FolksTogether Bethel '99 30 Year Woodstock Reunion Yasgurs Farm Bethel, NY August 15. 1999

FolksTogether On Stage

Festival Scenes

 Backstage shots

A Tale of Two Festivals, and a Political Rally

by Jeff Olson of FolksTogether

The legacy of Woodstock has achieved almost mythical proportions. Those who were there (or vicariously attended via the movie) still talk of highlights like Hendrix' "Star Spangled Banner," Richie Havens "Freedom," Country Joe inciting the crowd with "Fixin' To Die Rag," and a very stoned Arlo Guthrie saying "The New York State Thruway is closed man." Thirty years on, Woodstock is one of the few enduring icons of that era. Had it remained exclusive property of the "baby boomers" Woodstock might have been recounted in much the same way our grandparents talked about The Depression or Prohibition.

The 25th anniversary in 1994 changed all that. Geared to a younger crowd, it introduced Woodstock to a whole new constituency. The 90's generation, which rejects almost anything not its own, has embraced Woodstock. If, however, they appear unimpressed with the doctrine of "Peace, Love and Music" it is understandable. In the late 60's Viet Nam, Racial discord, and discrimination united the original Woodstock Generation. The 90's generation has no such issues around which to rally. In their eyes,Woodstock is a reason to party with their peers and share in a culture all their own..

Given the above, the 30th Anniversary of Woodstock could not have been defined by a single event. Woodstock has developed three distinct constituencies: The 90's crowd, The Children of Woodstock (aging or neo hippies), and what could be called "Woodstock Lite" (baby boomers enamored with the memories of the original, but too conservative to embrace the "Woodstock" philosophy). With this in mind, it is easy to understand why three unique celebrations, each with a right to a piece of the legacy, eventually came to pass.


The Official Woodstock 30 - Rome NY: Three of the original promoters were behind this Pepsi Generation event. Like the 25th Anniversary, the music was geared to a 90's audience. The negative incidents (while sensationalized by the press) were consistent with a gathering based more on hedonism than spiritual enlightenment. Tickets were $200, venders charged $4.50 for a bottle of water and $5.00 for a hotdog. The festival drew a few hundred thousand people. The promoters (who lost their shirts on the original) made lots of money, and from what I hear it was a hell of a party, 90's style.

Woodstock Lite: Alan Gerry, a wealthy Sullivan County businessman, owns "the site," the part of Yasgur's Farm where the original festival was held. Gerry is exempt from the rules required to hold a gathering in Bethel. By virtue of this exemption, Gerry has been anointed, Bethel's official concert promoter. He sponsors events on "the site" under the name "A Day In The Garden." His "Woodstock" featured several of the original acts from '69 including: Arlo Guthrie, Melanie, Richie Havens, Country Joe McDonald, and Leslie West. It was by all accounts, a decent, relatively cheap ($19.69) concert. The event was widely publicized on area radio and TV stations.. Gerry reportedly sold about 10,000 tickets.

Bethel 99: The Wanna Party Political Rally: Jeryl Abramson and her husband Roy own the rest of Yasgur's Farm. For years they've been hosting "reunions" on their land. Traditionally, these free gatherings have attracted the Children of Woodstock and their younger counterparts... The town of Bethel is not happy with this clientele and has done everything in its power to prevent the "reunions." There have been court battles, the land has been sabotaged, and, on one occasion, the entrance to their property was blocked by snow plows.

Jeryl and Roy continue to fight back. As usual they are in court, but this year they decided to go one better... Jeryl is a candidate for a seat on the town council on the "Wanna Party" ticket. They used her candidacy and a loophole in the law to hold the "Wanna Party" Political Rally on August 13,14, and 15.. 25,000 people came, camped, partied and enjoyed three days of music and peace.

