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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 Gerry’s 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, Vassmer’s 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.
“It’s exciting!” is what Marion Vassmer will say if you ask her about it. “It’s wonderful – and I never get used to it.”
But although her late husband, Art “Mr. Woodstock” Vassmer, was not around this time to greet Vassmer’s 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 Bernstein’s 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, Bernstein’s 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 Brown’s in Loch Sheldrake – the same place where Jerry Lewis got his start – and he became friendly with Liberty resident Evan Bloom, who was Brown’s electrical engineer at the time.
That friendship led to Bernstein’s 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.
“I’m 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 who’s who,” added Bloom as he proudly watched residents get to know his friend. “I’ve 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. What’s happening now, however, is really what Sid was dreaming of.”
So what does Sid Bernstein think of Alan Gerry’s plan to build a $40 million performing arts center near the Woodstock site?
“I think it’s a great idea,” he remarked. “Bethel has such history and such allure. It just can’t miss.”
(Bernstein refuses to call the site “Woodstock,” as there already exists a town by that name in New York. To him, it’s 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, he’s 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 can’t 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 or com. Or, stop by Vassmer’s General Store in Kauneonga Lake and pick up a copy – if they have any left of the 100 copies made available on Sunday.

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