The name instantly brings to mind a whole era to any of us
who were old enough to listen to music when the concert happened.
I didn’t go to Woodstock, I saw the movie — at a drive-in,
no less — with my brother pretending to be my uncle/guardian because it was rated R for showing muddy hippy-chick
breasts… oh, and maybe that part where Country Joe led the
crowd in a chant.
I may have been too young to get into an
R movie all those years ago but I was old enough to know something big
later, while driving through the Catskills in upstate New York,
I was surprised to find that we were right by the place where
it all happened. How could that be? We were miles away from the
town of Woodstock.
It turns out that the famous festival that
bears its name took place nowhere near the actual town. It happened
in a farmer’s field just outside the tiny town of Bethel, near
We had to go see it.
first thing that struck us when we pulled off the main highway
onto the winding little route towards the Mecca of modern
music was the preponderance of Orthodox Jews walking along
What’s going on?
area is home to what are known as bungalow colonies
enclosed clusters of small cabins where Jewish families
have been spending summers to escape the New York City heat
and smell for decades. In its heyday, the Catskills area
was nicknamed the
This is where many entertainers, especially
comedians, cut their teeth at the famous hotels and showrooms.
the advent of cheaper, easier travel and air conditioning in the
city, fewer and fewer folks come up to these Catskill camps.
colonies that remain are now mostly populated with Hasidic families.
into White Lake, I expected hippy stuff to be everywhere,
a veritable psychedelic tourist trap, but no.
Very few signs
that the biggest love-in in history took place a couple
miles away. Just a typical upstate New York lake town.
on, we found ourselves in beautiful rolling farmland and couldn’t help
but wonder how several hundred
thousand hippies would fit in to the surroundings.
By the time we got to Woodstock, we were half a million
for us it was more like half a dozen.
It was getting late in the
evening and the museum was closed so we just stood there looking
at a big, empty, sloping field in the middle of what once was
Max Yasgur’s farm with a handful of flower children refugee
years and years nothing was here to commemorate the biggest
event in Rock & Roll history except a plaque.
in 1996, entrepreneur and local boy made good,
Alan Gerry, bought the farm — so to speak —
created the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts.
Gerry Foundation, he launched the $100 million project using
hundreds of local laborers and artisans, taking a decade
Gerry’s idea was not only to immortalize the
hallowed ground but also to provide an engine for economic growth
in his home region.
has several state-of-the-art venues for events and concerts, and
a fantastic Woodstock festival museum.
The site is beautiful and
hosts dozens of concerts throughout the summer and early fall.
museum is an amazing visual achievement.
Walking in, we
were hit with wall after wall of stunning imagery.
breezy walk-though fashion, the museum first took us on
a cultural tour of the sixties, leading up to
the hippy movement.
Civil rights, the cold war, television, the
space program, Vietnam, the Kennedy and King assassinations are
The 1968 Theater has a phenomenal blend
of news coverage, speeches and TV commercials that transports viewers
back in time.
Every aspect of Woodstock is showcased, from the planning
to the aftermath:
Why was the
festival in Bethel instead of Woodstock?
How did it
grow from the original expectations of a few thousand people to
become New York’s third largest city for three days?
How did they
feed all of those people?
How did the
local folks, politicians and the police react?
What was the
It’s all covered
in interesting and original fashion.
Want to know how all those
people got there? Sit in the Magic Bus and watch through
The Festival Experience Theater put
us smack in the middle of the concert, seriously, it was great.
Surrounded by huge screens, floor to ceiling, and laying on bean
bag chairs we were wonderfully bombarded.
The music, the scene,
the announcements from the stage, the chants from the crowd, right
down to the lightning and rain–even a little quasi acid trip…
don’t take the brown stuff that’s going around, man
and Jimi Hendrix playing The Star Spangled Banner are happening
from every angle.
We had to watch it twice to catch everything.
The fact is
not everybody was thrilled to have a festival like this take place
in their community and there was some public outcry.
near the original intended site in Woodstock, NY is why the festival
ended up being moved to Bethel.
But once the site was set, Max
Yasgur, the owner of the farm and staunch conservative, said to
Look, the reason you don’t want them here is because
you don’t like what they look like. And I don’t particularly like
what they look like either. But that’s not the point. They may
be protesting the war, but thousands of American soldiers have
died so they can do exactly what they’re doing. That’s what the
essence of this country is all about.
So that brings
us back to our big question, how did several hundred thousand
hippies fit into the local mix?
Surprisingly well, it seems.
curators are proud to point out that there were no major incidents
or arrests during the festival and that many of the area’s residents
came to the rescue by bringing in food and supplies when the original
supplies proved woefully inadequate.
was three days of peace and music.