Shear Madness: Fall Festivals of the Catskills

When autumn arrives in the Catskills, there’s a good bet a party is happening nearby. The explosion of color on the mountainsides brings in folks from far and wide, so putting on a festival is a natural thing to do.

Craft Beer at Bethel Woods — at the Site of the Woodstock Concert

Fall festivals in Up State New York!

Bethel Woods Center for the Arts at the site of the Woodstock concert

We began at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, which is where the 1969 Woodstock festival took place.

But wait, we were a good fifty miles from Woodstock, what gives?

Well, unlike its name implies, the world’s most famous Rock concert took place on Max Yasgur’s old dairy farm in Bethel, New York.

The Craft Beer festival at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts at the Woodstock concert site

Back in 1996, Alan Gerry bought the farm and set out to create a not-for-profit performing arts center and museum.

Over the next ten years things took shape, and now the historic site has a fantastic museum commemorating all things Woodstock.

Even though we had come for The Harvest Festival, the museum and the field where music history was made were the main attractions for us.

The magic bus at the Woodstock Museum at Bethel Woods Center of the Arts!

See more about the fabulous Woodstock museum!

It is Oktober…

Being October, we could hardly forage for fall fests and not take in a classic of the German variety, so our next stop was the Colors in the Catskills Fall Festival at Hunter Mountain.

Hunter is a ski resort, so for a fantastic view of the fall foliage we started the day with a ride to the top of the mountain on the Kaatskill Flyer chairlift. Veronica certainly had a better time getting on and off without any snow involved than in her previous winter-time attempts.

German dancers at the Hunter Mountain Octoberfest in New York

Back at the bottom the games were beginning, and we couldn’t pass up the chance to jump in.

Mostly our hopes were to avoid complete embarrassment, but in the heat of the competitions a sneaky little voice piped up saying, “Maybe you could win.”

Yeah right, the first challenge involved rolling —

Beer keg rolling at Hunter Mountain Oktoberfest in New York!

and throwing — a beer keg through an obstacle course. Maybe if they divided the field up by age.

We took pride in not finishing last.

WATCH: Sheep, beer, and, okay, more beer in Upstate New York!

Veronica tries her hand at the Krug Carrying Race at Hunter Mountain Oktoberfest!

Next up, the Krug Carrying Race. This time contestants carry ten full beer krugs (the real German name for a beer stein) around a slightly modified course.

The winner completes the course in the fastest time, while spilling the least beer.

Veronica felt she had an advantage based on her waitressing days, and she did finish near the top, but victory eluded us and we knew there was no way we were pulling out an upset in the final game, Masskrugstemmen, which means beer-stein holding.

Sounds easy, but it’s not! Go ahead, give it a try.

Holding a full, one-liter stein directly in front of you, without bending your arm, can make five minutes seem like an eternity.

As the minutes ticked off, we decided to exit happy in the knowledge that we weren’t the first ones out.

So we escaped with our egos intact, and went off to find some leberkäse, sauerkraut, and kartoffelpuffer, better known as potato pancakes, to restore our strength.

Food at the Hunter Mountain Oktoberfest in New York

It’s a Bash, Bash, Baaaaa-sh!

As great as our first two stops had been, there seemed something lacking from our festivities so far… animals! The New York State Sheep & Wool Festival in Rhinebeck would fix that. For over forty years the Dutchess County Sheep & Wool Growers’ Association has thrown this baaaa-sh every October.

Vibrant colored yarn at the Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, New York

A huge part of the show is dedicated to knitting, and something we’d never heard of before, felting.

Enough yarn to easily circle the globe was on sale in the exhibition halls, as well as every imaginable product made from that yarn. But we came to catch some critters, so we made our way to the canine frisbee demonstrations.

Although some herding dogs were represented, many breeds, including a tiny chihuahua, participated in the fun and games.

It never gets old watching man’s best friend sprint, leap, dive, and drool in their relentless pursuit of a flying plastic disk.