(Note: the opinions expressed are those of the writer and may not represent the views of the other members of FolksTogether)


FolksTogether Onstage at Bethel '99

 FolksTogether onstageView from the crowd.. Vincent, Rick, Donna, Jeff
 Jeff and DonnaDonna and Rick  Rick and Vincent
 Vincent and Rick Country Joe McDonald (pink shirt) Country Joe and Dan Searles

We were scheduled to play on the upper stage, but the group before us had a ton of equipment and took a long time getting on and off stage. Rather than wait another hour, we opted to play on the lower "acoustic" stage. As luck would have it. there weren't enough mics or stands on the lower stage to accomodate us. The overworked sound crew finally scavenged the necessary equipment, but we had to set up and go without a sound check. As soon as we started playing there were major sound problems. During the first song, we alternated between having no monitors and howling feedback. The sound crew was able to improve the situation as the set progressed, but it was still pretty rough. So, we decided to cut the set to 6 of least complicated songs. Somehow, we got through it. We weren't happy with our performance, but it must have sounded better to the crowd because they responsed enthusiastically to every tune. They seemed to relate especially well to "Harvest Time," Rick's song about the demise of family farms in America.

Folks Together's Set..

"Blue Eyes" (Parsons), "If I Could Only Win Your Love"(Louvin Bros), "Harvest Time" (Bellaire), "Don't Make Promises You Can't Keep" (Hardin), "Don't It Make You Wanna Go Home" (South), "Darkness, Darkness (Young)

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Bethel 99: Festival Photos

Folks Together was honored to be invited to perform at Bethel '99. the unofficial Woodstock's 30th Anniversary celebration on Yasgurs Farm. It wasn't the MTV gig, but it was a special event. We didn't really know what to expect, but when we saw the stage and Barn from the road we knew it was going to be an incredible and unforgetable experience.

The stage area was nearly deserted early in the day. The music Saturday was delayed by frequent showers. It was finally ended by a mysterious power failure at about midnight.... Although you can't see it in this photo, the name "Yasgur" still graces the barn (just above the blue tarp). We met our friend Dan Searles, Music Coordinator for Beacon Sloop Club Festivals, soon after we arrived. Here Dan (left),Vinnie, and Donna watch the first of the day's band setting up...

 

Dan suggested we check out some of the campers. Far removed from the rest of the festival, the woods were alive with activity.. Despite torrential rains everyone seemed mellow and at ease... Campsites of every size and description were spread throughout the area. One group erected a free kitchen, yet another promised "Rooms For All." There were also a few "Guerrilla Stages," and a number of sites with political themes.

 

Jeryl and Roy (shown here being interviewed by CNN) own most of Max Yasgur's Farm. Jeryl and Roy have opened their hearts and land to "Woodstock Reunions" since the early 90's. The Bethel town council has gone to extraordinary lengths to prevent these gatherings and Jeryl and Roy have spent many hours in court and incurred enormous legal fees battling the town.

 

Stained glass images of rock stars (shown: Janis Joplin) go all the way around the barn. Just outside the barn sound technicians worked feverishly setting up performers so they were ready to start as soon as the previous group finished.

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Waiting for our turn...

 "By the time we got to Woodstock..." It had stopped raining and the sun was out... Here we are getting ready to bring our equipment to the barn waiting area. The folks parked next to us were kind enough to take this "group shot."

FolksTogether (L to R) John Dunn, Vinnie Pasternack, Rick Bellaire, Donna Olson, Jeff Olson

 Donna standing beside Roy and Jeryl's house.. The sign (lower right) reminds the masses that this is their home and asks them to respect their privacy... which they did!!! There were two stages, the upper stage (shown here) and a lower stage. Which stage you played was a matter of where you fell in line. The upper stage was a bit larger and had more equipment, but bands and solo artists appeared on both. It was not a matter of status, the festivals most famous performer, Country Joe McDonald, played the lower stage. Vinnie and Donna killing time backstage... As expected, our set was delayed. Performers shut out by Saturday's rains were slipped in between Sunday's scheduled acts... We were already a little nervous about playing, and the delays only magnified it...

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