Three Days in Woodstock

Woodstock Heart

If someone thinks that love and peace is a cliche that must have been left behind in the Sixties, that’s his problem. Love and peace are eternal ~ John Lennon

The morning sun was shaking loose and sprinkling its rind across a Thursday morning that had come much too soon. Our three days had behaved like mercury- with a fiery abandon whose rambunctious particles cleaved the hours into minutes and the days into memory. Q scavenged the fridge for anything that could be used before we left town. Our ‘moving day breakfast’, much like our conversation, was abundant and tasty. We chowed down whilst jamming to music whose province had become more expansive on this particular morning. For every musical spill out of the sixties, there was another song that spelled a different time and place. We traded favorite songs as we dined, eager to fire up the flat screen on the wall as if it were a mystical pelt that spoke of our histories in four minute verses.

Going up the country had proven to be a magical ride, for more reasons than that farm in Bethel, New York had wrought. Our Woodstock experience turned a couple of blog neighbors into the very best of friends. We’d shared so much of the everything that had brought us to this place, and then we kept right on going; prevailing on the mood of a place that never grew up.

The ride into town after breakfast was filled with stories out of other times and places, and reflections on the times and places we had shared over the course of three days. Like a favorite song that you don’t want to end, we played our steps on a loop and got high on the payback. We had pushed our way into that line of five hundred thousand strong  . . . intent on making it two more crazy kids whose moonshine didn’t need a bottle and whose music didn’t act its age.

And maybe this place hadn’t been our first choice. All we knew is that it spoke to us in a language borne of stardust driven six strings and restless voices that once raged inside the deepest reaches of the night. The echoes reminded us that the things we lose in a fire will become the things we carry with us. It’s up to us to shine a light on them, wherever we may go.

Time may thieve the days, but the light . . that’s ours to keep.

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.

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

Catskill Mountains

I’ve always loved running in the rain.

When I find myself inside a particularly robust storm, my arms and legs feel connected to the dense anvils of cold dust and flaming vapor that transform the skies into a heavenly spout. The basic algebra of my exertions acquaint themselves with a canvas straight out of Caravaggio’s brilliant mind and things go sublime.

The town of Woodstock is a roaming notch that slinks along the unshod terrain of the Catskill Mountains, like a draft that tickles a giant’s toes. The town was born to water and sun. It is a graceful plunge of pluck and spirit, music and rhyme. And by Tuesday morning, the feeling it engendered was quickly making us forget the other possible locales we’d tossed around previously.

Deer on Trail

For breakfast, Q and me had feasted on a sensational frittata she cooked up. Take it from me, when a girl who loves all things garden and Tuscany offers up this dish? You let her take the wheel. We talked about blogging and music and we engaged in a long standing debate as to our respective dialects. She finds my syntax to be mostly charming, but for a certain postwar (Revolutionary War . . that is) grammatical affectation. Whereas yours truly has ditched the “u” in honor of our founding fathers who kicked British ass, Q and her peeps north of the border still play by the King’s rules.

We bandied topics as we ate, revisiting our difference of opinion as to the letter “u” time and again. Throughout breakfast, to our car ride into town, to our sharp left onto Comeau Drive to a hiking trail that sits mere minutes off the main drag. No topic of conversation could chase this matter away for very long.

Stream 1

Our hike consisted of two main trails. The first trail was mostly flat with little mystery to it, and to make matters even less thrilling . . it was clearly marked. Clearly marked trails are just the slightest bit redundant when it comes to community parks. I mean, why mark them at all when you have chatterbox cell phone users and packs of moms and babies traipsing around? We were more likely to get lost in a local mall than on a trail whose ‘wilderness’ possessed a strong signal and Birkenstock prints. The real excitement came whilst exiting the trail, when Q snapped a family of deer streaking across the meadow.

The second trail provided a more worthwhile conversation for our feet and allowed us the trespass of some hilly terrain. Just like that, we’d removed ourselves from the madding crowd of cellphones and brand packs; replaced by the tranquil hum of nature’s gospel spell. The trail snaked around to a stream whose flow was a mesmerizing gallop. A brisk current strummed its timeless melody, and we skipped across rocks like schoolkids, just to be closer to that wonderful sound.

Stream 2

Of course, Q was the rule breaker who defied the “No Trespassing” sign and moved across rocks until she had gained the middle of the stream. I toed the line and searched for signs of fish bubbles along the banks. She claimed eminent domain as per her photography, and I wasn’t about to argue. Not when the letter “u” was still open for debate.

No Trespassing

By the time we arrived back at the cottage, the early afternoon had grown dusk-like. As I changed into my running gear, the skies opened up. Perfect.

I took to the road in search of a running path, and I found one about a quarter mile down the road. I turned right onto a service road that wound up and around into a labyrinth of warehouses and manufacturing plants whose sparse signage left my mind spinning with all manner of science fiction scenarios. And just when I was ready to investigate further, the first thunderclap jolted me back to my senses.

Forest

And that’s when I realized I was more than a mile from the cottage and a stone cold bulls-eye for anything Mother Nature wanted to throw my way. I calmly headed back, concentrating on the morning I had shared with Q; thinking back on our conversations and the lively mood that carried us.

The rain provided crystalline slashes across the landscape and by the time I arrived back at the entrance to the service road, I was soaked through. Having navigated my way through the relentless thicket, I felt duly inspired to loose one final mystery before my return, so I headed further down until I reached the next road. It wasn’t long before I was second guessing myself, as another thunder clap seemed to stop just short of my back pocket.

Mountain Range

I headed back, jumping small puddles and giving myself to the wading ponds that could not be avoided. I felt the density of those hovering clouds in my pores and it almost made me forget the lightning snaps, which had become more persistent now. I traversed the last quarter mile at a steady pace, and just as I was approaching the entrance to our cottage, I saw them.

A family of deer stood about twenty five yards off to my right. I stopped in my tracks and the five of us just stared at each other. We spoke not a word, and yet, we said a million different things. And in that moment, in the middle of that caterwaul of fire and rain, the universe was having its way.

Boldly.