Father of Festival Sound

Merrimac, Mass., is home to Bill Hanley, the man who developed the sound system used at the original Woodstock festival, transforming the world of music forever.

Before Woodstock, concerts made use of basic public address systems and had the sound quality to match. But Hanley wanted the music at live shows to sound just as good as it did when people listened to records at home. Woodstock presented the opportunity to put his ideas to the test in a big way. Hanley walked the fields of the farm where the festival was to take place and built two towers of speakers to be placed on low hills in order to get optimal sound projection. His goal was to enable people at the far reaches of the audience to hear as well as those in front. Nearly half a million people were in attendance. The sound made history.

Hanley went on to work with names as big as the Beatles, Janis Joplin and the Rolling Stones. He also was a proponent of social justice, helping with anti-war protests and even sending a sound system to South Africa to support the anti-apartheid movement.

Top photo: Bill Hanley at Yasgurs Farm in Bethel, N.Y., in 2014. Photo by John Kane.


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