3 Days In Woodstock

 

Woodstock bus

The Museum at Bethel Woods is the good acid. Because it will trip you out inside the time spent, with no shitty side effects. Yanno . . like ending up in the ER, or dying.

could go through a good many different sentiments in regards to the forty five minute gallivant me and Q took through its halls, and maybe I will have something more specific next weekend. But a very profound revelation has come to me as I sit down to write this latest Woodstock entry, so Imma go with it.

This revelation is a crush of emotions, stacked in a neatly felonious pile of thoughts that stole me all the way back to the UK in the fall of 1994. It was a year in which O.J. Simpson got away with murder, the Republicans took back Congress and Throwing Copper made the musical band Live a global bumper sticker.

Back then, I was roaming the vast halls of the British Museum when me and my wife came upon the Rosetta Stone. After our tour guide tap danced right past it with a couple here and there shout outs to the ancient Egyptians, I pulled her aside and told her to keep Vanilla Ice (my pet name for our guide) at bay while I did some heavy petting with history.

And so it was that I pushed the velvet rope aside and touched the Rosetta Stone, after which I wrote out a check for a religious experience that is still paying me back to this very day.

Needless to say, I wasn’t expecting the same kind of experience when me and Q made the rounds at Bethel. Until we came upon it. A rusted scrap of the chain link fence that got tucked into history by a couple hundred thousand pair of barefooted soldiers, after which Woodstock became a ‘free concert’.

had to touch it, of course. Because this was the musical Rosetta Stone, and well . . there was no velvet fucking rope stopping me. And even if there had been, Q would’ve been like “Fuck ’em, hug it for all I care,”.

And so I did. And as it turns out, the fence? It was electrified . . in the very best kinda way. Because it took me all the way back to the UK, and then it took me even further back than that. Back to a time when music was a prayer so sweet and songs were living ends.

Songs that thieved the stars and pledged them to a vinyl page, and in so doing, turned that sound into a madness that seeped into every living inch of you. Lyrics that tasted of sweet velvet plums that hung like magical kites on trees borne of thunder, with a melody that wept the misbegotten remains of a day into the luminescence of a brilliant forever after.

A great piece of music can steal back time. Leaving you breathless and shaken and spent. Alone and together, high and grounded, resolved and disputed. It preaches to your choir as it stirs your soul into the kind of rebellion the previous generation loses sleep over.

And that’s how the kids of Woodstock closed the book on a decade torn to its seams by war. It was a decade that began with John F. Kennedy promising the moon to a restless nation, and delivering that very thing with months to spare when Apollo 11 planted its talons on a patch of mystical dirt George Bailey had once claimed as his own on the silver screen.

The betwixt and between left a heavy price on the heart and soul of a vociferously tribal generation otherwise known as the ‘baby boomers’. They watched Camelot get stolen on a beautiful fall afternoon in Dallas, and then again five years later inside a Los Angeles hotel. They watched Martin Luther King’s dream come true with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and then they watched its shepherd fall in Memphis less than four years later.

And it was those kids, who grew up inside the rattling bones of an archaic set of rules, and who punched hard at the skeletons and made haste with the gravel of the zero sum game they had inherited. It was those kids who made metal out of three heavy summer nights, shouting medieval chants inside their rocket booster clogs. They cheered and fucked and got high to the sounds of a new and distant future whose logic did not rhyme with the establishment. At all.

They hammered out a fledgling constitution possessed of a wholly different set of amendments that ran counter to the bomb sheltered TV dinner taxes they had been made to wear for a decade’s worth of time. Their demands were quite simple. Give us peace and love through music, or get the hell out of our way and we’ll prove how that kind of shit works.

And maybe it’s naivete that kept me holding to that fence. And then again, maybe . . . just maybe, it’s knowing. Knowing what it feels like to refuse the convention of a society that hasn’t ever gotten a damned thing right since Hector was a caveman trying to fetch some rock and roll out of a couple twigs.

Maybe, just maybe, I was finally in a place that understood me. And maybe, this was better than that time in the British Museum with the Rosetta Stone.

Turns out, being a stranger in a strange land has its privileges.

 

 

Three Days In Woodstock

Woodstock Traffic Jam

The ride from Woodstock to Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel, New York is a stained glass portrait of mountain ranges that unfurl in rhythmic piecemeal. Inside the deep emerald wound of birches, maples, cedars, hornbeams and spruce, you can taste the flavor of a thousand years worth of patience.

Geologically speaking, the Catskills are not considered mountains but rather, a dissected plateau. I’m not much for geological definitions when there is a romance to be gleaned in the union of these highly rambunctious summits that are busy stealing time with the skies above. So I call them mountains, and these mountains . . they’re very particular about the company they keep.

Sexy Hitcher

The sixty mile stretch between two historic towns is a Henry Beeston field trip. We pass rudimentary walking bridges, intractably constructed man made dams, gorgeous hiking trails and handsome colonial log cabins with stovepipe chimneys and front porches adorned with American flags.

The road names that carry us to our destination read like verses straight out of American Gothic- Watson Hollow to Peekamoose to Sundown. The pulse of these arteries beats in time with the letters of Washington Irving and the allegories of Thomas Cole as we pass exit signs for Swan Lake and Monticello.

And it is all so fucking beautiful that I’m not nearly as concerned as I should be over the fact that my fuel gauge is swimming at low tide. It ain’t helping that we haven’t passed a gas station since leaving Woodstock, or that it feels more likely we’ll find Jimi Hendrix hitching to Bethel than a fucking convenience store with gas pumps. No wonder only half a million peeps showed up at the Woodstock festival. The other half a million ran out of gas along the way . . .

woodstock car

There is no sign of Jimi, but we went scoreboard on the gas station, after which we close in on our destination whilst trying not to sound overly optimistic. Because the truth of the matter is that we don’t know if this destination is going to feel like 1969 or a cheapened rendition of that very special place in time.

