Democrat Photo by Dan Hust
SID BERNSTEIN, RIGHT, takes a moment during a book signing in Kauneonga Lake to renew his acquaintance with Thompson Supervisor Tony Cellini, center. Longtime friend Evan Bloom, left, who was instrumental in Alan Gerrys purchase of the Woodstock site in Bethel, also was instrumental in bringing Bernstein here.
Locals Meet, Greet
A Living Legend
By Dan Hust
KAUNEONGA LAKE April 3, 2001 For a small country store that sits quietly on the shore of Kauneonga Lake, Vassmers has certainly seen its share of living legends thanks to its family of owners and their longtime association with the well-known 1969 Woodstock Music Festival.
Its exciting! is what Marion Vassmer will say if you ask her about it. Its wonderful and I never get used to it.
But although her late husband, Art Mr. Woodstock Vassmer, was not around this time to greet Vassmers latest famous visitor, his influence was keenly felt inside the cozy confines of the store and its adjacent Bethel Woodstock Museum on Sunday.
And it was cozy dozens of people milled about the store and the museum, mostly waiting for a chance to speak with Sid Bernstein and get their copy of his new book, Not Just the Beatles, autographed by the author himself.
Bernstein, for those few who are unaware, is the man credited with bringing the Fab Four to America and the rest, as they say, is history.
But much of that history has never been revealed, and Bernsteins new book shows just how much influence Sullivan County including Art Vassmer and his family had on this man, and how he returned the favor throughout the years.
Growing up in New York City, Bernsteins family joined thousands of others in the annual trek out of the hot brick canyons of the five boroughs and into the cool glens of Sullivan County. During his college years and even into the 1970s, Bernstein worked as the social director at Browns in Loch Sheldrake the same place where Jerry Lewis got his start and he became friendly with Liberty resident Evan Bloom, who was Browns electrical engineer at the time.
That friendship led to Bernsteins involvement in Bethel 94, the ultimately unsuccessful attempt to bring a large-scale series of concerts to the Woodstock site for its 25th anniversary.
Virtually all of Sullivan County got to know Sid Bernstein in the years leading up to the anniversary, and it seemed that all of Sullivan County including now-longtime friends Evan Bloom and the Vassmer family turned out Sunday to warmly greet the man behind some of the most famous music ever recorded or performed.
Im thrilled to death, said museum curator and Vassmer family member Debbie Fallon. Never in our wildest dreams did we think it would come true.
Sid is a whos who, added Bloom as he proudly watched residents get to know his friend. Ive known him for over 25 years.
That long relationship, he said, was one of the reasons why Bernstein wanted to do a book signing in Sullivan County and why he enjoyed it so much.
It was an incredible emotional experience, said Bernstein himself yesterday. I met so many people yesterday [Sunday], both old and new friends.
Thompson Supervisor Tony Cellini, County Legislators Chris Cunningham and Jodi Goodman, and fellow Woodstock legend Duke Devlin stopped by to greet Bernstein inside the psychedelic interior of the museum, while the film Woodstock played continuously on a nearby TV.
No matter their thoughts on the Beatles or Woodstock, hugs and handshakes were exchanged again and again. Even Bethel Supervisor Allan Scott, who Bernstein fondly recognized with the words my archenemy, spent several minutes talking of yesterday and today, of past battles and the current friendship.
When photographed together, both men held up the peace sign, and Bernstein remarked, We mean this. We mean this.
Bernstein also met another leader of the past, who this time was soliciting Bernstein instead of vice-versa.
We talked about those days, said Walt Sipple of Fremont Center, the former supervisor of Fremont and the chair of the old Board of Supervisors when Bernstein first came calling regarding Woodstock.
Sipple carried a photo of his daughter, Audra, with Bernstein, taken at the Woodstock monument during Bethel 94. Although Audra could not be present Sunday, Bernstein gladly signed both the picture and his book: To Audra: Wish you were here.
As for Sipple himself, Bernstein had this to say: Walt Sipple is one of the beautiful people I have met in Sullivan County.
Though the original Woodstock which Walt Sipple attended was not totally a positive event for locals, Sipple said, It was a significant happening. Whats happening now, however, is really what Sid was dreaming of.
So what does Sid Bernstein think of Alan Gerrys plan to build a $40 million performing arts center near the Woodstock site?
I think its a great idea, he remarked. Bethel has such history and such allure. It just cant miss.
(Bernstein refuses to call the site Woodstock, as there already exists a town by that name in New York. To him, its simply Bethel.)
And Bernstein and Bloom visited the site late Sunday.
I just hope that it happens soon, he said. It would be so welcomed by the people of the area. . . . And it would be an opportunity for the big city to leave the big city and come once again to the country.
That temptation still exists for Bernstein as well, who is thinking of penning a second book about all the memories he left out of the first one. Currently wrapped up in a cancer research fundraising project in Liverpool, England, hes been wondering where to spend some quiet time putting his thoughts on paper.
I do want to come back often, he said reflectively. Yesterday, I thought, Why Liverpool? I cant bring my family there so I thought, Why not here?
Not Just the Beatles by Sid Bernstein as told to Arthur Aaron can be found in local bookstores and at www.notjust thebeatles.com or www.amazon. com. Or, stop by Vassmers General Store in Kauneonga Lake and pick up a copy if they have any left of the 100 copies made available on Sunday.