“The essence of Woodstock was that we accomplished what we had started out to do in the early sixties which was to show that we as to be people, were not going to back down from our political feelings, our emotional feelings and our newly discovered citizenry.” (Richie Havens)
“Back To The Garden” ideals galvanized the Woodstock generation with a sense of youthful purpose in America in the late 1960s. Forty nine years after the famous Woodstock Festival, Ruth and I experienced a similar surge of positive energy in our road trip visit to the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts/Museum in the Southern Catskills Mountain region of New York. On August 15-17, 1969, the famous Woodstock Music Festival drew close to one half a million attendees, at Max Yasgur’s, quiet farmland location here to experience three days of peace, love, and rock and roll.
The land surrounding the Woodstock Festival gives few clues as to the feeling of the time when this iconic event happened. Yet, our two night stay at a nearby Air B&B farm, gave us a real sense of the rural isolation and inaccessibility that the mass of festival attendees faced in reaching the concert grounds at that time. To be honest while chickens, cats, and cows on this farm seemed perfectly content, we suffered somewhat in the lack of a nearby town’s urban convenience.
Driving to Bethel now along narrow farm – lined roads, we sighted an official, stone memorial plaque overlooking the bowl-shaped incline marking the actual Woodstock Festival field. A more personal sign of this site’s importance would be evidenced in extensive carvings of peace/love messages on adjacent picnic tables. I imagined then the mass chaos of people converging on this remote farm with only point of road ingress/egress. I also pictured the anger of conservative town residents as this threatening mass of concert goers trampled freely across nearby private lands in this quiet, rural town.
Passing the Open Air Concert Pavilion, we now entered the Museum at Bethel Woods hoping to capture a “true historic essence” of the 1969 festival. The Museum’s main exhibits provided a captivating multi-media experience, combining film, music, interactive displays, artifacts, and personal narratives to tell the story of the late sixties and the Woodstock festival. I thus concluded that my most memorable experience at the Woodstock museum was its honest representation of the festival as a musical event striving to achieve peaceful unity amidst a decade of sweeping cultural/political turmoil.
I witnessed so many memorable music moments of the concert on our Bethel Museum Visit today. Richie Havens opening the festival with a stirring verse of “Freedom”. Janice Joplin wailing her piercing blues lyrics, liberating females to speak out against their subordinate status. Joan Baez in her “folksy” plea against her husband’s unjust imprisonment. Jimi Hendrix, ending the festival with his dramatic guitar interpretation of the Star Spangled Banner leading to his Vietnam battlefield protest interlude, and iconic rendition of Purple Haze.Sadly, I wondered whether such Woodstock moments to dramatize cherished human rights/freedoms are progressing forward in these politically polarized times today.