The 1960s were filled with anger and confusion, "Early Show" co-anchor Harry Smith noted. There were wars, including the highly-controversial Vietnam War, civil rights riots and social revolutions -- along with a generation of American youth looking for their identity.
Pete Fornatale, author of "Back to the Garden: The Story of Woodstock," told CBS News, "It wasn't a generation gap, it was a generation chasm. Kids against their own parents, police against kids."
But for this generation, Smith noted, music was their refuge -- and they found their great escape on a farm in Bethel, N.Y.
"No one, including the promoters, anybody going to it and anybody performing at it, had any idea that that weekend going to be as big as it was," said Fornatale.
Nor, Smith added, did anyone realize how important it would be.
Defining musical moments happened at Woodstock, including Richie Havens' opening performance, in which he chanted, "Freedom, freedom," with the massive crowd joining in with him. Among the weekend's performers were now legendary musicians, including Jimi Henrix, who performed "The Star-Spangled Banner," Janis Joplin singing "Piece of My Heart" and Joan Baez, who performed "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot."
However, Smith said, the real stars of Woodstock were the 450,000 people who came for peace, love and music. Concert-goers didn't have bathrooms or food, but stayed despite the conditions, even riding out storms.
Max Yasgur, the farmer who leased his land for Woodstock, told the crowd that weekend, "I think you people have proven something to the world -- that half a million kids can come together for three days of fun and music and have nothing but fun and music."
Woodstock defined the generation, Smith pointed out; the baby boomers had found their bliss.
"Apart from everything else you can say about it," Fornatale said, "Woodstock made us feel the rapture of being alive."
However, as "Early Show" substitute co-anchor Jeff Glor said Friday, generations since have been trying to duplicate the experience -- with little success.
Glor said he covered Woodstock 1999, which he said turned into "a mess," with people getting hurt and fires breaking out. "It was a purely commercial venture," he said. "(Woodstock) was something else."
And Woodstock was "something else" for Smith, who recvalled it as a world removed from him at the time.
"In August the summer of '69, I had a brush cut, I was reporting for football practice at (college). It was a completely different world," he said, adding with a smile, "I caught up."