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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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I was a disc jockey at WVBR-FM in Ithaca, New York during the 1990s. In early July of 1994, I lined up live interviews with the promoters of the three festivals that were being planned to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Woodstock. We planned on broadcasting all three promoters live on our airwaves one after the other, but right before I was to interview Sid Bernstein, his son phoned and told me he would have to cancel it.

The quotes in this article from Michael Lang are from the radio interview, as are the ones from Rich Pell.

This article was written right after I did the interviews and I did not know at the time that the town of Bethel was taking action to prevent Bethel ’94 from taking place.

Sid Bernstein is the legendary music promoter who brought the Beatles to America. Over the years he has been involved with a who’s who of the music world. I would have loved having an opportunity to talk with Sid Bernstein, but it was not to be. Bernstein ended up lining up many of the musical groups who performed at the officially cancelled festival at Yasgur’s farm on the 25th anniversary.

Richie Havens played a concert in Ithaca in the spring of 1994. He came by the station before the show and did a live interview with me and also performed several songs in the studio. Most of our interview was about Woodstock and much of it centered on the upcoming anniversary. The quotes from Richie that I use in this article are taken from that interview.

I lived in Miami in the late sixties and attended the Miami Pop Festival in December 1968. The event was held at Gulfstream Park and it featured two stages; like Woodstock ’94. I also used to go to Michael Lang’s head shop in Coconut Grove back in the day.

This article appeared in the Ithaca Times on July 14, 1994 .

25th Anniversary Of Song & Celebration

In August 1969, a half-million people gathered on a farm in Bethel, New York, for the cosmic celebration of the ‘60s, Woodstock. Twenty-five years later, the festival stands as a symbol of those times and as one of the best-known events of that historical decade. In the annals of rock, it is perched on a pinnacle above everything that came before and followed that wild, glorious weekend. It was rock-n-roll heaven and a celestial community of brotherhood crammed into three magical days. It was a time when a generation came together to be with other people in what Richie Havens calls “the first American People’s Festival.”

Woodstock was a natural outgrowth of the changes that were sweeping the country. A community of young people were moving and shaking things up; in the summer of 1967 many of them headed to San Francisco to be part of the Summer of Love. The first big rock festival was held that June in Monterey, and, keeping with the spirit of the times, the musicians played for free.

At the same time, another youth colony was flourishing in a section of Miami known as Coconut Grove. Living in that hippie community was Michael Lang, the owner of a local head shop. He fondly remembers that “the Grove was an amazing place in those days. It was sort of the southern outpost of that whole New York, L.A., San Francisco movement.” Lang plunged into the local scene and was soon involved in a number of endeavors, including putting on concerts in the local park. At the end of 1968, he was one of the promoters of the first large rock festival to take place outside of California, the Miami Pop Festival. According to Lang., “Monterey was the inspiration for Miami Pop.”

The Miami Pop Festival featured a great musical line-up, and served as the inspiration for even greater things from Lang the following year when he moved to upstate New York. “Pretty soon after I moved to Woodstock I started thinking about putting a concert together. Woodstock was a very musical town in those days. Dylan lived here, and The Band, and Janis Joplin and a bunch of other groups (were around). Artie Kornfeld and I spent a lot of time planning a concert series. And then exploring it, we thought maybe this was the time to try and bring everything together at once.” The dreams became reality when Lang and Kornfeld hooked up with two other young men who could provide the financial backing, Joel Rosenman and John Roberts.
The four partners formed Woodstock Ventures and started laying the groundwork for the legendary music event. “We wanted to have an event that was peaceful, that was user-friendly, that people when they got there found at least what they were expecting, if not more. That they were treated with respect and that they had an opportunity to have a great experience together. We would provide a vehicle for this gathering of the tribes, and basically I think we accomplished that,” says Lang.”

“We spent a lot of time making sure that the elements involved in the production and everything else were conducive to people having the right kind of experience, and I think that our plans worked pretty well,” adds Lang. Unfortunately, the town which was originally to host the festival became hostile at the thought of a hippie horde invading the community, and local politicians enacted laws to prevent Woodstock. “We didn’t have a lot of prep time because we had moved to the festival site (Yasgur’s farm) about three-and-a-half weeks before the show. We’d worked in Wallkill for about three month on a former site. So, while it looks like there wasn’t a lot of planning and preparation, there was a tremendous amount that went into Woodstock. It wasn’t one of those things that happened on its own,” Lang says.

