John Morris, Woodstock Organizer, Dead at 84
John Morris, the concert veteran who served as one of the organizers of the original Woodstock festival, has died at the age of 84.
Morris’ death was confirmed to the Los Angeles Times by his family. He had reportedly dealt with “a long illness,” and the Times noted he’d “suffered from COPD for years and had previously battled cancer.”
Born in New York, Morris’ first taste of show business came off-Broadway where he served as a lighting director on several productions. He later moved to the West Coast and established himself as one of the top rock concert promoters in San Francisco.
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It was in the Bay that Morris aligned with famed concert man Bill Graham. The duo worked with some of the era’s biggest artists, including Jefferson Airplane, the Doors and the Grateful Dead. When Graham expanded and opened New York’s Fillmore East, it was Morris who he trusted to run the venue.
John Morris Was a Key Figure at Woodstock
In 1969, Morris was enlisted to help book acts for Woodstock.
"We started booking acts in April," he recalled decades later to Pollstar. "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."
During the three-day festival, Morris served as head of production. The legendary event signaled a seismic cultural shift and remains one of the most famous concerts in history.
In his role, Morris was tasked with making stage announcements during Woodstock. He memorably informed the crowd that the festival had turned into a “free concert,” as captured in the 1970 Woodstock documentary.
“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,” Morris explained to the Malibu Times in 2017. “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,” he continued. “We hunkered down — we survived it. I still think it’s the best concert I’ve ever been involved in.”
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Gallery Credit: UCR Staff