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

THE WOODSTOCK SITE
Hurd & West Shore Rds
Sullivan County
Bethel  NY



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 BETHEL 94
Over 100,000 people journeyed to Bethel, NY, last month to joyously celebrate the 25th anniversary of Woodstock. They returned to Max Yasgur's farm not knowing if anyone else was going to be there and not really caring whether anything was going to happen. What drove them back to Bethel was a desire to be at the site where the original Woodstock Festival took place. As the days passed, their Field of Dreams became filled to capacity in a weeklong spontaneous celebration of the historic anniversary. Before it was over, hundreds of musicians, including many of the original Woodstock performers, would join them.

People started trickling in on Monday and by Thursday several thousand were camped out on the hill. Volunteers erected a makeshift stage at the bottom of the hill and there was magic in the night as music filled the air. Melanie made the first of many appearances the following afternoon, performing Candles In The Rain, Freedom Knows My Name and Peace Will Come.

The singer told me: "Woodstock is a state of mind. You certainly can't own it. It's just unbelievable that we are marketed to the point where they can have a festival and call it Woodstock and have a portion of the population believe that there's actually some truth in it."

The magnitude of the numbers descending on the original site became clear as Friday wore on. Traffic slowed to a bumper to bumper crawl leading into the site and when the hill became filled with vehicles and tents people started paying to park in a field across the road.

Route 17B was so tied up on Friday night that the state police had to re-route traffic away from Yasgur's Farm. Direct access to the site would remain impossible for almost the entire weekend, forcing people to pay for parking in fields several miles away. Throughout the weekend there was an endless stream of groups of young people, couples, solitary individuals, and families pushing baby carriages making their way down the road. Friday night Melanie told the crowd, "If it wasn't for you, and you pulling in the artists and the performers this wouldn't have happened."

Six flatbed trucks rolled in that evening and the following day construction began on a much larger stage. Tens of thousands were gathered on the hill enjoying the music Saturday afternoon when a huge storm descended upon Bethel. The downpour delayed work on the main stage and turned some of the land, including the area around the stages, into a muddy mess. But the hour-long rainstorm didn't put a damper on the crowd, and the music continued throughout the day on the small stage. Darkness had set in by the time the large stage finally came to life.

Arlo Guthrie came into the lights, stepped up to the microphone and said, "There's a lot of music going on in this part of the world tonight. A lot of people have gone to concerts, but you've done more than that. You've come not knowing if there was gonna be a show or what. You've come because of who you are and what this means to be here. This is a tribute to what a lot of people have worked very hard for. We've made this a sacred spot. I don't mean just a physical spot. I mean a spot, a place in your hearts that will remain sacred forever."

He then introduced Melanie, who fittingly kicked things off on the new stage. The singer was visibly moved throughout her performance which included Look What They've Done To My Song and Beautiful People. She told the gathering, "Everybody who's here tonight and everybody who's coming tomorrow, it's because of you and because of this spot." The hillside lit up with flickering flames as she finished the set with her tribute to the 1969 festival, Candles In The Rain.

Arlo's son Abe Guthrie and his band Xavier followed with a set that included Joy To The World and Let It Be. They were then joined by Arlo, who made the announcement that "17B is closed." He then went into one of his patented raps which he concluded by saying, "For old times' sake, here's an old song for some old friends." The band then launched into a rollicking version of Coming Into Los Angeles. After a long set which included City Of New Orleans, the darkened hill erupted with thousands of voices when he wrapped up with This Land Is Your Land.

The music continued all night long and during the early morning hours, Sha Na Na had the crowd dancing in the mud as they raced through an energy-filled set of oldies like Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On.

Dawn was breaking on my fourth day in Bethel when I decided that some sleep was needed. It always seems to rain on Sunday at Yasgur's Farm, and it poured for a couple of hours during the morning. Many people who were planning on leaving anyway pulled out before noon, but they should have stuck around because Sunday's musical lineup was a fantastic mix which offered something for everyone.

Mountain which featured a slimmed-down Leslie West, Corky Lang, and former Hendrix bassist Noel Redding, started things off on the main stage. The band opened with a beautiful take of Jack Bruce's Theme From An Imaginary Western and ripped apart Mississippi Queen. They also played powerhouse renditions of Red House and Whiskey Train.

