By Dan Hust
MANHATTAN April 13, 2001 Im very lucky.
Such a statement could normally be considered a dime a dozen, but when it comes from the mouth of famed impresario Sid Bernstein, its worth its weight in gold.
Bernstein is the guy whos best known for bringing the Beatles to America, but hes rubbed shoulders with and promoted so many top-notch groups and individuals that the Vegas strip would be hard-pressed to put them all up in lights.
The difficult work of seeing someone through the woods of anonymity to the stage of worldwide recognition has taken this lucky gentleman to locations across the globe, from the stocky Old World homes in Liverpool, England to the high-rise towers of Los Angeles to one very special moment in a packed Shea Stadium.
But New York City-born and bred Sid Bernstein has found his happiest times, his most memorable days with the people of Sullivan County, New York, and hes more than thrilled to tell that to you personally.
I love being with people, he remarked in an interview at his Manhattan apartment last week. Just look at the friends Ive made there.
And now, he may once again return to Sullivan County to stage a summer concert this time at the Monticello Raceway.
I left a message for Bob Berman [of Catskill Development, who owns the track] to see how much it would cost to rent it for the day, he said.
What kind of offering would it be?
A very interesting pop concert, Bernstein explained, adding that we have to have someone from Liverpool.
In addition to the lack of any organized concerts at the Woodstock site in Bethel this summer, Bernstein said, I just have this incredible feeling that the sound of music belongs in Sullivan County.
Though Bernstein has not yet had a call back from Berman, hes already anticipating a major concert, perhaps with touches of Woodstock, where he will be reunited with old friends.
In his agreeable, soft manner, Bernstein then rolled off a list of county residents both known and unknown, living and long-gone, all influences on some part of his eight decades of vivacious life:
Allan Scott, supervisor of the Town of Bethel: He was tough. Sid didnt have any money [to mount Bethel 94], he told the New York Times. In the long run, he was right. (Theyve since become good friends.);
Tim Cunningham, father of County Legislator Chris Cunningham (who represents the towns of Bethel, Cochecton and Delaware): Tim was one of the very first people who welcomed me. Hes one of the people I miss so much;
The Fallsburg Lions Club, whom he recalls speaking to in the early 90s: I would love to go back and talk with them. We really hit it off;
Lillian Brown, the late owner of Browns Hotel in Loch Sheldrake, now a retirement community called Grandview Palace: I adored her. She helped pay my way through college. (Bernstein worked there in the 1950s.)
There were many more he mentioned, from Ted Yeoman to Joe Wasser to David Kaufman to Darryl Kaplan to local state troopers to Leon Greenberg to the Frangipane and Rhulen families to Duke Devlin of Jeffersonville the current keeper of the flame, so to speak, of the Woodstock Music Festival spirit.
Theres more he mentions in his book, too: Not Just the Beatles. The recent release of these memoirs, as told to Arthur Aaron, prompted Bernsteins return to Sullivan County earlier this month nearly seven years after his ultimately unsuccessful attempt to stage an organized series of concerts at the Woodstock festival site in Bethel.
But while Bethel 94 never materialized as Sid Bernstein dreamed it would, the relationships he forged in Sullivan County continue to affect him today, illustrated through his warm greetings to anyone looking for an autograph during his recent book signing at Vassmers General Store and the Bethel Woodstock Museum in Kauneonga Lake.
And thats what prompted his idea to try his hand at bringing another concert to the area.
I just have a feeling about Sullivan County, he said. Its one of the beauty spots of the country.
His specific favorite?
I just love Bethel, he explained. When I looked at that [Woodstock] monument, I said, Im coming back, because its a rare spot on earth. Look at what it did.
He made it a point, too, to compliment the county on its similarity to Liverpool, the home of the Beatles and the spot where hes focused on raising money for cancer research. (Hes also the citys official ambassador and a speaker at its Institute of Performing Arts, created by Paul and the late Linda McCartney.)
[Both have] a love of country, a love of soil, a love of their habitat, he pointed out. I see such opportunities for creativity.
Actually, though, Bernsteins thoughts on this area are not that surprising if one reads his book. In the very first chapter, Bernstein recalls one of his earliest memories: that of traveling with his family to Zisselmanns Farm in Parksville, a small boarding house which featured human and animal occupants.
As Bernsteins family grew wealthier and moved on to larger Catskills hotels, a fateful event happened.
I saw entertainment for the first time up there, he recalled. And I had an incredible relationship with Charles and Lillian Brown.
Indeed, Browns Hotel which brought about the likes of Jerry Lewis played a pivotal role in Bernsteins exposure to the performing arts (and led to his love of pizza through an on-premises restaurant called Ferrantis), and it thus could be argued that Sullivan County as a whole, through Sid Bernstein, made possible the launch of several famous musical careers, including the Beatles.
So . . . could one of the Beatles ever repay that favor to Sullivan County?
Bernsteins unexpected reply: One just might. Its a hope.
But for now, Bernstein himself is looking forward to many more trips to Sullivan County perhaps even a more permanent move and further mentions of it in his second planned book of memoirs, not to mention the possible summer concert.
You know Ill be back, he remarked with a smile, if only to get my arms around Duke Devlin!