The promoters brought in members of the Hog Farm commune and organized a security force in tune with the times. The festival had the most awesome assortment of rock music talent ever assembled, and it was all happening in the picturesque rolling foothills of the Catskills. Everything had been taken into account, except the size of the multitude that would converge on the little town of Bethel. As Lang laughingly remembers, “We kind of knew everybody was interested, but we had no idea how big the actual community was. The police told me that their estimates were a million-and-a-half people on the road never made it.”

It was the people who came to Woodstock from far and wide who were the real stars of the festival. They were featured in newspaper photos across the country, and they adorned the concert albums that were released later. Because of the people, the weekend will forever remembered as a gathering filled with peace, love, and harmony. To Havens, “It was a celebration of people who had believed in something getting a chance to come together and show it as a group for the first time. We all discovered something together.” Michael Lang believes that he and his partners found the appropriate site and booked the right groups, “and the people who came brought the magic.”

The magic of Woodstock never died. There is no better example of the concert’s continuing appeal than what occurred during its 20th anniversary, when tens of thousands of people returned to their “field of dreams.” They came in 1989 to Max Yasgur’s farm without a thought as to whether anyone else would be there, because the site represents a special time. Melanie told the ’89 gathering that “Woodstock is a state of mind.” For those who came to celebrate that year, it seemed to symbolize the spirit and ideals of the ‘60s. They journeyed back to Bethel again the following August, when many performers, including Havens and Arlo Guthrie, showed up to entertain the faithful. Arlo, who was playing 21 years to the day after his original appearance, declared. “It’s a pleasure to be here with so many people still dreamin’.” After 1990 the town of Bethel decided to prevent people from reaching the site by erecting roadblocks, but Woodstock pilgrims have continued gathering in the area every August.

With the 25th anniversary coming up next month, many of the original Woodstock performers and participants, as well as a new generation of music fans, will visit the Catskill region for several celebrations. Attracting the most attention is Woodstock ’94, on August 13 and 14, which the original promoters (Lang, Rosenman and Roberts) are putting on in Saugerties, about 45 miles from the famous site. It has the biggest musical line-up, the most publicity, and most importantly, the name Woodstock.

Two rival concerts are also being planned in the town where it all happened back in 1969. Sid Bernstein is producing Bethel ’94 at what was once Max Yasgur’s farm. Promoters hope to hold a festival in the spirit of the original Woodstock, with bands from the ‘Sixties. At the same time, Freedomfest, a free 11-day event, will be going on several miles away.

The promoters of Woodstock ’94 want to recreate the magic that they had with the original. Many of the concert arrangements come from the mind of the man who dreamed up the original festival, and Lang is aware of his biggest asset. “I think that Woodstock is what’s gonna draw them. There really hasn’t been an event like this since Woodstock. You know, to come and spent a weekend in a beautiful place with a lot of people you’re hopefully gonna get to know, and there’s an amazing array of music.”

“We were looking for something, a broad spectrum of music, an eclectic show that would bring in a diverse audience and that would introduce people to things they weren’t so familiar with,” Lang says. “I think we’ve done that. It’s the same approach that we took at the festival the first time around. We also wanted to have some of the original bands that were at the first Woodstock festival who have remained important and relevant over the years; Crosby, Stills and Nash, Santana, The Band, Bob Dylan, people who are sort of core groups to that era. But the majority of the show is contemporary and hopefully has some looking toward the future as well.”

Other acts which will play at Saugerties are Joe Cocker, Aerosmith, Alice in Chains, Metallic, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Henry Rollins Band, the Spin Doctors, Nine Inch Nails, Porno for Pyros, Green Day, Cypress Hill, Arrested Development, Peter Gabriel, Johnny Cash, the Neville Brothers and the Jimmy Cliff Reggae Revue.

“We are hoping also that some of the bands that are coming and some of the musicians who are going to be coming, who are uninvited officially, will form spontaneous kinds of jams,” adds Lang. “Acts like the Neville Brothers lend themselves to people sitting in. You just never know what the combinations are going to be. Peter Gabriel, of course, will be involved with the world music.”

Unlike 1969, everyone will not be massed around one stage, because performers will use two stages at Woodstock ’94. “It allows you to book more acts, and it allows you to present more things,” explains Lang. “Not everybody’s going to be interested in everything that’s happening on one stage. It gives you a chance to go and see something you might be more interested in. We’re going to try and book it so that there is as little conflict in terms of approach to one stage and the other as we can.”

