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Woodstock 50th Anniversary in New York

August 23rd, 2019 · 26 Comments · Music, Real-life Adventure Tales, Weird Things About Me, Woodstock

A Festival of Festivals

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I said somewhere on social media leading up to the Woodstock 50th that it should and would be experienced by people in different ways all over the world. “Friends not corporations create Woodstock.” There was no required location or situation. As Jerry Garcia said of the Beats — “… it was a way of seeing.”

And in the Yasgur’s farm area of Upstate New York, there were a lot of different eyeballs tuned in to a lot of different scenes.

I’m disappointed there wasn’t a giant unifying singular one-time-ever festival (like on the 25th in ’94 that was so great it I wrote a whole book about it!) — something that drew the so-inclined from 18 to 80 like the best of the gatherings I attend attract — but what this was was a festival of festivals. Just as the modern-day fests offer multiple stages with eclectic choices all day & night, plus art installations, a million food choices, camping, and friends reuniting and all that jazz — so too did the 50th Woodstock cumulatively create a collection of different stages & events all along the deservedly legendary Route 17B in Sullivan County.

Full Adventure available here.

There was Santana playing his evolved world-beat large-ensemble super-pro act at the high-end amphitheater stage at Bethel Woods with tickets scalping for $400 . . . and there was Melanie playing solo for free from the big front porch of the very cool Catskill Distillery. There was Melvin Seals closing opening night at the Yasgur’s Road farmhouse, and Grace Potter opening closing night at Bethel Woods. There was the Puerto Rico soulman showman Fantuzzi leading his eclectic collective through a Little-Richard-meets-the-Mothers-of-Invention show with a relativistic crowd dancing in revery in front of the family stage at Arrowhead Ranch, and there’s Arlo Guthrie on the big stage at Bethel Woods with the whole front of it cordoned off for paying VIPs.

There’s the touristy t-shirt stores all along the roadway with actual non-ironic “Welcome Hippies!” signs — the opposite of the locals’ “No Hippies Here!” reaction the first time.

And there’s the master tie-dye artist Yano displaying a gorgeous 50-foot tapestry for the 50th that took 400 hours to make . . . that he did just to make people happy, not to make money.

The artists are hidden in their work.

There’s the full 180 degree spectrum of profiteers and performers; of straight-streets in seersucker and street-people in sleeping bags; of old people with canes and young people with . . . wait a minute. That was the problem — that Miley Cyrus, The Killers et al would have solved at Watkins Glen, like Cypress Hill, Green Day & such did in Saugerties at the 25th in ’94. There were no young people here. Or very damn few — but there were more at the remote satellite events. In fact — the Furthur away a site was from the original location, the more young people were there. Arrowhead Ranch in Liberty (where the Holiday Inn was that all the performers stayed at and were helicopter shuttled to the concert field in ’69) was where a buncha the under-30s went for Rose’s well-curated anniversary festival. Also at Hector’s Inn — where I never noticed a cover charge all weekend — just $10 to park and you’re in to where there were faces without wrinkles dancing around bonfires with musicians.

What it was was diverse scene-wise. You could do the VIP packages in perfect pampered conditions for Ringo Starr, Carlos Santana and John Fogerty for thousands of dollars a night. Or you could find a place in the ample woods to camp and listen to music for free for days and nights on end and meet like-minded people from all over the world.

Bethel Woods came up with this “Travel Pass” idea to scare cars n people away, and maybe it kinda worked — cuz the only thing that caused traffic delays was cars lined up at Hurd Road to check for these stupid Travel Passes!

The colors of control.

But on a heavier level, I learned from an insider they were concerned about a mass-shooting situation, and had done extensive training and planning and screening which all ultimately resulted in a Gratefully safe weekend. Somebody or ‘bodies who didn’t like Western ways or liberal mores would sure have a way to make a point in this pointed place. A friend told me her parents were worried about her coming — but not cuz of sex & drugs like it prolly was in ’69. They were worried about her getting shot.

But back on the Woodstock Spirit side, Bethel Woods was letting people in for free for Fogerty for anybody outside the gates on the last night. And they did mount a substantive & entertaining special exhibit for the 50th with all this one-time-ever stuff leant for display, including the sign that someone painted in 1969 telling neighbors not to buy Max’s milk that his wife Miriam cites as being the tipping point in him deciding to host the festival.

Above my head is the historic sign found laying in the ground after 45 years.

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Or I love how, when you walk into the first room of the permanent exhibition at the official Woodstock museum there’s a picture of none other than Neal Cassady laughing in the immensity of it.

Mind you, they don’t mention his name, or the fact that he’s sitting in the Furthur bus (that actually came to Woodstock in ’69), or that Allen Ginsberg took the picture . . . but at least he’s there in Spirit laughing through eternity.

