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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Calendar > Arts and Culture

Bethel Woods marks NYS History Month

By Willow Baum - reporter/photographer

On a walking tour of the historic site, Wade Lawrence highlights on a map from the Historic Site Cultural Landscape Report key preservation zones such as the location of stage, the wooded area known as the Bindy Bizarre, the Hog Farm on the other side of the woods, a stone water feature for nude bathers where word spread of “a mass baptism of an entire generation.”
BETHEL — “Whether you've been to the concert or weren't born yet, (if you've been to Bethel Woods) you've been to Woodstock,” said Wade Lawrence, Bethel Woods Museum Director, at a free presentation to celebrate New York State History Month.
“Preserving the Garden: The Road to Recognizing the Historic Site of the 1969 Music & Art Fair” multimedia presentation opened with a 2008 CBS Sunday Morning clip. Then-Site Interpreter Duke Devlin stood at the monument commemorating the 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Fair. Or as he called it, “the Tomb of the Unknown Hippie.” Bethel Woods Center for the Arts isn't so much a museum, Devlin told CBS Sunday Morning, it's “a time machine, man.”
Together with three California festivals - the 1967 Human Be-In in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, Fantasy Faire & Magic Mountain Music Festival at Mt.
Tamalpais and the Monterey Pop Festival - the 1969 three-day Aquarian Exposition in Bethel NY, ushered in the era of the music festival.
An extended clip of Santana wailing on guitars and bass, congas and keyboards from the Oscar-winning documentary “Woodstock” captivated a foot-tapping, head-bobbing audience. Woodstock introduced Santana, which had never released a record, to a wider audience.
“People hadn't heard this music before,” said Lawrence. Santana's first album debuted two weeks after the festival, hitting the streets to become an instant, “wild hit.”
The conflux of a half million concert-goers (when only 100,000 tickets were sold) encountering traffic, rain, mud, short food supplies and three days of rock music were “the stuff of Shakespearean drama,” said Lawrence - as well as a miracle that no human-to-human injuries were sustained.
Perhaps of greater impact is how Woodstock became for successive generations, an iconic moment of the ‘60's. “A pivotal moment for young people at the time who were questioning values of their parents,” said Lawrence, Woodstock symbolizes “the optimism we had that music, individual freedom and respect for one another could change the world.”
Fast forward to the conception of Bethel Woods. The Gerry Foundation purchased the land with explicit intention to preserve the historic site from development, and help bring back tourism to the region.
According to Lawrence, creating an efficient performing arts center was “top of mind.” Emphasis on stewardship aligned with the New York State Preservation Office, and Woodstock Nation activists adamant that the sacred site of the original 1969 Woodstock Music and Arts Festival not be disturbed.
November 13th's presentation highlighted findings of a Historic Site Cultural Landscape Report commissioned by Bethel Woods. Photographs and maps from 1969 analyzed and overlaid with maps of the site today, inform suggested historical features of protection such as the Hog Farm left relatively unchanged, food for love tents, a rock wall and water feature where nude bathers washed off mud, witness trees where concert-goers posted notes in case of separation.
Last summer an announcement by Governor Cuomo of three initiatives to boost tourism in the Catskills, helped fast-track the process to list Bethel Woods on the State Historic Preservation Office and National Register of Historic Places.
Proposed boundaries of the Registry nomination encompasses 250 acres that Max Yasgur and four other property owners leased to Woodstock Ventures for the festival. An additional 50 acres organically became part of the festival footprint because, cites Lawrence, “when you get a half million people together, they don't really honor property lines.”
Preliminary plans for the historic landscape's future, call for trail restoration, creating an interpretive site tour and a mobile app.

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