Canned Heat followed with some great blues rock and mixed new songs with old favorites such as Going Up The Country and Let's Work Together. The Heat finished up with a lengthy new boogie tune called The John Lee Hooker Boogie.

Peter Yarrow from Peter, Paul & Mary, always the trooper, had been involved in a car accident driving to the festival, but still came to play for the people gathered at the site. He told me, "The reason I came is because it's a free concert. Some things can exist without having to be governed by the almighty dollar."

Paul Winter played next and then came the day's biggest surprise as member of the Jayhawks, Soul Asylum and Victoria Williams appeared on the stage. They started off with Woodstock, which had the audience on their feet yelling. People danced as the musicians banged out song after song. The high point of their show was a scorching take of Runaway Train that had thousands of ecstatic fans singing along.

Soul Asylum lead singer David Primer exclaimed, "They asked us to play the Pepsi Festival but we turned it down to come and play for you tonight. It's nice to be around friends instead of people just trying to make money." The skies began clearing for the first time in thirty hours as the all-star group closed with I Can See Clearly Now and Someone Like You.

Burning Spear followed with an hour of pulsating reggae vibrations. The music continued non-stop throughout the night. Eddie Brigati led The Rascals through a rocking set of songs like People Got To Be Free.

It was well after midnight when Richie Havens took the stage for a show stopping performance of old favorites mixed with new material from his latest album. He told the enthusiastic audience, "I can truly say I survived to get here again, but only because in between, everywhere I went, there you were. No matter how hard they tried to create something, they didn't. You guys did."
 

He then roared into a moving Working Class Hero. This was followed by a long song about going back to one's roots which was the most moving song of the entire festival. During the conga-laden jam, Havens danced wildly around the stage as the energy level kept climbing. By the song's end, everyone around me was chanting Freedom. He finished with the song which had been born on stage at this very site twenty-five years earlier.

Then the man who had been so instrumental in pushing forward when all seemed hopeless spoke to the people: promoter Sid Bernstein. He had originally been involved in the plans for a festival in Bethel but had dropped out shortly before tickets were supposed to go on sale for Bethel 94. Bernstein had gone to a town meeting asking for a permit for a free festival but he was turned down. He thanked Havens, Melanie, the sound people and everyone who had donated their time and worked so hard to make this event happen. He promised that, "In five years there will be a music center here to rival any in the world and you are responsible."

Country Joe McDonald was the final performer on the main stage. He had played at Woodstock 94 in Saugerties and said that he had decided to come to the farm to sing "regardless of what was happening. I didn't know who would be here and I didn't know this stage would be here and I really didn't care. I just wanted to sit on this site and sing." He led the crowd in singing The Feel Like I'm Fixin' To Die Rag and performed many of his classic tunes like Janis and Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine.

People of all ages and backgrounds came together to enjoy themselves and each other. Dan Malcolm, who attended the original festival came because, "This is were the spirit is. Forty-eight year-old Rick from Canandaigua, NY said, "It's high energy. It's very positive, very reminiscent of the time twenty-five years ago. It's a people thing." Nineteen year-old Barbara, who traveled from Arizona, called it, "The greatest experience I've ever had. The sense of peace, love and community here is overwhelming." Bruce Marshall, a young kid who left Plainville, Ct. wondering if anyone would be in Bethel, said, "This is great! Unbelievable!"

Although the music continued unabated, many people began making their way home on Monday. The state troopers who had all volunteered for duty in Bethel strolled around the site purchasing tee-shirts and other souvenirs. A lot of people debated whether to call and take more time off from work. Newcomers continued to drive in and bands kept things rocking. Among the groups that played the small stage were a Vince Martelli-led Vanilla Fudge and The Hatters. Country Joe returned on Tuesday to entertain the thousands stills gathered at the site.

The twenty-fifth anniversary celebration at Yasgur's Farm was a peaceful, joyous week in the true spirit of Woodstock. Those who attended gave the gathering a sense of brotherhood and community which affected everyone. One can only hope that the town wakes up to what is going on so that people can feel this magic every August.

 

Copyright 1994 - Stu Fox
Used with permission

Edited for this website
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