Woodstock Organizer John Morris Passed Away At 84
via Medicine Man Gallery/ Youtube
John Morris, a seasoned concert organizer known for his involvement in the original Woodstock festival, has died at the age of 84. His family confirmed his passing to the Los Angeles Times. Morris had been battling a prolonged illness, coping with COPD for several years and previously facing cancer.
Morris, who is originally from New York, started in the entertainment industry as a lighting director for off-Broadway shows. Later, he relocated to the West Coast and established himself as a prominent rock concert promoter in San Francisco.
It was in the Bay Area where Morris teamed up with renowned concert promoter Bill Graham. Together, they collaborated with some of the era’s biggest musical acts, such as Jefferson Airplane, the Doors, and the Grateful Dead. When Graham expanded his operations to open the Fillmore East in New York, he entrusted Morris to manage the venue.
John Morris’ Significant Role in Woodstock
In 1969, Morris was recruited to assist in securing musical acts for Woodstock. He recollected in an interview with Pollstar many years later:
“We started booking acts in April.
“Joe Cocker and Santana were both paid $2,500. Hendrix was a special case; we paid him $32,000 for two performances, an acoustic set with Band of Gypsies and by himself. We famously got the Who for $11,000 because that was all we had left in the budget, and we plied Pete Townshend with wine to get him to agree.”
Throughout the three-day festival, Morris served as the head of production. The iconic event marked a significant cultural shift and remains one of the most renowned concerts in history.
In his capacity, Morris was responsible for delivering stage announcements at Woodstock. His memorable declaration to the audience that the festival had become a “free concert” was captured in the 1970 Woodstock documentary. Morris explained in a 2017 interview with the Malibu Times:
“We dealt with what became one of the largest cities in New York State at that point (attendance at 400,000) — managed to put on one of the best music concerts of all time, which is immortalized in the Woodstock film.
“We successfully organized one of the greatest music festivals of all time, which was immortalized in the Woodstock film. You can see me in that film announcing and coming as close to a nervous breakdown as humanly possible. On Sunday, we had what was later on called a tornado that shot through the festival, poured rain, wind — the stage started sort of sliding, feeling dangerous.”
“I had to tell everybody to get off the towers.
“We hunkered down — we survived it. I still think it’s the best concert I’ve ever been involved in.”
Morris continued his career as a concert producer until 1990, working on tours with some of the most prominent rock acts, including Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Pink Floyd, and Frank Zappa.