By the time you get to Woodstock, you still have 70 miles to go to find the natural amphitheater that became the hallowed ground of rock 'n' roll with the Woodstock music festival in 1969, a kind of ceremonial end to the 1960s. I discovered this on a visit to the Hudson River Valley area a couple of hours north of New York.
As a young teen approaching draft age in '69, I had bigger things to worry about than concerts in rural New York state. So I didn't recall that the organizers had to find an alternative to their original plan of having Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and company entertain for a few days near the town that gave only its name to the festivities. Thus, when I asked a Woodstock shopkeeper last fall where the concert was, I felt like an idiot when she said, "Well, it wasn't here."
But it was only a little more than an hour to rural Bethel, the actual site, and being that close, I wanted to take the leafy mountain drive west to experience it.
What was most striking was seeing that the muddy, dope-clouded snapshot of the '60s has been institutionalized into a slick museum and performance venues just up the hill from the original concert site, all of it still in the countryside. And somehow, the institutionalization by the Museum at Bethel Woods isn't offensive; it's nice. With several well-done exhibits and videos, you see that a concert event that quickly mushroomed into an impossible mess with too little of everything except people (400,000), rain, mud and trash was saved simply because people were nice to one another. Concertgoers, local authorities and many residents — all rallied to rescue what could have been a monumental flop.
Instead it became a symbol of how extreme adversity can be overcome by people working together, no matter how different they are from one another. Oh, and the town of Woodstock, which had little to do with any of it, was very nice too.
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