Calling All Dairy Farmers!

With the 50th Anniversary of Woodstock just around the corner, officials at the Watkins Glen, NY, Raceway reversed their decision to host Michael Lang’s Woodstock 50 extravaganza; state and county permits remain unapproved; financial underwriters have bolted; partners are battling among themselves; and tickets have not yet been made available for sale.

In other words, planning for this shindig is right on schedule.

Thinking back to 1969, the task of finding a site for the festival was a major challenge as well.  Several communities had rejected Lang and his associates until, with less than a month to go, Max Yasgur stepped forward and offered the use of his dairy farm in Bethel, NY, as the venue … and the rest is history.  Similar to the current fiasco, ancillary issues like funding, ticket sales and security were in complete disarray in 1969 and, ultimately, Lang and his associates had no alternative except to make the original Woodstock a free event.

Unfortunately, Max Yasgur passed away in 1973, so organizers cannot call upon him for help this time around.  Somewhere in the bucolic reaches of upstate New York, though, must live a farmer willing to step into the breach.  The dairy industry has been in decline in New York State for several years so, at the very least, hosting an event like this might be a good way to scare up a few extra dollars.   On the other hand, Yasgur’s experiences in 1969, should provide fair warning that any farmer thinking of renting out pastureland for this event should have:

  1. An exceptionally high threshold for stress and aggravation;
  2. The ability to withstand scorn and ostracism from neighbors;
  3. A willingness to endure extensive damage to livestock and property.

Despite being anointed a cult hero, even Max Yasgur decided that one Woodstock Festival was more than enough … he turned down the opportunity to host a reunion in 1970.  In addition, he received a financial settlement that helped cover the costs associated with the near total destruction of his dairy farm.

While our initial plans had us in Bethel on the actual dates of the 50th Anniversary, my wife and I have decided, instead, to take a quieter and less chaotic trip down memory lane.  In early August we will visit the beautifully tended meadow where Woodstock was actually held … we will tour, once again, the spectacular Museum at Bethel Woods … and we will have our picture taken at the Tomb of the Unknown Hippie.

In 1969, a multitude of young folks descended on Woodstock to experience an amazing array of performers pushing the boundaries of a tumultuous time in American history  … Joan Baez … Richie Havens … Joe Cocker … Arlo Guthrie.  Few of those hardy stalwarts are around any more so, fifty years later, aging hippies with plans to sample the musical wares at Woodstock 50 should be prepared to shell out some $400 to hear Miley Cyrus … Soccer Mommy … and Amigo the Devil.

Yes, time is running short, but Michael Lang assures us there is nothing to worry about … he will pull something together.

After all, he did exactly that in 1969.

And we know how that turned out.

The Bus to Woodstock

When the clutch started burning, I knew we were in trouble.

Though I hadn’t volunteered to drive the Dutchess County Sheriff’s Office “Command Post” bus to the 1969 Woodstock Festival, when my boss handed me the keys I tried to make the best of it.  In truth, it is a wonder that the tired, old relic ran at all, so when the clutch failed while stuck in traffic on one of the many hills along Route 17B between Monticello and Bethel, New York, we had only one choice … summon a tow truck.

“Command Post” bus (blue and white) at Woodstock in 1969

By the way, calling that antiquated rig a “Command Post” was a real stretch.  It carried no radios or emergency equipment meaning that, except for the modicum of shelter it provided from the incessant rain, it served no useful purpose at Woodstock.  Nevertheless, it definitely stood out … the hordes of young folks traversing Hurd Road could not miss its distinctive blue and white paint job, or the large, reflective Dutchess County Sheriff’s Office star on the rear exit door. 

Hog Farm bus at Woodstock in 1969

While being towed that day toward Bethel, I noticed a vehicle that was to become an iconic Woodstock image: the old bus – painted in psychedelic colors – belonging to a commune called The Hog Farm.  That vehicle was at least as old as ours but, whereas we could not proceed under our own power, their bus seemed to run just fine.  Taking note of this, two things occurred to me.  First, it was obvious that the person who painted the Hog Farm bus was far more imaginative than the one who painted ours and, second, there was no doubting that the hippies had better mechanics than we did. 

Thinking back, our arrival at Woodstock hooked to the back of a tow truck should have given us a “heads up” about what the next few days were going to be like … long hours, sodden fields, gridlocked roads and throngs of people.  With the passage of time, though, my mind gravitates, instead, toward the more pleasant … smiling faces … acts of kindness … expressions of appreciation … and the sense that we were al involved in something bigger than ourselves.

Eventually, I would be able to process what had taken place over those hectic but exhilarating three days but, as things lurched to an end on the final morning, the ill-fated bus demanded our attention once again.  Not only would it not start, we learned that it needed extensive (and expensive) repairs before it could be driven.  Deciding that it made no sense to fix this over-the-hill conveyance, my boss ordered that it be towed directly to a nearby auto salvage yard.

Given the degrading way our crippled vehicle arrived at – and later departed – Woodstock, it deserved a better fate than the one it met with at the junkyard.  Instead of a quiet out-of-the-way place where it could rust away in anonymity, that broken down rig – resplendent in its blue and white departmental livery – was dumped half way up a hill among numerous other junked cars, and in full view of drivers heading south on a major state highway.  There was one final indignity; when the sun hit the back of that discarded old bus at the correct angle, that reflective Dutchess County Sheriff’s Office star on the back door lit up like a Broadway marquee.