This weekend marks the 44th anniversary of 1969’s Woodstock Festival, one of the iconic events of the 1960s, when hundreds of thousands of mostly then-young baby boomers poured onto Max Yasgur’s Farm near the small town of Bethel in the Sullivan County Catskills, New York.
(As I’ve written about previously in this blog, the festival was moved from Woodstock, NY, to Bethel, some 60 miles west, due to various snafus.)
And as always happens on this anniversary weekend, thousands of folks high on music, nostalgia and perhaps a few other things descend on Bethel to honor the memory of the festival, which marked the height of the peace and love era. Many camp out around Hector’s Inn in Bethel, where volunteers are dishing out free meals to the tie-dyed visitors, or at what’s now called Yasgur Farm (not the original Yasgur Farm, however) down the road, where music will be blaring from loudspeakers for days.
Both aging hippies and would-be younger hippies are much in evidence.
The residents of Bethel (about 13 miles from where I live) have not always looked with favor on these annual celebrations, but for years current Yasgur Farm owner Jeryl Abramson has fought off or ignored attempts to shut them down.
The original Yasgur Farm where the festival was held is now the site of the beautiful music pavilion at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, which hosts big-name acts each summer.
Appropriately, well-known stoners Cheech and Chong appeared yesterday, along with the rock groups War and Tower of Power.
Not so appropriately, Yo-Yo Ma appears tonight (Friday the 16th). Don’t get me wrong — I like Yo-Yo Ma. But it does seem that Bethel Woods might have booked some 60s acts like “Hippiefest” or a Woodstock Tribute featuring Country Joe McDonald, Jack Bruce and the Turtles, as they have in the past, to take full advantage of the weekend’s vibe.
Still, I want to congratulate Bethel Woods on agreeing to a Sunday afternoon tribute to the late Richie Havens, whose ashes will be scattered on the festival field. Havens was the first singer to appear at the Woodstock festival, and famously kept performing for hours when none of the other scheduled acts could make it on time, due to torrential rains and traffic.
“The Woodstock field was where he wanted his final resting place to be,” Bethel Woods’ museum director Wade Lawrence told the press. “I think it’s a touching sendoff.”
While it usually rains here on this weekend in August — perhaps in mother nature’s own form of festival tribute — the weather report for this weekend is mostly fine.
So RIP, Richie, kudos to Bethel Woods, and we hope to see an especially large contingent of celebrants back here next year for the 45th.
Bethel, don’t mess this one up.