It’s no secret that I am a true rock-and-roll fan who has always appreciated listening to a mean guitar riff or a captivating drum solo. My love for the genre extends as far back as I can remember. In the late 60s, as a recent high school graduate, I heard news of the biggest rock concert of our time – The Woodstock Music and Art Fair. While I didn’t get the chance to attend myself, I definitely heard countless stories about it. Even back then, we knew that something truly special had transpired at that historic festival site. Woodstock would go on to become one of the most notable locations in modern music history and I knew I’d have to visit one day to walk on the sacred grounds myself.
First, let’s start with a little history lesson on the original concert. In August of 1969, Woodstock was set in motion by 4 entrepreneurs who hoped to raise funds for the construction of a recording studio in Woodstock, New York. What began as an outdoor rock festival for 200,000 fans in the town of Bethel, quickly transformed into something much greater. Although just over 185,000 $18 tickets had been pre-sold at record stores around the U.S., nearly half a million eager young people showed up at the gates of what would soon become a monumental celebration of peace, freedom, and music.
Thirty-two musicians, including Janis Joplin and Santana, joined the set list after Creedence Clearwater Revival (the first band to agree to perform) signed off on the project. From the opening Friday afternoon concert by Richie Havens, to the closing Monday morning set by Jimi Hendrix, the inspiration was high, and the energy palpable. Although heavy rain poured down on musicians and concert-goers alike, the magnificence of the Woodstock experience was not lost on either group. Traffic jams and weather delays couldn’t sully the unexpected magic that was manifesting on the vast acres of Sam Yasgur’s hay fields. It was, by all accounts, a weekend to be remembered.
The Woodstock Festival was a truly electrifying atmosphere for those who attended. The massive concert became a meeting ground for the youth of our era. Many of whom exercised their freedom of speech, and right to protest, through the emergence of counterculture and anti-war beliefs. Woodstock would later come to be recognized as one of the most pivotal moments of the century, both musically and politically. Almost half a century later, in February of 2017, the location of the festival became recognized as a national historic place. With its establishment as a museum and concert venue, hundreds of thousands have made the trip to New York to revel in the rich history of the sacred land. Sandy and I knew that we just had to join that growing list of awestruck visitors.
Having been fortunate enough to tour legendary music locations such as Fillmore West, Graceland, Stax Records, Atlantic, and the Motown Museum, the Woodstock Festival Site was the last iconic place in America that I wanted to see. Sandy and I decided to head to Bethel Woods with our good friends Mike and Connie Bateman, to visit the hallowed Woodstock grounds. Today, the 8ft tall stage and oversized crowd has been memorialized with a museum that is filled with memorable moments from the August festival. We trekked through the former campground, stood on the hill where the attendees watched, and saw the location of Filippini Pond, where much of the Woodstock documentary footage was shot. In the museum, we also had a chance to view several short films, engage with interactive exhibits, and marvel at the custom made 40th anniversary commemorative Woodstock motorcycle. Although we missed the Woodstock concert of ’69, we had an absolute blast reliving the steps of those who made their mark in history during the original festival. Journeying across the modern day site granted us an entertaining look into the details and views of the greats who came before us. If you ever get a chance to visit, Sandy and I encourage you to take full advantage of all that both the Bethel Museum of Arts, and the Woodstock Memorial, has to offer.