By Ted Waddell
BETHEL August 23, 2002 The hippies are coming! The hippies are coming! A few, anyway.
At least that was the word on the street as the county geared up for the 33rd anniversary of the 1969 Woodstock Festival.
As it turned out, hardly anyone visited the monument erected at the site of the original gathering soon to be a performing arts center. A few diehards showed up at Hectors Bar, while a free concert overlooking the fields drew scant attendance.
So that left really only one place to find Woodstock reminiscers and revelers.
One of Max Yasgurs old farms along Route 17B, now owned by Roy Howard and Jeryl Abramson#, was the happening place to be again this year, as several thousand people seeking some sort of connection to the Woodstock spirit congregated on the dusty fields.
Over the years, local officials have taken a rather dim view of folks trespassing on the privately owned site of the Aquarian Festival of 69 or getting together in sizable numbers on Yasgurs old cow pastures. In years past, town-owned highway equipment has blocked the public access roads to the site, loads of chicken manure have been dumped on the land during the middle of the night and a long-standing court injunction has fueled the local press, but all of that never really seemed to deter the faithful or those in search of high times.
Beatles promoter Sid Bernstein and the Rhulen family made a brief flurry in 1994 during the much-touted 25th anniversary. In the wake of local cable pioneer Alan Gerrys purchase of the original site, