We baby boomers are approaching a milestone of sorts. It is nearly half-a-century since Woodstock! For many boomers, it is a receding memory. But for BoomerCafé contributor Alan Paul of Hawthorne, New Jersey, it is still a destination worth visiting, if only, as Alan says, “to keep the generational flame ever glowing.” We recently ran Part 1 of Alan’s recollections of the famous Woodstock festival. Today we run Part 2 which he calls, “We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.”
My wife Jan and I (and Sam the Wonderdog) are frequent visitors to Woodstock, New York, and to nearby Bethel, the actual location of the famous Woodstock Festival. There, the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts exists as a brilliant beacon, the eternal flame of Woodstock Nation.
The Woodstock Music and Art Fair of 1969 was, at its core, a celebration of peace and love, as expressed through the camaraderie experienced by young people of all races and creeds, enriched by the music that nurtured us. Even though the Vietnam war was still raging, I remember it as a period of hope. It was a moment in time when peace and love for all seemed not only attainable but within the ability of our generation to achieve. I don’t know what happened to us and our dream, but these days we seem as far away from the promise of “Woodstock” as ever before.
I had originally thought it was somewhat ironic that the town of Woodstock became the epicenter of the state-of-mind that was, and remains, “Woodstock.” After all, the music-and-art-fair which was created in the town’s name actually took place nearly sixty miles southwest. But the town of Woodstock had its own rich history as a cultural and counter-cultural community long before the Music and Art Fair had ever been conceived.
Bob Dylan lived there and wrote many of his greatest songs in the house everyone called “Big Pink,” on Parnassus Lane near the border between Woodstock and the historic sawmill village of Saugerties. (It’s actually a vacation rental home now!) And Dylan’s bandmate Levon Helm (he of The Band fame) lived there as well, in a converted barn which became famous for hosting the Midnight Ramble concerts which continued until shortly before his death in 2012. This transplanted southerner loved his adopted town and the people there returned the favor. Music promoter Albert Grossman started his record company in the neighboring town of Bearsville, which attracted many of the top musical performers of the day.
The main reason why concert promoter Michael Lang wanted to host his music-and-art fair in Woodstock was the fact that the town was the epicenter of folk and rock music on the east coast, in addition to being a haven for artists from every discipline. He moved it to Bethel either because of unfavorable zoning laws or because he couldn’t find the right location, depending upon which version you believe. And of course as the home of the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts and the Woodstock Museum Bethel is the real heart of that history. If you’re a Boomer, I urge you to visit both of these remarkable places; I promise that you won’t be disappointed.
Jan and I go to Woodstock and Bethel Woods because somehow the dream is still alive in these places, if only faintly. And in going, it fills a cranny in our souls that we may have forgotten even existed. We get this feeling each and every time we visit. It only lasts for a little while, but somehow that’s enough.
(If you’re interested in the fascinating history of Woodstock, I urge you to read “Small Town Talk,” by Barney Hoskyns.)