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Dedicated to the Historic Preservation of the Site of the 1969 Woodstock Festival

Hurd & West Shore Rds
Sullivan County
Bethel  NY

Welcome Home
The 20th Anniversary
August 1989

target="_blank" class="auto-style19"> Although I traveled on Route 17 many times during trips to New York City and Long Island, I never thought about getting off at the Monticello exit for 17B and visiting the Woodstock festival site. My interest in returning in Bethel was sparked by the unexpected appearance of Dave Connelly at my home in Ithaca during the summer of 1989.

The two of us had driven to Woodstock together in 1969 and although we hadn’t seen each other in over ten years, Dave was carried away about the upcoming anniversary. And he convinced me to go back to festival site with him in August.

When August rolled around, stuff about Woodstock was everywhere. Magazines and newspapers ran articles about the festival and you couldn’t turn on the television without coming across an ad for an upcoming special on the festival. The CBS radio network was broadcasting daily “Woodstock Moments” and as my anticipation of the anniversary grew, I decided to approach the Ithaca Times about possibly doing a story on the events in Bethel.

Dave called a week before the anniversary and told me he would be at our place early on the weekend. When he hadn’t appeared by Sunday afternoon, I hopped in my car and arrived in Bethel right around dusk. A couple of hundred people were camping on the site and some were playing acoustic guitars and singing songs from the sixties.

Monday it became obvious that something extraordinary was happening. There was a steady stream of traffic around the festival site as people poured into the area. Foreign tourists from Asia and Europe were mingling with old hippies and straight families with kids. Although most folks only stayed a couple of hours, camp sites were also springing up around the hillside. There was an air of excitement on Monday and it really exploded the following day.

I was sleeping in my car at the corner of Hurd Road and West Shore Drive on Tuesday as network television trucks started pulling up to get ready for live Woodstock feeds for the morning news programs. The actual anniversary of Woodstock had finally arrived. Tuesday was something else again and people flocked to the site by the thousands throughout the day. There was magic in the air and it was starting to feel like being at a carnival.

I realized that something special was happening and knew that there was going to be plenty of material for an article. I began calling my wife Barbara and trying to talk her into driving down with our four children. I don’t remember if it was Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon, but I was walking along one of the lanes that vehicles had made on the hill when my seven-year-old son Todd rode up on his bike and said, hi dad.

The “Remember Woodstock” music festival at Swan Lake was the only event in the area that had been organized to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Woodstock. The line-up featured a number of musicians who had played at the festival in 1969 and it was one of the only things I had to go on when I originally approached the Ithaca Times about doing an article.

The place was one of those old Catskill resorts whose heyday had come and gone decades ago and the owners were trying to recapture a little bit of that old magic by putting together a festival on the 20th anniversary. The fest was scheduled to start late Thursday afternoon, so I drove over that day with Barbara and the kids.

Wavy Gravy, who was the festival MC, appeared in the office while I was trying to get a press pass. I told him about what was happening at the original site and talked him into going back with us. When we went out to the parking lot, we discovered that my car’s battery had died. Wavy immediately took off and came back with a local emergency vehicle to jump start my car.

People were really glad to see Wavy Gravy in Bethel and it was a trip watching him make the rounds on the hill. He spoke to the crowd gathered around the stage at the bottom of the hill and then the two of us headed back to Swan Lake. I stuck around and caught some of the opening performance but there wasn’t much happening there. Everyone was in Bethel.

Dave Connelly never made it to Bethel during the 20th anniversary, but he set the wheels in motion for this story.

The following article appeared in the August 24, 1989 issue of the Ithaca Times

Back to the Garden

Imagine all the people sharing all the world
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope some day you join us
And the world will live as one
-John Lennon

If Woodstock was the happening of the Sixties, what took place in Bethel, N.Y. last week was the happening of the Eighties for the tens of thousands of people who gathered in their “Field of Dreams.” Of all ages and backgrounds, they gathered to hold their own spontaneous celebration of the 20th anniversary of the legendary Woodstock rock festival.

To the multitude that made the pilgrimage back to the original site, Max Yasgur’s farm represented the spirit and the ideals of the 60’s. Many who returned considered the place to be sacred ground where the Woodstock spirit of peace and brotherhood will always flourish.

People started trickling in the week before the anniversary and by the weekend several hundred were camped out along the west edge of the hillside. By Monday the encampment had grown to 1,500. A makeshift stage was assembled and music filled the night air.

Tuesday August 15, the anniversary of the beginning of the three-day festival, saw the advent of the media in search of the meaning of Woodstock. The frantic scrambling for nostalgic messages of Woodstock wisdom resembled a circus. But by nightfall, most of them had gone with the wind, never to return. They left before the real news story began.

