Three Days In Woodstock

Woodstock Night

Woodstock isn’t a destination, it’s a state of mind.

Every morning feels like Sunday, every afternoon like Saturday and every evening feels like church. There is a unique charm to the jagged little town built into the side of the Catskill Mountains. Its quirky architecture and funky colored Victorians tell stories without saying a word. You can lose the beaten path in a couple minutes time simply by taking a hard left or right; the side streets behave very much like channels of a forgotten sea. Woodstock is a snow globe variation of town and country as if penned by Thoreau.

After my run, Q and me made plans to see Oceans 8 in the late afternoon. We tucked in a quick jaunt to the grocery store to pick up some particulars for our evening menu. A craving for Bloody Mary grilled cheese sandwiches was prevailing, as was the need for some late night snacks to sate ourselves after cruising the four twenty. We ain’t tokers by any means, but when in Rome . . yanno?

Deer

The ride to the theater is much the same as a ride to anywhere else when it comes to this neck of the woods. It becomes a road trip, replete with rolling passages out of a Currier and Ives fever dream. The miles read like chapters in a book out of a time before progress birthed chain restaurants and every single person, place and thing became a brand.

As for the movie, welp . . here’s a quick shot review on it, because why not?

The best spin-off since I don’t remember when. Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett are a hot buttah get down of a dynamic duo, and their cast of characters . . I thought, were infinitely more interesting than the Oceans 11 gang. Sandra plays Debbie Ocean, little sister to Danny, and she’s keeping on with the family business by planning a rather artful heist. Cate Blanchett rides shotgun as Lou, her sister from another mister. They wrangle up a sexy as all get out posse and then, they pull off the ultimate cinematic heist. They make the Oceans franchise, theirs now.

Later on, back at the ranch, we played carnival with more Woodstock festival tunes whilst I broke the seal on some Woodford Reserve. We buddied them up with some frosty bottles of brew and immersed ourselves once more in the counter culture movement that culminated in those three days of peace and music.

Right

The provocative blueprint of those sammys did not disappoint. And then I broke out a Cuban cigar, which had been gifted me by my Canadian counterpart for this three day summit. And as we sipped our tumblers into a divine rhythm on the porch, a family of deer decided to crash our party by strolling across the backyard and reminding us who really owns this place. And then a little later on, we achieved the manifest destiny of all those who visit Woodstock proper. Needless to say, we arrived at the corner of peaceful and easy, and it was a magnificent trip.

We talked about the morning, and about our planned trip to Bethel- the site of a three day festival of music and peace that would change everything. And I think we wondered, silently, whether it would be everything we’d built it up to be over our two days together.

We had no idea.

 

 

Three Days In Woodstock

Woodstock Heart

Woodstock is a study in the principles of freedom.

Settled in 1787, the town was carved out of the base of the Catskill Mountains and its winds still breathe the fire of that hard earned place. By the nineteenth century, artists were flocking to a place that knew and loved them for the color they brought to a mostly colorless world. By the early twentieth century, Woodstock was hosting festivals that would make the three day concert in Bethel almost look tame in comparison. And starting in 1967, a series of “Sound Outs” were held on a farm just over the town line in Saugerties. Richie Havens and Van Morrison were among the musical luminaries in attendance, years before those three days of peace and music changed the world.

Whether you are ‘down’ with this kind of groovy vibe or not, you can’t help but respect the fact that, from its birth, this summer arts colony has had a personality all its own.

It understands itself.

The more you learn about the town of Woodstock, the more you come to realize they deserve to be synonymous with the epochal music event of the twentieth century. Never mind that Bethel is the actual home of the three day festival, and never mind that almost sixty miles of country roads separate the two towns. Because while Bethel took its sweet time in owning the three days of history after those half a million peeps left town, Woodstock never flinched. They were plenty fine with the idea of shacking up with the counter cultural movement. They didn’t mind owning the reputation.

There is no pretense, no bullshit to the place. Even the touristy gift shops possess a uniquely original flavor to them that you won’t find on Amazon. And so, the cosmic happenstance of our thumbtack possibilities just so happened upon the perfect place for me and Q to come together. Because, as it happens, we don’t rely on pretense or bullshit either. We are a bare boned truth of a pair. Special friends who understand the pulse of a righteous harmony and the blessings of its soulful words.

Pondicherry

After settling into our first floor cottage apartment, we made way for the grocery store a few miles up the road to forage for the evening’s dinner. Hannaford was reminiscent of a supermarket out of some Stephen King story, and it’s probably because it’s a chain that serves upstate New York and New England. It’s kitschy yet cool, it’s got a modern shine and yet it feels very much like a neighborhood stop. I let the Chef from Quebec proper do her magic as per our grocery list and then we headed back to our home away from home.

This is when Q took my virginity, medicinally speaking. She introduced me to a Bloody Caesar; which is an oh so cool take on the Bloody Mary. In honor of Woodstock, she tossed this tasty proposal with vodka that had been marinating in vegetables from her garden. She married this smooth, velvety goodness with some Clamato, hot sauce and Worcestershire and rimmed the glasses with steak seasoning. And then she followed up that good news with some more.

“I’m starting dinner,”

I stayed out of the way, pulling up YouTube on the flat screen and settling on a mighty river of Woodstock tunes and short documentaries that dovetailed beautifully with the conversation we had going. And then a second round of drinks, and then the steaks were ready and willing and then I popped the top on a couple of frosty Presidentes for good measure.

Our dinner talk availed itself of the education we were busy fixing on as we scarfed down our steak salads and toasted to chances taken. We watched and listened, we chatted and hummed. We learned about the festival and the world; our lives and each other.

Steak Salad

Those three days of peace and music were testimony to what dreams can look like if they are allowed to breathe. Woodstock was born inside a world full of graveyards, and it grew flowers. It was told that war was the answer, and it offered love. It made music out of the damnation, it made home out of the hopeless void.

January of 1968 began with the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces launching the “Tet Offensive”. The surprise attacks produced heavy casualties for U.S. and South Vietnamese forces and are widely regarded as the turning point in the Vietnam War. Months later came the “My Lai Massacre” in which 500 civilians were killed by U.S. troops.

With President Lyndon Johnson swimming through a sea of hurt in which his own party was turning against him for escalating the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, he announced he would not run for re-election. It seemed that LBJ would be the bridge built over Camelot- from Jack to Bobby- and nothing more than that.

Little more than a week later, Martin Luther King Jr.-the leader of the Civil Rights movement- was assassinated in Memphis. His murder sparked nationwide riots. Riots gave way to unrest on university campuses state side and around the world as the televised agony of a senseless war dragged on. And with June came the postmortem of Camelot when Robert Kennedy Jr. was assassinated at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles after winning the California Primary.

The death of heroes and the specter of perpetual American imperialism abroad led to the chaos that was the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Activist groups and enraged demonstrators descended on the city and provided a ball-peen hammer response to all those silk pens that had signed off on a decade’s worth of death and destruction that seemed to have no end.

Me and Q talked about that world and the one that came along later. We searched for answers to the questions we did not provoke. We agreed wholeheartedly to the fact that we hadn’t started the Goddamn fire . . because really, it had always been burning. And we talked about how Woodstock was an oasis in a desert of wrong turns, but how it wasn’t the end of those dark and tumultuous times. Woodstock was simply a lusty breath, before the world got going on bad conclusions once again.

And there we were, arriving forty nine years late. And yet, to us?

It was right on time.

 

 

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.