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Dedicated to the Historic Preservation of the Site of the 1969 Woodstock Festival

Hurd & West Shore Rds
Sullivan County
Bethel  NY

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The 21st Anniversary
August 1990

What took place in Bethel, New York during the 20th anniversary of Woodstock was absolutely magical. Tens of thousands of people traveled to the festival site in August 1989 because they felt a special connection to Woodstock. They didn’t know if anything would be happening, or, if anyone else would even be there, but they all had a desire to be at the place where the historic festival had occurred.

I spent eight days in Bethel in 1989 and it was impossible not to get caught up in the spiritual power that Woodstock had on people. Some of those who participated in the celebration of the 20th anniversary decided to organize something really special for the 21st.

I started hearing about their plans during the late spring and early summer of 1990 and sensed that the organizers were trying to put together something really cool that fit into the Woodstock vibe. The gathering was going to feature big-name performers, a top-notch sound system and a light show. A lot of things disappear into the mystic with the passing of time but Woodstock ’90 was going to have some memorable moments that would last a lifetime.

The 1990 gathering in Bethel was one for the ages and many of the people who attended the event had the time of their lives. Unfortunately, the organizers had to deal with a never-ending series of problems that few people knew about.

Days before the anniversary, a local land developer went to court to block the event and an endless series of crises were swirling around the festival organizers the entire week. At one point, a Health Department official threatened to call out the National Guard unless more portable toilets and water were provided at the site.

There was also non-stop friction between the owners of the Woodstock site and the festival organizers. Music coordinator Will Hoppey told me on Sunday afternoon, “I will never go through another week like this. I feel that the Gelishes, because of their greed, didn’t do the right thing for anybody. None of what happened with the Gelishes was in the spirit of Woodstock.”

The cables that ran from the generator to the sound system were cut on Friday morning and the Gelish family appeared to be behind it. Late Friday night, shortly before Richie Havens was to perform, I overheard a Gelish family member threaten an immediate stoppage of the music if a festival organizer didn’t like what he was doing.

The actions by the town of Bethel and the Gelish family were an indication of the type of problems that would arise during future Woodstock anniversaries. I will explore this further in the introductory remarks to my article about the 25th Woodstock anniversary.
Phish fans will be interested to know that festival organizers tried to book the band for the 21st anniversary.

Art Vassmer, who is mentioned in my closing paragraph, is also interviewed in the Woodstock movie.

The following article appeared in the Vol.17 No. 6 issue of Relix Magazine. A slightly shorter version was published August 23,1990 in the Ithaca Times.

Woodstock 1990

Despite countless obstacles that threatened to derail the 21st anniversary of the Woodstock Festival, the counterculture of the ‘90’s journeyed to Bethel, New York, to celebrate their lifestyle in much the same way that the original Woodstock Nation did back in 1969.

Lawsuits were filed by a local land developer to block the reunion. The local newspaper, the Times Herald Record, fanned the fears of local residents and amplified the negative. The Record’s headlines on the two days preceding the anniversary proclaimed “Woodstock Dead” and “Woodstock crowds grow despite threats.” The paper’s slanted coverage eventually led to graffiti around the site declaring, “Out of toilet paper, use the Record.”

But Woodstock has a life of its own, and by Wednesday, August 15, the camping area on top of the hill was filling up with vehicles and tents. Tony Mazurowsky, 37, drove all the way from Boston to catch Arlo Guthrie’s return to Yasgur’s farm because, as he put it, “If the bus stops at a good corner, I’m gonna get off. I’m still living the good life.” A stage was erected at the bottom of the hill and at 5:36 Jimi Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner” blared forth from the 30,000-watt sound system.

After dark, a second-generation Woodstock performance occurred when Abe Guthrie’s band, Xavier, took the stage. Following two songs, the group was joined by the inimitable Arlo Guthrie. Twenty-one years to the day after his last appearance here, he told the crowd, “It’s a pleasure to be here with so many people still dreamin’ about stuff.” He finished off his hour-long set, which included “Darkest Hour,” “Coming Into Los Angeles,” “When a Soldier makes It Home,” and “City of New Orleans,” with “Amazing Grace.” To the audience, which had been singing, “We love you Arlo” between songs, he declared, “We can’t ever make anyone let us feel we’re too small or too insignificant to do what we believe is right or be who we really are. My Dad said, ‘You know, this world is your world,’ so take it easy… but take it.”