And then there’s the part where Albert Hoffman wanted to get a Prankster wristband to Michael Lang, and hadn’t been able to meet up with him at Yasgur’s farm, so he went to where they have a participatory paper-plate exhibit in the museum, and he writes “Gives this to Michael” then pins the wristband to it and uses his nine foot reach to drop it perfectly into a Michael display in the museum.

The Prankster bracelet on the plate in the lower right.


The Pranksters strike again. 🙂

Or then there’s Yano and Ashlee stretching out their 50 foot tapestry for the 50th anniversary for the first time at the crown of the lawn of the Woodstock field . . .

like a rainbow framing the assembled — which happened for real the next night . . .

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Or there was the part where Arlo gave us a class in the History of Songwriting & Storytelling, performing Woody’s This Land Is Your Land, and Bob’s Gates of Eden, and Steve’s (The Train They Call) The City of New Orleans, plus his own Comin’ Into Los Angeles, where he told us how the mic was all screwed up on that, his opening song, at Woodstock ’69, and how they had to use another live audio version in the movie, and that’s why there’s so many cutaways, cuz they couldn’t synch up his lips and sound.

Or there was Carlos pulling off an extended Exodus by Marley with the Doobie Brothers joining him forming about a 20-piece orchestra; or John Fogerty weaving in a Give Peace A Chance with his sons. And there was Melanie playing with her daughter Jeordie at the Yasgur’s farmhouse site; and Arlo singing his dad’s songs at the Yasgur’s farm concert site. And there was Santana’s wife Cindy singing a rocking Imagine from her drum kit; and Fogerty’s son Shane solo & electric on the big stage delivering a respectably updated Star-Spangled Banner.

Or there was that wild moment when the rains hit during Santana and I climbed over the split-rail fence at the back and up some rocky outcropping under some trees, and nodded hello to a couple also crouched down in the dark taking shelter from the storm. Then through the splashing rain and concert din, I think I hear the guy say, “Are you an author?” but I sort of ignore it, assuming there’s no way he just asked me that. Then out of the darkness I hear louder, “Hey, do you write books about Jack Kerouac and stuff?” “What?!” thinks I, squinting over in the Huckleberry Finn riverbank-perched darkness. “Yeah,” I kinda mumble, not sure what’s lurking next to me in the midnight rain. “I came to your reading at the Golden Notebook last year.” (!) And sure enough it was a book-buying fan in the dark on the rocks in the middle of the rain in the middle of a concert at Woodstock!

Or there was the moment one of the guys from the Doobie Brothers mentioned from the stage that he’d just met Wavy Gravy backstage, setting off a flurry of activity in Pranksterland until it was concluded the guy must have been speaking metaphorically.

Or there was Tedeschi-Trucks’ 12-piece band stealing the whole damn musical show for the weekend, including pulling a Dead maneuver by opening with Santana’s Soul Sacrifice then weaving back into its ending later in the show. Or them climaxing the whole thing with Sly & The Family Stone’s I Want To Take You Higher that riffed and built . . . and built and riffed to a frantic sweating acid dancing peak. I’ll probably get in trouble for this, but this Deadhead made a note during the show that these guys were doing what the Dead and the Allmans strived for with the 2 drummers and improvisational soloing — but were doing it better. Yeah, I said it. The arrangements, the playing, the interacting, the drummers driving each other and in turn the band, the horn section, the harmony singers . . . those latter two additions being something those former two groups really coulda used — proving this more-than-capable modern ensemble was fulfilling the promise of their forefathers and truly taking it Furthur.

Or there was the stark contrast between Carlos Santana repeatedly praising the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia from the stage to grateful applause from the fifteen thousand assembled —

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versus the following night John Fogerty delivering a long & painfully tone-deaf rant about how bad the Dead were at Woodstock and mistakenly blaming them for the logistical/technical problems of that Saturday night in the rain 50 years ago. I walked out of there thinking less of John Fogerty than when I walked in — his self-serving sermon doing more damage to his reputation than his two hours of playing benefited it.

Or there was the part where they were going to show the revised director’s cut of the original Woodstock masterpiece of an Academy Award-winning documentary on the original field — in fact they billed the night as the “Film On The Field” but moved it in to the concert amphitheater at the last minute — an unfortunate setting, except for the benefit of it playing through the concert PA — so you’re hearing every note of every performance on a crystal clear full range 2019 sound system cranked to 11. Or there’s the part where Michael Lang’s first appearance elicited spontaneous applause from the crowd, and by his second appearance a full-throttled whooping. And then on the Monday following, when somebody mentioned Artie Kornfeld, I realized it was the first time I’d heard his name all weekend.