As we turn right onto Hurd Road, Q snaps a shot of the sign which reads Welcome to Bethel Center For The Arts– the sign is cypress wood with raised letters in painted wrought iron. It owns a polish that gives me pause, seeing as how I do not equate the three day festival of peace and music with any kind of polish. Woodstock was a beautiful mess is what it was.

Bethel Woods Sign

To say the parking area is expansive is like saying Carlos Santana was skilled with the six string. We park in one of the several alien sized football fields and make our way to the pearly gates of music heaven. And once again I’m struck with how polished the place looks. The main building houses conference rooms, banquet halls and a museum. First impression? The architecture resembles an effete non-denominational church with money to launder and pastors on retainer. In other words, the shit is all polish and no grit . . and I am feeling major pause.

Having Q as my partner in crime sets my boots straight and allows me to dream some. And so now I’m dialing up that concert in my head and I’m letting myself dream on whats to come. And now I just know Imma open those doors and Jimi’s gonna be waiting on us. And he’s gonna be wondering where in the fuck all the gas stations between here and New York City got to. And then he’s gonna ask us if we’ve ever been to space.

And then? He’s gonna take us.

3 Days in Woodstock

Woodstock Poster

🕊️-Imma be rolling out a series of posts on Woodstock that will appear on the blog each Sunday until I exhaust all the groovy gravy I supped up on my trip. I’m going with the rather unoriginal title of “3 Days in Woodstock” since I also happened to spend three days inside this mesmerizing state of mind. Forty nine years removed but right on time-🕊️

Sometimes history asks for the moments that spiral into legendary tales, and sometimes the moments just storm the gates and make the history that exists in perpetuity. Three days in August of 1969 accomplished both of these things.

Of all the things I thought I knew about Woodstock, the elemental truths proved most elusive. Curiosity provided me with the impetus to get there, after which the education filled in the gaps and provided solvency. The rush to break things into three dimensional congress produced a thread of events which peeled back the layers of all the things I thought I knew, and replaced them with all the things I learned.

Woodstock Festival

Having booked passage to Woodstock New York back in May, you would think I’d have done the requisite homework as to the actual site of the legendary film festival. The fact that I didn’t turned out to be a brilliant mistake. Because it mirrored the event itself; unprepared for what was to come but earnest in the desire to get there.

So it was that a couple days into my trip, I was ready to make the journey to Max Yasgur’s farm. Which ain’t located in the town of Woodstock, or even all that close. The sojourn to music Valhalla covers almost sixty miles in a spindly, winding gallivant of paved roads and unbeaten paths.

Walkill Poster

The Woodstock Music and Arts Fair- billed as three days of peace and music- appeared doomed from the start. The organizers of the three day concert battled the banks, the local townships, the Mayor of New York and even themselves in the lead up to what would become a touchstone moment in the age of Aquarius.

The town of Woodstock became synonymous with the festival due to the fact the investment group that helped finance the event was named Woodstock Ventures. The name stuck, even though the location changed several times. After it was determined that Woodstock could not hold the festival, the towns of Saugerties and Walkill would take turns withdrawing their offers, leaving the organizers with little time with which to find a home.

Woodstock Concert Ticket

Twenty eight days before the concert, Max Yasgur came forward with an offer to rent a portion of his six hundred acre dairy farm in Bethel as the venue. He wasn’t in tune with the counter culture phenomenon of the time, and he would drive a hard bargain on the price he was looking for. It wasn’t out of the kindness of his heart so much as the verity of his beliefs that the event would prove transcendent inside a turbulent period in our nation’s history.

Woodstock Nuns

I arrived at the entrance to this legendary place and was greeted by a sign which reads Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. A short ride delivered me through a labyrinth of special access entrances and several football field sized parking lots. The museum sits off to the right; a statuesque peak that rustles up the roaming hills that surround it as if a storyteller looking to gain the attention of a restless audience from the brightly lit stage.

Groovy Way

The walk from my car to the museum was spent wrestling myriad emotions; excitement, awe, gratitude, melancholy and fear. The excitement was palpable in the steps I took and the buzz of nervous energy that fueled them. The awe is just as obvious, because all the while I was thinking I am fucking here! . . .on a loop. The gratitude was in knowing  I had come to a hallowed place as witness to an experience that could not be replicated any other way. A tinge of melancholy reined in my exuberance as I wondered why in the hell I had waited so long to get here. And fear, the most unwelcome but the most necessary in the time before I knew what to expect. Because fear allowed me to stanch the illusory perspective I had constructed over the course of a lifetime. Fear let me know that if this whole damned thing proved anti-climactic, that I would have to be okay with it even if I really didn’t want to be okay with it.

Woodstock bus

You build these moments up in your head to play out a certain way. I wanted the moments to be plush with flowers of a long lost bloom, and I wanted to get high on the perfume of its original sin. I wanted Jimi to be spilling his guitar through my brain . . Janis to be arranging verbs in moodily wrought crazy quilt patterns . . I wanted Santana to breathe his fire across the tranquil sky . . Richie Havens to break all the rules by getting me to the risen church of melodies and lyrics whose life was seeded in a garden . . this one.

I had already broken all the rules that warned me about heightened expectations. The crush of silence was daunting, as was the modernity that framed the doorway to that cosmic driven time.  All that was left for me to do was step inside.