Quick quiz: Where was the 1969 Woodstock Festival held?
If you said, “uh, Woodstock?” you’d be…wrong.
Due to various snafus, Woodstock — one of the seminal events of the baby boomer era, which brought many of the top musical performers of the day onto a rain-drenched stage before hundreds of thousands of mud-soaked, tie-dyed and oddly mellow spectators — was actually held in Bethel, New York, some 60 miles away from its original venue.
Bethel happens to be just 13 miles from where I now live.
Recently I took a friend over there to see the memorial monument at the site — now located on the grounds of the beautiful Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, which itself has hosted the likes of Bob Dylan, Elton John and the Dave Matthews Band to cheering sell-out crowds — and discovered that my friend had been motorcycling his way to the festival when pouring rain and false rumors that Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and other megastars had cancelled convinced him to turn around.
My own story is similar, except I spent the first night at Woodstock in a rain-splattered chicken barn (on what was then the site of Max Yasgur’s farm) before giving up and returning to Long Island, where I lived at the time. Biggest mistake of my young adulthood!
All this reminiscence led to an outpouring of nostalgia between my friend and me (see my previous post on travelers’ nostalgia). But it also led me to realize that until that moment he had had no idea that a world-class concert venue — the aforementioned Bethel Woods Center for the Arts — now occupied the hallowed Woodstock grounds. And he has roots in upstate New York.
What could be more nostalgia-inducing than Woodstock for my generation — of which some five million people over age 60, conservatively estimated, now claim to have attended?
And yet how many baby boomers — or other potential visitors — know that Woodstock took place in Bethel, not Woodstock, and that they can now attend concerts in an open-air, spectacularly situated facility that ranks among the top such venues in the world? Or browse through the adjacent Museum at Bethel Woods, displaying Woodstock memorabilia and special exhibits from the era?
I ask that rhetorically, because I don’t know the answer. But I do know that even a few is too many.
Tourism officials from Sullivan County and the Catskills region (where Bethel is located), as well as every travel-related business within driving range of Bethel should be promoting these facts constantly. It’s a veritable pilgrimage site for those who came of age in the sixties.
And they should kick their promotions into higher gear before Bethel loses any more business to the town of Woodstock, which is in Ulster County to the east. Woodstock is a very nice place to visit, by the way — just don’t expect to find the Woodstock Festival site there.
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