Woodstock – Peace, Love & Lean

To close out the summer of 2019, here’s a lighthearted reflection from the summer of 1969: 

Today, I’m riding back from Florida bringing my new graduate home from college.  Listening to tracks from Woodstock as we cruise along in our Penske truck, I’m reminiscing about a summer 50 years ago when an understaffed production crew made a noble attempt to keep a now famous concert afloat.   (Yes, I was one of those crazies who braved the mud and overflowing portable toilets for an opportunity to listen to great music.  Definitely worth the inconvenience.)

Right from the get go, the concert was an exercise in problem solving.  The event venue was confirmed less than a month before showtime, leaving very little time for site preparation.  The main stage for the concert was built of wood just a few days before the concert at the base of a natural amphitheater on Max Yaskur’s farm.  Heavy rains and wet soil added a special challenge to construction of the 20x15x15 meter stage;  and because of time constraints, the original roof design was not completed, limiting stage lighting.  A large canvas tarp was employed to cover the performance area, much like an over-sized dining fly used for camping.  Ultimately, concert producers were forced to shift all staff to finishing the stage on time, leaving gaps in venue fencing.  Customer first thinking:   It was now a free concert with a working stage.  The entire set-build from stage to lighting and sound was an exercise in ingenuity and problem solving with scarce resources. 

One such ingenious device was a rotating platform designed to speed-up the changeover between acts.  The idea was to use the front for playing and the back for setting up the equipment of the next band so time between acts was minimized to the time required to rotate the platform. Externalize the set-up, as Shigeo Shingo would say.  Unfortunately, while the innovation worked during testing, it was not up to the task of repeated loading and unloading. By day 2, casters crumpled under the weight of musicians and equipment, and the crew had to go back to traditional set-up and tear-down. (I’m reminded of many shop carts with broken casters that I see today on my factory visits.)   Perhaps a bit more preventative maintenance could have saved the platform, or maybe the process was just not capable.  Regardless of cause, the effect was to extend the event into the wee hours of Saturday night and thence to sunrise on Sunday.  My sense is that the laid back customers were not bothered by delays.  

On Sunday, after a brief respite from the night before, Joe Cocker opened day 3 with a rousing 90-minute set while dark clouds rolled in above the stage.  As he sang his final number, “With a Little Help From My Friends,” high winds caused the stage’s canvas cover to flap and oscillate above the stage, also producing Joe’s iconic windblown hair style.  He finished the tune as the skies once again opened in a torrent.  While the crowd futilely chanted “No Rain,” concert staff scurried to secure stage and towers.  As we concert-goers sat soaked to the bone on a mountain of mud, the concert resumed after a three-hour delay almost to noon on Monday.  If ever the phrase “the show must go on” rang truer, I am not aware. 


PS In a way, isn’t that what Lean is all about?  “The show must go on.” Solving problems and getting by with a little help from our friends?  I sincerely hope to see you for more “Peace, Love & Lean” at GBMP’s upcoming 15th annual Northeast Lean Conference in Hartford on  October 23-24.  Admittedly, it won’t be another Woodstock – a little Karaoke perhaps – but it will be educational and inspiring, sure to ignite great sharing of ideas among our awesome community of passionate Lean practitioners. Read all about it, view the agenda, session abstracts, speaker bios and get registered today here: www.NortheastLeanConference.org See you there!

4 thoughts on “Woodstock – Peace, Love & Lean

  1. Gerard Cronin

    Great topic! I attended a David Byrne (Talking Heads) “American Utopia” concert last night, and Byrne decided to go minimalist; no props, no risers, no flash; simply to focus on the performers only. He commented how people are visually attracted to people, so why make any distractions; and make the experience all about the people. It worked for us, the customer. He gave us exactly what we needed exactly where and when we needed it. No fluff. He highlighted the musicians in a way the customer appreciated them as much as him. Definitely not “Same as it ever was”.

  2. Jack Day

    Great article, looking at lean from a production aspect for an event of this caliber. I found the the rotating stage platform to be revolutionary for its time and saves a lot of space. Due to how long it can take a band to set and break down equipment, at many festivals there are no back to back performances on the same stage. The rotating stage eliminated the setup time between acts and allowed for back to back performances with what I imagine to be less than 5 minutes downtime. This rotating platform, if implemented at festivals today, would be eliminate the need for 3 or more stages. To keep music constantly going bands are set to play not overlapping but back to back on different stages, if the rotating platform was used 1-2 stages would be suffice.

  3. George Karousos

    I can’t believe that nobody utilizes some sort of rotating stage these days in festivals. As it is today, most festivals are taking place outdoors which requires full stage setup, not in a concrete venue. As a customer, not having to wait a full hour or more in between sets to see the next performer. There are usually multiple stages where festival goers will move to a different stage so there is less wait time, but with a rotating stage there could be fewer stages as set up will happen in the back while customers watch one performer, and there is little wasted time as the stage will rotate and the next set will begin. I thought this article was really cool, that 50 years ago somebody thought of the rotating stage in a pinch to reduce wasted time.

  4. Gabrielle Place

    Great post! I really enjoyed reading about a real world situation that failed but still proceeded to go on. The festival had many great ideas, such as the rotating stage, but with little time to do so they were not able to make it happen. They also ran into many other problems due to the lack of preparation, such as the stage’s canvas cover coming undone. I wonder if they would have been able to make the rotating stage work if there was more time to discuss and implement the idea. They were looking to be lean by reducing the amount of time required to rotate the stage between performances. What a great idea, I am very surprised that I have not seen nor heard of any event using this set up. Thanks for sharing!


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