The date was August 15, 1969 and in the dairy farm of a farmer named Max Yasgur, one of the most important concerts in music history was lived by more then 400,000. This was of course Woodstock, which took place in Bethel, New York and not in Woodstock, the city. Are you confused? Why would a festival named Woodstock, after the city, be named that even tho it took place elsewhere? And not just down the road but 40 miles away, which is a good distance away. Well it’s a good simple story, that tells the story of two towns, which I recently went to visit to understand how history was made.
Woodstock for those that don’t know took place over three days, with 32 acts playing in the rain at times to what was supposed to be a crowd of 50,000 originally. An important moment in not only music history but in the history of a whole generation, I felt like i was walking on holy land when I looked out at the dairy field that hosted this moment in history.
But again, I wasn’t in Woodstock, I was in Bethel, so what happened?
So the original plan was to have the event in Wallkill, New York, however locals quickly shot that idea down. When a new location needed to be found, that’s when the dairy farm came into the picture. So why wasn’t it changed to the Bethel Festival? Well you see, the original idea behind all of this was not for a concert but for a recording studio, which was going to be in the Woodstock area. When the idea was flipped to a concert instead, the name for the project was kept.
Now most. People know what happened next right? Rain, mud and traffic jams mixed with Hendrix, Janis and The Who to make a perfect storm of magic. But what is interesting to me is what happened after all the music was done, how both Woodstock and Bethel took the legacy of the festival.
In the years after the festival, the Town of Bethel really tried to distance itself from the vent. As time went by people would start to visit the site but attempts were made to try to prevent people from going. Putting up of roadblocks or spreading chicken manure were common tactics to stoping people. In 1984, the above monument marker was put near the spot of the festival and by 1997 a welcome sign was put up in Bethel.
Woodstock the town, is a different story. The have embraced the festival, even if it did not take place there. It is a town now connected with the music and people from all over the world travel to it, to try gather a bit of it’s magic. You can feel it as you walk around the shops of the town that Woodstock was before the festival a different kind of town.
Both towns are linked together now and will be from now on and if you visit one, you have to visit the other. While not around the corner from each other, the distance does give you a chance to see the great land of New York between the two. I went on a cold winter day and it was the perfect time, with less crowds but still having that magic of the music in the air.
A street in Woodstock above seems quiet but alive with art flowing out from every corner. The kind of town in which small shops and tasty treats to munch on can be found all along it’s main drag.
The one thing that really stands out when you get to Bethel and look out at the actual site of the festival, it seems small in person. Yes some has changed since 1969, but a lot has not. In the above picture, where the stones are at, is where the stage was located. From that spot so many legends rocked the world.