But, as furry as some of these guys were, not a one of them could produce any wool, so we headed over to the barn marked:

Camalids & Exotic Goats

We wanted to see where really nice sweaters come from.

Veronica and her llama friend at the Sheep and Wool Festival, New York!

We were just in time; the animals were lining up for the big Exotic Breeds Parade and, before the procession proceeded, Veronica got to walk a llama around the grounds.

Then the column of llamas, alpacas, and cashmere goats marched through the fairgrounds. Perhaps most impressive were their fancy poodle-style trims. Cute, but not very practical when it comes to producing wool.

The parade at the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival

These decorative hairdos are the product of clipping, not shearing, but we wanted to see the wool fly.

Shearing sheep at the Wool and Sheep Festival, New York

Following to the crowd, we joined the sheep shearing demonstration just as the electric trimmer was getting fired up.

Removing the wool from sheep goes back centuries, but the modern method can be traced back to one man, Godfrey Bowen, and the Bowen technique.

He pioneered the process of removing the fleece in one continuous piece.

Shearing sheep at the Wool and Sheep Festival, New York

Godfrey developed the pattern in the 1950s using electric shears and soon became a champion shearer, setting a world record by shearing 463 sheep in nine hours.

His innovations were so important to the industry that he was knighted in 1960.

In the time it took to learn this little history lesson, our lamb was shaved clean and a blanket of black wool covered the ground.

Shearing sheep at the Wool and Sheep Festival, New York

After a brief break to chomp on a lamb chop (which, admittedly, felt just wrong), we went to see what was the highlight of the day for us, a couple of border collies doing what they do best.

A border collie herds sheep at the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival

These guys are the undisputed champions of sheep dogs.

Amazingly, all border collies can be traced back to the same dog, Old Hemp, who was born in the border area between England and Scotland back in 1893. That’s where the border in border collie comes from.

As soon as the dogs spotted the sheep it was clear that the only thing on their minds was to herd them, but being meticulously bred for intelligence and obedience, they would anxiously wait for the command from their trainer.

Well groomed sheep at the Sheep and Wool festival

We couldn’t help but think of the movie Babe.

With a quick “come-bye” the dog took off to the right, circling the flock clockwise, then an “away to me” from the trainer sent them in the opposite direction.

“Lie down” slowed the whole process –depending on the tone in which the command was delivered — to a crawl or a complete stop, followed by “walk up” which meant to proceed slowly.

Sheep with crazy horns at the Wood and Sheep Festival in New York

The entire time the dog had his undivided attention on the herd using what is known as “the eye,” which is a stare that anyone who knows a border collie is familiar with.

To finish each session the trainer would tell the dog “that’ll do,” which we both automatically followed in our minds with “pig.”

Or maybe we said it out loud. Of course we said it out loud.

David & Veronica,

Thanks to the folks at Ensure who were kind enough to sponsor our video, and provided a supply of their new Ensure Active, which kept us hydrated throughout our escapades. All opinions are our own.

See all of our adventures in New York!

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21 thoughts on “Shear Madness: Fall Festivals of the Catskills”

  1. I have never been anywhere near this area – how groovy! We went to Germany last year for Oktoberfest – I love to celebrate it anywhere I can. Thanks for letting me enjoy it through you two!

  2. Octoberfest equals a big tick from me, but the idea of seeing the original Woodstock field and the museum, now that would be really interesting to see in real life.

  3. I didn’t know there was a Woodstock museum but it looks and sounds fascinating and would bring back memories of the flower power era. My parents wouldn’t let me wear anything tie-dyed but I sure wanted to be a part of the cultural revolution. One of those Catskills craft beers would be a perfect addition to the experience visiting it today.

  4. Loved the Woodstock exhibits. Such a fun time back then (what I remember of it). Veronica, your outfits were perfect for each event! Those sheep clean up rather well. Did you know there are yarn enthusiasts who feel compelled to sniff yarn obsessively? It’s true, and very disconcerting. I guess nowadays my favorite would have to be the Oktoberfest.

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