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Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Calendar > Arts and Culture

Headin' out, but not goin' far

Duke Devlin retires

By Allison Ruef - staff writer

Allison Ruef | Democrat
Duke Devlin flashes his signature peace sign in front of the Museum at Bethel Woods, an interactive museum of the 1960s and the Woodstock concert experience. Devlin retired as the Woodstock site's official interpreter as of this past Sunday, October 11.
BETHEL — If you've visited the marker that commemorates the historic 1969 Woodstock festival on the corner of Hurd and West Shore roads in Bethel, chances are you have run into Duke Devlin.
You can't miss him, and hopefully you had a chance to strike up a conversation with the affable, outgoing man, whose white beard has been his trademark for decades.
Duke Devlin is known for many things, but perhaps he is best known for being the man who never left Woodstock. On Sunday, October 11, he officially retired as the site interpreter for the historic piece of Bethel Woods - the sacred field where the legendary Woodstock concert gave voice to a generation, and nearly half a million people gathered for three days of peace, love and music.
If you believe in fate, it seems that Devlin was destined to be a part of the fabric of Sullivan County. Hitchhiking to Bethel from a commune near Amarillo, Texas at age 26 with another fellow he hasn't seen since the two got separated at the concert, Devlin said he had no plans on staying in Sullivan County.

“I had no plans at all, really,” he remembers. “I didn't even know where I was - I thought I was near Canada. Someone said we're going to upstate New York, so I figured up by Buffalo. Then when we got here, I saw a sign for Lake Superior, so I was sure we were by Canada.”
Devlin said he had no intention to stay - he was going to head west to work on the Alaskan pipeline because it “sounded so romantic.” But after helping to clean up after the concert, someone offered him a job painting bungalows, which led to a job at a dairy farm, and so Duke never left.
His story became widely known after the 20th anniversary of the Woodstock concerts in 1989, when a French journalist covered him and the story went viral 1989-style - through an Associated Press article that was seen around the world.
After Bethel Woods was built - a project that Devlin wholeheartededly supported since the early days - Devlin regularly spent time at the monument giving sightseers a firsthand account of his 1969 experience.
During Brad Paisley's first visit to Bethel Woods in 2007, Devlin was asked to give him a tour of the original concert site.
“I had no idea who he was, but he was so interested in the history of the place,” remembers Devlin. “Then, when I was backstage at the concert - and he's a heck of a musician - he came over to me after the show and asked if I would take his whole family on a tour. That's when the executives and big wigs asked me to do this full time.”
Devlin has shared his experience and the story of the Woodstock concert with the likes of Tony Bennett, Ringo Starr, Toby Keith and even Woodstock alumnus David Crosby.
“When musicians go to a place to play, it's a gig - it's a job. When they come here, it's different. To a musician especially, this place is sacred - and it has been my job to entertain the entertainers,” he explained. “It gives them a chance to relax, and I have gotten a chance to make some new friends. Some even send me Christmas cards.”
As proud as Devlin is about his special role at Bethel Woods, he is equally proud of what Bethel Woods has become, what it represents and the positive effect it has made on his home - Sullivan County.
“Look at what this place has become. Bethel Woods is one of the finest concert venues on not just the East Coast, but in the country,” he said proudly.
“This is the garden of the Catskills. It's because of Alan Gerry's vision and his dedication and pride in Sullivan County. You can feel the heartbeat here. A seed was planted in 1969 - this was a hay field, an alfalfa field, and it is still producing love by the baleful. It has a spirit that is stronger than all of us.”
When asked if he will miss being a part of it all, Devlin quickly responds that there's nothing to miss. He lives right up the road, and he's looking forward to sitting back and watching it continue to grow.
“I'm not retiring from a job like everyone else - give ‘em a gold watch and out the door you go,” he explains. “How do you retire from love? I love this place - it has been my passion since I first set foot here in 1969. To watch it change and grow has been amazing.”

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