Or there was that time where I was sitting next to Arrowhead’s Rose during the screening and we both got choked up together at the overwhelming beauty of the movie and the audience-art interaction as though all the performances were happening in person right in front of us — and all experienced from our Dead-center free-show cushy-seats in an amphitheater full of the best kind of family.

Or there was the comical karma when the self-anointed Woodstock purists who wanked themselves off shitting on Michael Lang all year had to deal with their original farm host Jeryl warmly inviting him back to the garden and embracing the person without whom none of this weekend would be celebrated.

Our man Wiz on the scene at the homecoming hug between Michael and Jeryl on Yasgur’s farm.

Or there was the part where a big rain storm blew in right on Woodstock cue, but in 2019 they have radar weather satellites and saw it coming, and at Bethel Woods they evacuated the entire lawn telling people to return to their cars to ride it out, but a bunch of us just stormed the domed pavilion that had been the media center, and the privileged so-called reporters couldn’t handle the great unwashed having the gaul to invade their pampered bubble — and watching them trying to defend their sanitized world with actual people going to an actual concert was worth the price of invasion.

What there wasn’t was a unified collective hundred-thousand-person epiphany that can only be conjured in large crowds collectively peaking.

The idea and mindset of “Woodstock” is part of global language and culture. If the logistics and finances and laws and security and payola and permits and propaganda and paranoia and polarization and lots of other poop words made it impossible to do an actual festival in these bad trip times — The Woodstock Spirit was proven very much alive this past weekend.

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And the thousands of people who came from all over the world and manifested the vibe in such myriad ways proves this part of our collective consciousness is here to stay — coming to life in a collage of reunions collectively created across the canvas of the land. In our ad hoc krewe we had Danes and Irish and Canadians and Germans and Yanks from every region and persuasion all sharing the peace pipe around the bonfire — The United Pranksters of All Nations — brought together over an idea that “a half a million kids could get together for three days of fun and music, and have nothing but fun and music,” as Max Yasgur put it the first time ’round.

There’s a festival culture in a wear-what-you-want and love-who-you-want world that showed itself early and vibrantly in 1969 on an open field in an open time — and a lot of the best of that idea is still going on in the world we live in today.

God bless those who did it the first time . . . and those who are still doing in our time.

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Here’s a link to a book I wrote that was just published about the 25th anniversary of Woodstock.

Here’s a link to a little excerpt from it about the opening night at Woodstock ’94.

Here’s a link to an excerpt about how that festival opened.

Or here’s a story about going to Yasgur’s farm and meeting up with the modern day Pranksters in 2014.

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Special thanks to Jeanne Burgess & Rick Melnick for their hideaway estate-on-a-lake and the quiet natural sacred space following the Woodstockian madness to create this reflection.

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by Brian Hassett  —  karmacoupon@gmail.com   —  BrianHassett.com

Or here’s my Facebook account if you wanna join in there — https://www.facebook.com/Brian.Hassett.Canada

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26 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Brad Clough // Aug 23, 2019 at 6:34 PM

    Beautiful piece, Brian! We’re so blessed to have you chronicling and giving your seasoned perspectives on the ongoing events in the life of the counterculture. Furthur!!!

  • 2 Ollie // Aug 23, 2019 at 7:03 PM

    Very nicely written (as usual!) … and great opening paragraph. I like that you included the Albert Hoffman wristband story. Ha! I was none to pleased about the “travel passes” initially, but I thought it was surprisingly well handled (at least for me for Ringo). Bravo and Furthur we go!

  • 3 Megan Reese // Aug 23, 2019 at 7:17 PM

    This is fabulous!!! Thanks for the play-by-play — almost felt like I was there … but that’s what I count on you to do anyways …

  • 4 Brian // Aug 23, 2019 at 7:27 PM

    Megan — You’re welcome! Glad I could take you there. 😉
    And thanks, Brad! “Beautiful” is good. 😀
    And thanks Ollie. I was on the fence about including the Albert’s wristband story — but glad to hear you’re liking the choice.
    🙂

  • 5 Yano Harris // Aug 23, 2019 at 8:26 PM

    It was great spending time with you brother. The people we met at Bethel brought out smiles and laughter. The music was remarkable. I’m glad we shared this together.

  • 6 Brian // Aug 23, 2019 at 8:53 PM

    It was Grate spending time with YOU Yano and our cool core crew that went everywhere together — Ashlee Spirit, Sinéad O’Connor, Jeff McWheels, and the Per of Danes! 😀
    And thanks to Rose & Kenny for Everything on the home and Ranch front!
    I dunno how wez dun it, but I know wez dun it. 😉

  • 7 Gubba // Aug 23, 2019 at 9:05 PM

    Thanks Brian this helps a bunch. I was trying to make sense of the different groups of people at the different events. I think a little geography might have helped. I don’t think anyone could have done better than to follow you around. Sorry about John Fogarty being a self centered asshole. It’s not something that just happened lately.

