M. on Friday the 15th. A traditional yogi from south India, he gained a cult following in the United States during the 60’s and visited often to teach yoga and spirituality. His peaceful, reflective philosophy set the tone for Woodstock, and meshed perfectly with the communal idealism of festival-goers. (Mark Goff)

The size of the crowd was a problem from the beginning. Expecting at most 200,000 (and telling local authorities far less), the organizers wanted to charge for tickets, but didn’t have the time or space to fence-in the entire space. In the end, the festival was made free, but problems with sanitation and sources of food and water persisted. (James M. Shelley, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Many artists have famous performances from Woodstock, like Joe Cocker’s (left) cover of The Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends,” or Jimi Hendrix’s (right) rendition of the Star Spangled Banner on the final day of the festival. A large amount of famous artists declined to perform at Woodstock for a variety of reasons, including thinking it wouldn’t be very big (The Doors), or a dislike of hippies and drugs (Jethro Tull). (GAMMA/Getty Images)(MediaPunch/Alamy Stock Photo)

This Standing ovation was for Santana’s “Soul Sacrifice,” on Saturday afternoon, which was relatively sunny for the weekend. The pink and white tent in the background was the medical tent. (James M. Shelley, CC BY-SA 4.0)

The crowd during Joe Cocker’s set on Sunday, the 17th, around 2-3 P.M. Note the tent city on the hill beyond the stage. The placard in the center of the crowd reads, “Love your animal friends, don’t eat them.” (Woodstock Whisperer, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Traffic was basically shut down for the weekend, so vital supplies, medical equipment, and even some artists were flown in by helicopter. The festival didn’t have infinite budget for helicopter rides, though. Iron Butterfly famously was stuck at La Guardia airport in New York, and requested a helicopter to pick them up. The Woodstock organizers sent an apology telegram declining to do so, which spelled out a much more vulgar decline as an acrostic. (Bill Eppridge/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Frequent nudity, along with drug use, was a cause for scandal in the media at the time, though it has become exaggerated over time. In reality, much of the weekend was hot, muddy, and rained in, making nakedness as much an erotic, free-spirited act as it was a sensible adaptation to a venue with no laundry facilities. It was, though, quite popular to skinny dip in Filippini Pond, on the north side of Yasgur’s property. (Bill Eppridge/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Sunrise during The Who’s performance Sunday morning; supposedly they played “My Generation” just as the sun came out. The set was at one point interrupted by Vietnam War protester Abbie Hoffman, who Pete Townsend hit with his guitar and kicked off stage, threatening to kill the next person to come on stage. (James M. Shelley, CC BY-SA 4.0)

The iconic yellow lighting and sound towers made for good seating above the crowd for those willing to climb them.  (Album/Alamy Stock Photo)

This image of a couple embracing in a blanket on a damp morning at the festival is an iconic shot, partly because it was used to promote the Woodstock documentary, which came out in 1970. The documentary is the only source for many legendary performances, and its success was the only reason the festival’s organizers broke even, without ticket sales and with dozens of lawsuits to settle from the farm’s neighbors. (Colleciton Christophel/Alamy Stock Photo)

In the years after the festival, locals did their best to prevent people from visiting the site of Woodstock, or hosting future concerts, but feelings eventually warmed, and Bethel has now embraced Woodstock as part of its identity. As an icon of Americana and a capstone of the 60’s, Woodstock is entwined with our culture, from tribute concerts to the name of the Peanuts character. Despite all the chaos on his farm, Max Yasgur considered Woodstock a triumph of social harmony and empathetic values. “If we join them, we can turn those adversities that are the problems of America today into a hope for a brighter and more peaceful future… ” Yasgur passed away in 1973, and received a full-page obituary in Rolling Stone. (Bill Eppridge/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)