Most people seemed to have made a spontaneous decision to come to the festival site. Long Islanders Bob Saul and John Hirsch had come 20 years ago. According to Saul, “On Sunday we said let’s go to Woodstock. We hopped in the car and went. Freddy from Charlotte “just decided to come” while watching the movie on television. John Withers, a 46-year-old New Jersey history teacher, drove three hours just to spend a few hours at the site. And Jimbo came all the way from Weiser, Idaho, “just because it’s Woodstock.”

The feeling which permeated this gathering was very spiritual. Strangers greeted each other like long-lost friends. They cleaned up after themselves so every morning the fields were spotless.

Tuesday’s music began at 5:07pm , exactly 20 years after the minute that Richie Havens had opened up Woodstock. That evening several thousand people gathered to do their thing under moonlight skies.

Debbie and Michael Martelli from Elmira had a parachute emblazoned with the Woodstock symbol of a dove perched on a guitar prominently displayed high on the hill. Joe and Gina Evagues of Murfreesboro, Tennessee spent three days in their car out by the main entrance because as Joe put it, “I always knew I’d come here. This is where I belong.”

The 20th anniversary of Woodstock was looked upon almost reverentially by a great many of those at the site. For Dominick Dell’Erba of Maryland, “The thing I came down for was the sense of community.” Leif, 37, a lab technician and Woodstock veteran, returned “to remind myself where I came from.” Kit, 39, from Indiana, was there because “this is like coming back home.” The feelings of many of the younger generation were expressed by Joe Gamacho, 19, who said, “I always wish I had been born earlier and could have been here.”

The amazing thing about this shared emotion was that thousands of these people were flocking to Bethel without a thought as to whether anyone else would be there. They certainly weren’t coming to experience the drugs, sex and rock & roll which the media so often associates with Woodstock. Outside of the local area, hardly anybody knew that bands were playing and people were assembling. As the networks and newspapers saturated the public with nostalgic Woodstock remembrances, they were unaware of the current Woodstock story.

During Wednesday night’s concert the crowd of over 7,000 witnessed a total lunar eclipse. Wavy Gravy, who had been an MC and leader of the Hog Farm which helped feed people during the original festival, made the rounds on Thursday. That was the day the “Remember Woodstock” musical festival in nearby Swan Lake totally collapsed. Despite a declaration of the show as a free festival and the draw of big-name groups, no more than 200 people ever came to Swan Lake. Nobody wanted to leave the original site. In fact, many of the Swan Lake performers made their way over to the Bethel stage.

On Friday, the crowd ballooned to over 30,000 as an endless stream of cars crept down Hurd Road. David Peel did his counterculture song “Have a Marijuana.” A visibly moved Al Hendrix, Jimi’s father, told the crowd “Everybody’s here in the spirit of Woodstock.” He was followed by the Bird Tribe, one of whose members, Juma, had played with Jimi at Woodstock 20 years ago.

At 1:45am Saturday morning, Melanie stepped onto the stage saying, “I can’t believe this has happened- twice in one lifetime. What more could you want?” Her first song was “Beautiful People.” After a 45-minute performance which included “Imagine” and “Candles in the Rain,” she departed declaring, “Woodstock is a state of mind.”

It drizzled throughout Saturday’s concert and a heavy downpour at 6:15 sent many scurrying for cover, recalling the conditions at the original festival. During this period, the Lisa Best Band played. Best found “the energy level…just incredible.”

At 7:40, Savoy Brown took the stage with lead singer Dave Walker asserting, “I’d just like to thank you personally for sticking around for 20 years so we could play here.” Led by Kim Simmonds’ searing guitar, they launched into songs like “Hellbound Train,” “Street Corner Talking” and Wang Dang Doodle.” Drummer Alan Macomber told me that the band just decided, “Let’s go play, it was very amazing. It harkens back to when you were playing for the music, not the money.”

Just how many people made it to Woodstock ’89 is impossible to gauge. A guest book located by the Woodstock monument had over 50,000 signatures by Friday morning. Still larger crowds arrived over the weekend.

A community was formed. People of all ages and backgrounds came together to enjoy themselves and each other. As 18-year-old Cayuga Heights resident Hedy McDonald exclaimed, “I just thought it was the neatest thing coming to Woodstock. These people are just having a great time.”

The ever-changing population of the reborn Woodstock Nation generated its own services, culture and customs. Everything was dependent upon the efforts of volunteers. Over a hundred bands brought their own equipment and waited patiently for hours just for the opportunity to play for this crowd. And the people were the friendliest group this writer has ever encountered.

As in 1969, Woodstock ’89 left a lasting impression on those who attended. In the movie “Field of Dreams,” a voice says if you build it, they will come. As long as the ground at Yasgur’s farm remains, the faithful will return.

Copyright 1989 - Stu Fox
Used with Permission

Edited for this website