  • 8 Ashlee Spirit // Aug 23, 2019 at 9:56 PM

    Brian — It was a pleasure to experience this adventure with you! Let me know if any happenings are about that I should not miss as I would make the trip to hang with you and your cronies. Your energy regarding the tapestry charged my spirit 10 fold. You are a true blue friend and I look forward to getting old and wiser with you in my life. There are certain souls that you always want to dance with. I love sharing in the circle with you. Love you always!

  • 9 Hummer // Aug 23, 2019 at 10:51 PM

    Hey Brian — You once again take us there. Thank you.

  • 10 Marci Zabell // Aug 23, 2019 at 11:07 PM

    Brian this is fantastic! It makes me wish I had followed you around all weekend LOL! I’m going to hold on to this and reread it whenever I need to remember that I was there. Thank you.

  • 11 Sunny Diesel // Aug 23, 2019 at 11:58 PM

    Great read! I’m glad you understand how important it was to get the kids out for this show. Everyone wanted to complain about the Watkins Glen lineup, but it would have been huge and turned on so many young people to the music and the scene. Sounds like you guys had fun!

  • 12 Sinead Suibhne // Aug 24, 2019 at 12:02 AM

    It was such a pleasure to meet you Brian and experience Woodstock in such great company. Looking back on all the photos makes me smile. I look forward to getting wrapped up in my new book of yours. Like Ashlee said, let me know if there’s anything coming up. You never know when I’ll be back over. ❤️

  • 13 Ryan McGuire // Aug 24, 2019 at 12:32 AM

    Well written. Glad I was able to be a part of the festivities and fun at Arrowhead and Yasgur’s farm.

  • 14 Jeanne Burgess // Aug 24, 2019 at 9:51 AM

    Thank You, Brian, you captured the feeling and reinforced the sprit of the Woodstock we grew up with.
    So many of us grew in different directions, but came together to embrace the things we loved thru the years (music, the arts and freedom to just be).
    It was a honor to have you here and to get to know you on more of a personal level. Love you Brother Prankster.

  • 15 Rick Melnick // Aug 24, 2019 at 9:56 AM

    Thank you, Brian. You are our voice to the world.

  • 16 Nancy Jones Cook // Aug 24, 2019 at 11:24 AM

    Love this.

  • 17 Allan Robinson // Aug 24, 2019 at 4:50 PM

    Glad to hear you got to see Tedeschi-Trucks.

  • 18 Wendy Eden Harris // Aug 25, 2019 at 8:36 AM

    Fabulous article and awesome memories! Thank you so much! I visited Bethel Woods Museum and my 50th Anniversary “paver” in the ground 2 months ago right by the museum entrance which is a big thrill for me as I am now forever linked to the original Woodstock site! Wish I’d been there this weekend but I celebrated in my own way and enjoyed hearing about yours!

  • 19 Bob Bartell // Aug 25, 2019 at 6:45 PM

    Love it! This is the most complete yet concise, soulful, descriptive and accurate piece I’ve read covering the epic “Woodstock 50th” event. So much going on (nobody could be everywhere at once), but you sure come close and “gets things done”! Great read whether you attended the event in NY, elsewhere, or not at all!

    That Albert H. Prankster ring toss with dead center accuracy (9ft reach!) is amazing. . . . I can hear you telling me that story late night by the fire shortly after it happened. And great pic of Wiz in the middle of the Michael Lang/Jeryl Abramson hug. Thanks for writing this!

  • 20 Rose Barnett // Aug 25, 2019 at 8:44 PM

    Great!!

  • 21 Carol DaBrescia // Aug 25, 2019 at 11:42 PM

    Perfect. Thank You!

  • 22 Billy Savitsky // Aug 26, 2019 at 6:07 AM

    Great write-up as usual Brian. Thank you!

  • 23 Eric Triffin // Aug 26, 2019 at 10:08 AM

    Great insights of the goings on.

  • 24 Dave Olson // Aug 26, 2019 at 12:02 PM

    Big thanks for all this. August 16th was my birthday and here on a tiny Indonesian island I was hoping to connect with some vibes from far away but only saw the recycled cynical drivel — so very glad to catch your stream of goodness!

  • 25 Brian // Aug 26, 2019 at 4:03 PM

    You’re welcome, Dave! Glad the words were able to travel so far and you had your catcher’s mitt on! 🙂
    The people and the many scenes were all very positive — and it’s a pleasure to reflect that light to those who are tuned to it.

  • 26 Donny Fusselman // Aug 28, 2019 at 12:36 AM

    Thank you Brian. Your writing and the way you lay down a story always captures the essence of how things went down. What good work you do.

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