The promoters have also planned a show for the night before the festival officially gets underway. The performers will be announced later this month, and Lang promises that “Friday should prove to be a very interesting evening as well” for those people who come early. “We’re planning on putting on some newer, cutting edge groups on, and some local talent. I think that you’ll find it’s going to be a pretty interesting night.”

There will be a lot more than music in Saugerties. “At Ecoseal Echo Park, there’s going to be displays of how we can get along a little better and walk a little softer on the planet,” continues Lang. “And an interactive village where you get a chance to play with the technology of the next century. There will be experimental things that address the world in which we live, and lots of art projects. It’s a music and arts fair, and we’re hoping that this time the arts part of it gets a little more attention, so we’ve been pushing in that direction. I think it’s just a weekend that you’ll never forget.”

Tickets for Woodstock ’94 cost $135, and are being sold in blocks of four. You can order them through Ticketmaster, and close to 60 percent of the 250,000 tickets have already been sold. This is the ‘90s, and major events can now be experienced at home through technological advances that would have been considered an acid vision back in 1969. Although the only way to truly experience something like Woodstock ’94 is by being there, it will be available on pay-per-view. The entire 48 hours of the festival is going to be broadcast live, which will appeal to couch potatoes and others who can not make it in person. Before the year is out, you will also be able to purchase music from the concert on A&M Records. The Saugerties show is expected to draw everyone from original Woodstock veterans to teenagers, but the majority of the audience will certainly be young.

The festival proposed on the original site was finally granted a permit two weeks ago, and the line-up may be announced this week. Bethel ’94, tentatively scheduled for August 13-14, is expected to feature Richie Havens, Melanie, John Sebastian, Judy Collins, Fleetwood Mac, Dave Mason, and other performers whose roots go back to the ‘60s. The promoters believe that their festival will be closest to the spirit of the original Woodstock event. It appears that tickets will be about $80, and promoters expect around 80,000 to attend.

The major advantage that Bethel ’94 has is that it will be held where everything went down in 1969. The large numbers of people who returned to the site for past anniversary celebrations is an indication of the drawing power that piece of land has on folks. The town seems to have finally come to terms with its destiny. This event can be considered the official Bethel festival. Sid Bernstein and his partners have also promised the town of Bethel that a permanent stage and seating area will be erected so that the historical site will have a performing arts center for future years.

The third gathering is Freedomfest, which is being put on by a collection of people who met each other at the 20th anniversary and have been carrying on the tradition every August since 1989. They have a 60-acre field and will be charging a $15 parking fee to cover expenses such as gas for the generators, wood for the stage, portable toilets, and water tankers. It will run for 11 days (August 12-22) and features 150 bands, free camping, and a 24-hour speaker stage. Much of the music will be performed by local bands and groups from New York City. The best known performer is Richie Havens, but former Vanilla Fudge guitarist Vince Martelli and a number of other noted musicians are expected to play.

According to promoter Rich Pell, “we’re trying to do a real righteous thing. What we’re all about is exercising our rights of freedom of speech and the pursuit of happiness.” He expresses strong feelings about Woodstock. “I think it goes even beyond the music. I think it gets to people getting together in a spirit of giving and kindness and of compassion for one another. It was really something special that people have remembered all these years- the peace and love are the true Woodstock spirit.” For details about Freedomfest, call 914-692-5900 .

One thing is certain, when it comes to the 25th anniversary of Woodstock there is going to be something for everybody. The different concerts allow anyone to participate in whatever they feel Woodstock is all about. Last week Jay Leno asked his audience on the Tonight Show if they knew what major event occurred 25 years ago this month, and they shouted out, “Woodstock! Woodstock!” The comedian was surprised that no one gave him the answer he was looking for (the first moon landing was in July 1969).

Twenty-five years ago, a generation of young people went to a music festival and became a part of history. Although the ‘60s are a long time gone, many of the ideals of those days are still alive. You can’t recreate what happened at the original, but this August a lot of people who were in Bethel back in 1969 will celebrate the anniversary of an extraordinary moment in their lives. Next month’s events offer today’s youth the opportunity for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and when you get past all of the hype, that is what Woodstock is really all about.

Copyright 1994 - Stu Fox
Used with permission

Edited for this website
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