July 30, 2013 1:27 PM EDT

The original plan was for an outdoor rock festival, “three days of peace and music” in the Catskill village of Woodstock. What the young promoters got was the third largest city in New York state, population 400,000 (give or take 100,000), location Max Yasgur’s dairy farm near the town of White Lake.

So began LIFE magazine’s description, in its August 29, 1969 issue, of what has come to be seen as one of the defining events of the 1960s. Forty-four years later, LIFE.com presents a gallery of pictures—many of which never ran in the magazine—from those heady, rain-soaked days and nights.

One of the LIFE photographers on scene during the festival, John Dominis, summed up his own recollections of Woodstock this way:

“I really had a great time.,” Dominis told LIFE.com, decades after the fact. “I was much older than those kids, but I felt like I was their age. They smiled at me, offered me pot. . . . You didn’t expect to see a bunch of kids so nice; you’d think they’d be uninviting to an older person. But no—they were just great!

“I worked at LIFE for 25 years,” Dominis said, “and worked everywhere and saw everything, and I’ve told people every year since Woodstock happened that it was one of the greatest events I ever covered.”

Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.

Contact us at letters@time.com.

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