Like the original festival, Woodstock ’90 was rooted to two parallel stars: the music and the people. The music flowed from the bottom of the hill into a natural amphitheater. Up on top of the hill was the campground, which never seemed to sleep. Free food kitchens, run by the Rainbow Family, served food all night. Music and celebration abounded as groups gathered around campfires until daybreak when the morning crowd would take over.

“It’s majestic, man, that’s the only word for it,” exclaimed Brian Smith from Point Pleasant, New Jersey. Jess Youngquest, an original Woodstocker from Lodi, New York, said, “I think this is a nice American Mecca. And we do need a monument where we can just come once a year and touch bases.”

Over the first two days, many fine bands such as the All Love Band, When Worlds Collide, and Tempest, played. Thursday’s best performance was turned in by the hard-driving Bill Perry Blues Band. Led by Perry’s scorching guitar and backed by a heavy horn section, they traversed the spectrum from the bluesy “One More Mile” to the psychedelic journey of “Voodoo Child.”

While everyone else was enjoying the gathering, an endless series of crises were swirling around the festival organizers. A continuous dispute raged between those putting on the festival and the Gelish family, which owns the land. The Gelishes were charging $5 a vehicle for parking and $100 a day for a vendor’s booth. Members of the family reneged on promises to help pay the cost for the sound system, toilets and water tankers. All semblance of cooperation between the two sides broke down Friday morning when someone cut the cables to the generator running the sound system.

The cables were repaired, and on Friday David Peel and the Woodstock Nation performed Peel’s ‘60s counterculture anthem “Have a Marijuana.” An excellent set was turned in at dusk by the Lost Boys.

At 12:18 a.m. Saturday, Richie Havens, the man who opened the original Woodstock festival, walked on stage and received a loud welcome home. He said, “This is a very special occasion. Woodstock will never die. It was history and it still is. You young guys didn’t miss a damn thing because it’s happening all over again.” Havens, who performed “Tupelo Honey,” “Just Like a Woman,” “Here Comes the Sun,” and a very moving “What About Me,” had everyone up on their feet as he closed with “Freedom” and “You Are So Beautiful.”

Solar Circus concluded a great evening of music with a cooking 55-minute dose of psychedelia. They kicked off with a soaring six-minute version of “Festival” while the Speed of Light Show worked its magic on a large screen erected beside the stage. Solar Circus’s set, which included “Obsession” and “Fire On The Mountain” ended with “Soul Kitchen” at 3:30 a.m.

Saturday brought more fine music by groups such as Bad Reputation and the Dharma Bums who performed a great song called “Sacred Blue Herb.” Will Hoppey and Friends finally completed the long night at 5:00 a.m. with Bob Dylan’s “My Back Pages.”

Those who returned to Bethel felt that Woodstock ‘90 it was a success. Mr. Bruce of State College, Pa. said, “It shows the power of myth, how something completely unofficial can happen.” Dominick Dell’Erba from Washington D.C. noted, “The mere fact the festival occurred, though not promoted and in the face of the financial problems to overcome, gives proof that the same sense of peace, love and community still exists.” Solar Circus’ Steve Greene commented, “We were really excited being there. It felt kind of historic.” This refrain was repeated by musicians and participants all week long.

A community was formed among the population of this Woodstock Nation as people of all ages and backgrounds came together to enjoy themselves and each other. Two couples entered into Woodstock lore when they got married on the stage Saturday afternoon.

Two guys from Massachusetts who go by the name Double Dose brought a portable generator and lights to the campground area. Each night they played Grateful Dead songs until four or five in the morning and were very popular on top of the hill.

Everything was dependent upon the efforts of volunteers. People kept the area clean, and much of the garbage was recycled. The bands brought their own equipment and waited patiently for hours, and in some cases days, just for the opportunity to play for the crowd.

This year’s festival never approached the numbers that flocked to Bethel for last year’s 20th anniversary. Of course, the 20th dominated the media’s interest last August. Although, last year’s spontaneous gathering was filled with undeniable magic, it drew many more tourists and yuppies. Those who amassed for the 21st anniversary were more tie-dyed, hippified, and counterculture-oriented and had a greater kinship to those who came in 1969.

The local politicians have got to get their heads out of the sand and admit that Woodstock will not fade away. As 65-year-old Art Vassmer, the owner of Vassmer’s General Store in White Lake, said, “Woodstock is such a great thing, but the local people will never realize it. Woodstock will never die.” Richie Havens expressed what’s in store for the future when he mused, "I think the 25th is really the big one."

Copyright 1990 - Stu Fox
Used with permission

Edited for this website
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