By MJ Hanley-Goff
“…going on down to Yasgur’s Farm, I’m gonna join in a rock and roll band.”
(from “Woodstock” by Joni Mitchell)
There has never been anything like it, nor will there ever be anything like it again. The three days of music held at Yasgur’s Farm in Sullivan County in 1969, was a fitting end to a tumultuous decade. And before 2006, there was no tribute to the historic concert, or anything to mark the great changes and devastating events that took place in just ten years. Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, located on the site of the concert known as Woodstock*, is a $100 million dollar, state of the art performance center, museum, and café, on 2,000 breathtaking acres.
Performing at the ’69 concert was a group called, Crosby, Stills & Nash. Performing on August 31, 2010 just a stone’s throw from the Woodstock concert stage – 41 years later – was, yep, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash, sounding as pitch perfect as ever. The tour of the museum I’d taken before the show made this performance all the more powerful.
The museum (above) attempts to put the 1960’s into perspective, highlighting the innocence the country had as the new decade approached, and the wild, free for all, peace-loving, long-haired world that evolved. In one of the films that runs throughout the day, we get to see many of the performances held in the rain, in the middle of the night, and first thing in the morning. We see film footage of the war protests, the burning of draft cards, the peace chants, and then under darkened skies, a group takes the stage, young, fresh, and shy. They sang about harmony, about brotherhood, about nature. And at 8 p.m., I took my seat, as three men took the stage, paunchier and grayer, but still at the top of their game, still questioning the decisions made by this country’s leaders, with a crowd just as appreciative and supportive as the one 41 years ago.
The songs were plenty, and familiar. Even when they strayed into other songwriter’s territory, they kept to the classics, playing The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, The Who. Songs we could all sing to. The audience was as mixed as they come: tye-dyed, pony-haired bikers; women with long frilly skirts; college-age kids who surprisingly knew the lyrics, and cheered at the conclusion of “Our House,” and “Love the One You’re With.” Alternating between electric and acoustic numbers, the three showed they could still sing the quiet love song, and the power rocker. Three hours after they took the stage, there was anticipation in the air. They wouldn’t leave without singing it. They wouldn’t, would they? There was one great song after another, but the night ticked away; they returned for one more encore. I rushed to the stage, like most in my section. By now the stage guards knew the mob was harmless, just joyful.
David Crosby took up his guitar, as did Stephen and Graham. Crosby said to the crowd, “Now, we know you know this one.” A few strains of notes, and we heard the first line, “You, who are on the road….” The crowd howled, arms were raised in the air, and no one was leaving. The place holds 15,000, add that to the multitudes who sat on the lawn. So, you can imagine the noise coming from Bethel once again, singing about love, and seeking the truth.
When you think of it, Bethel Center for the Arts is a lot more than just a memorial to a span of time in the last century. There’s a greater message. During a visit here, we’re reminded about what’s good about this country: its freedoms, its missteps, its attempts to fix what’s wrong, and its creativity. We also can take away that no matter what we go through, we find a way to get through it together.
Bethel, ninety minutes from New York City, offers a mix of entertainment throughout the year. Its summer concert series is already one of the top draws in the tri-state area. Transportation is available through Shortline Bus Service from the city, as well as from other towns in the Hudson Valley. Other events include a Harvest Fall Festival on Sundays from end of August to November, a chili cook-off, a day with alpacas, horror movies in October at the 132-seat, high definition theatre. In winter, the event gallery hosts indoor concerts education programs. Walk the grounds, visit the site of the 1960 concert, and get a bite to eat at the museum café. The museum itself is a multimedia exhibit with 20 films, 5 interactive productions, text panels, and artifacts. Wander at your own pace, and study the events that shaped our history.
For more information, log on to www.bethelwoodscenter.org, or call 1-866-781-2922.
*The concert was originally planned for Woodstock in Ulster County, but officials denied the request to hold the concert there weeks before the event. The tickets had already been printed up and tee-shirts and other publicity materials were already prepared. Hence, the name remained.