Dan Garson's Woodstock Experience

In 1969, Dan Garson, a 17-year-old from New Haven, Connecticut, captured more than 200 stunning images while at Woodstock. The images were thought to have been lost – until now. Dan Garson’s Woodstock Experience is a "digital coffee table book” designed for exclusive use on the iPad, featuring hundreds of previously unseen black and white, and color photographs and related ephemera from the seminal event that defined a generation. Dan Garson's Woodstock Experience is available through iTunes. Read Garson's amazing story and view a collection of his images here.

Dan Garson's Woodstock Experience 

by Rona Elliot

In the months before the Woodstock Music and Art Festival would turn the pop culture world upside down, 17-year-old Dan Garson was your typical American teen. He was in love with rock and roll, and played trumpet in a Motown-inspired band in his Connecticut high school. While Garson loved rock and roll, he loved photography even more. He lived to take pictures, night and day. Even before Garson (pictured) became a teen, he announced to his parents that he would grow up and become a professional photographer.

In the spring of 1969, Garson read an article in the New Haven Register that would reverberate decades into the future. A small piece talked about a summer concert scheduled in upstate New York.

Demonstrating an enormous amount of chutzpah and vision, Garson wrote to the guy quoted in the article about the upcoming “Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace and Music” and asked for a press pass to photograph the show for his high school newspaper, The Trident.

Fate, karma, luck, destiny – whatever you want to call it – was apparently in play that day. Artie Kornfeld, one of the Woodstock producers, read Garson’s note and destiny’s hot hand intervened. In late July, Garson received confirmation of his press pass in the mail. That golden ticket was sent by Rod Jacobsen, part of the festival’s publicity team.

History has shown that Garson’s insightful confidence would put him smack center in a place others have longed to be ever since - in the front row at Woodstock.

For more than three days, Garson soaked in everything happening at Woodstock. He took pages of notes about what he saw and what was going on. He also took an astonishing 260 photos in black and white, and color. He wandered the grounds and shot a remarkable catalogue of the event: the reveling, the partying, the sleeping, the mud, the musicians, the audience, the storms, the entire gestalt was recorded through the lens of an astonishingly astute teenager.

The delight in seeing Garson’s Woodstock pictures is that after all these decades and all we thought we knew about Woodstock, a new time capsule has been opened and discovered through his work. Every one of Garson’s images reveal some tableau at Woodstock that is both new and delicious, and tells us more about what was going on during that time. His pictures provide a flowing narrative of his Woodstock experience and demonstrate that he understood perfectly where he was at the time of the show as well as what was up culturally at that turning-point moment, which would later just be called “Woodstock.” (pictured: a page from Dan Garson's handwritten notes)

As someone who worked at Woodstock and who has seen literally thousands of Woodstock pictures, I see Garson’s photographs as amazing and insightful for that time, and in hindsight, nothing short of totally astonishing. They display a clarity both of subject matter and contextual view. They resonate. I look at his beautiful photos, and I am back at the Festival site, amid the mud and heat and smell. It is nothing short of a miracle in the world of rock photography to have these magnificent historic moments discovered and preserved.

We have all heard people say “I wish I had been at Woodstock”. Well, Dan Garson was there. And through his eyes we can see what he saw, a 17 year-old kid from New Haven with a love of rock and roll and a gift of capturing the essence of this event. Garson was part of the greatest rock show ever, and he has left his visual experience of that for us to share and we are grateful.

About Rona Elliot

The abridged version of Dan Garson’s Woodstock story was written by noted American music journalist and archivist Rona Elliot. In addition to working at the legendary Woodstock Festival in 1969, Elliot has been a witness and participant to many of the most seminal moments in rock ‘n roll history. Her long list of accomplishments include working for more than a decade at NBC’s Today Show as their Music Correspondent where she interviewed some of the biggest names in rock and roll and covered major music events around the globe. While at the NBC Radio Network, Elliot produced and hosted daily, weekly and monthly music, news and entertainment shows. Elliot  has worked as a journalist for USA Today, she teaches about the music business at UCLA in Los Angeles, works with the Grammy Living Legend Foundation and currently sits as a Board Member with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. (photo by Henry Diltz)