By Ted Waddell
BETHEL August 21, 2001 Theres a well-hidden secret on the rolling fields of Max Yasgurs old homestead, just a couple of miles from the site of the original 1969 Woodstock Music & Art Fair.
A group of several hundred or several thousand, depending on the weather or political climate come to visit, relax and party with Roy Howard and Jeryl Abramson, the couple who now own Maxs 103-acre spread.
And according to the property owners and visitors, the big secret is that theyre not just celebrating the music festival which defined a generation. Theyre celebrating bonds that go far deeper of the kind that bind families together.
Last year, the annual gathering of a diverse group of people faithful to that ephemeral spirit of Woodstock attended what was billed as a political rally on the farm in the face of a town-ordered injunction against a large event.
Woodstock of 2001 almost wasnt as the 32nd anniversary bash scheduled at the 20-acre farm of Louis Cappelli outside White Lake, the site of a reunion called FreedomFest 94, was abruptly cancelled. Planned as the 2001 Woodstockers Political Reunion Rally, the anticipated event was organized by Jim Cutler of Five Star Productions.
On August 11, in the face of a temporary restraining order and the matter being before Sullivan County Court Judge Mark Meddaugh Cutler announced he was folding the tents and cancelled his political reunion.
So for a few hundred, and then a couple of thousand, it was off to see the wizards named Howard and Abramson, the folks who say they didnt plan on having an event of any kind this year except for a few friends over to celebrate the spirit of family.
No political rally, no stage, no entertainment. And no drugs.
On Thursday afternoon, rumors spread as far as the county government center that a large police drug raid had chased hardline hippies and lots of young wannabes off the property.
In fact, the property owners said it was an organized effort, backed up by a security force on four-wheelers, to clear out small-time drug dealers and kids in search of illegal highs from all the campsites back in the woods.
On Thursday, folks were packing up and leaving, but the following day, they returned to the farm in droves.
As Friday rolled around, at times the pungent scent of ganja was in the air, and a couple of people were running around naked (No photos, please!), but the non-event was already settling into what it was destined to become: the most mellow and laid back Woodstock in years, thanks in part to a spirit of cooperation between the landowners and Town of Bethel Supervisor Allan Scott.
This year, we had no plans to do this, said Howard. We have several hundred friends who just want to come out here for the [Woodstock anniversary] weekend. . . . Its like a memorial. As a result of closing down the other events, people started filtering in here.
According to Howard and Abramson, they talked with Scott and Sullivan County Sheriff Dan Hogue as the faithful started to arrive at Maxs old farm.
We told them we had friends up here and other people were coming in, and wed control it as best as we could, he said. We try to do it peacefully.
Referring to the long-standing injunction, Abramson said, You cant do anything without a permit, but this year were all working together. . . . Were always trying to work together [with the authorities], and this year we may succeed.
Why do we need a permit if most of the people we expect to come are our friends? she added.
The official reaction from the town supervisors office was sort of a no-comment, but it said a lot.
Im not going to talk about whats going on [because] its the subject of litigation, said Scott. Its under litigation, and mums the word.
Were just talking, which is a good sign, he said of a conversation with Howard and Abramson.
In recent years, celebration of the anniversary has taken on a bit of a sideshow rebels vs. the powers-that-be atmosphere, as authorites brace for the worst and the Woodstockers devise strategies to circumvent the rules.
Last years political rally featured speeches and associated events held under the banner of the First Amendment.
But the Woodstockers of the new millennium were all set to call the non-event a yard sale if the board of health and the law stepped in to nix the gathering.
Were waiting for the yard sale to start, said Eric Sundstad on Thursday afternoon. Its going to be a giant, multi-family yard sale.
As official fears began to abate on Friday and the unofficial security force chased away a few drug dealers and picked up piles of trash, folks abandoned the yard sale idea, and the 2001 Yasgur Road Yard Sale 3 More Days of Peace poster quickly became a coveted collectors item.
No problem, said attendees.
Starr St. John was born a decade after the fabled 1969 concert. Asked why she and her 16-month-old son came up from South Jersey to attend an event in the dust, she replied, Nowadays, people are so caught up in turmoil, rage and anger. . . . Three days of peace and music is what Im all about.
Two years ago, Camp Chaos was in full swing down in the woods by the edge of the hayfield.
This year, it was more like Camp Calm, as folks gathered in small groups by a makeshift stage set up next to the free food kitchen called We Need Beer to listen to some obscure jazz and rock n roll bands.
A Thursday night rumor that Arlo Guthrie was headed to town never materialized nor did Elvis and Marilyn.
An old-time hippie seemed lost in the 60s as he puffed on the largest joint outside Moleen, while a couple of people lay passed out in total oblivion to it all by the side of the path.
Jessie Clap Your Hands Sseslokcum came all the way to Bethel from Bloomington. IN.
Thirty-two years ago, he was captured on film as Richie Havens exhorted the crowd of half-a-million strong to clap their hands in time with his music.
To me, Woodstock means cooperation, he said. Its been part of my life ever since.
Mark Young of Mahwah, NJ calls the annual gathering his third family, right behind his parents and wife and son.
It sends a message to the people here in Sullivan, he said. This year it was like, Dont come, nothings going to happen and there might even be trouble, and yet all these people showed up.
And what a scene it was. Snippets from Woodstock 2001: a man known only as Grandpa Woodstock posed for a few snaps, including a memorable nude photo shoot; Ms. Blue Hallock got her picture taken by Max Yasgurs weatherbeaten barn with a copy of Life Magazine featuring the 20th Anniverary of Woodstock, in which she appeared in photographs taken by Bill Eppridge in 1969 and 1989; Wayne Saward, designer of the Woodstock memorial, signed a few commemorative teeshirts; and a butterfly girl did some body painting in the woods.
As usual, there was a little trouble.
According to local law enforcement authorities, reported police incidents included the off-site arrest of two teens from Delhi by the Sullivan County Sheriffs Department on felony charges of possessing pot-laced brownies, and the State Police wrote up about 10 minor marijuana violations at checkpoints along Route 17B near Yasgurs old farm.
Bethel Constable Ray J. Neuenhoff (aka Officer Friendly) made the rounds in his suspension-scraping patrol car.
People are moving in, and people are moving out was his simple take on the annual rite.
As things began to wind down, property owner Jeryl Abramson went out shopping while husband Roy Howard sat on their front porch.
Said Howard: It was just another August.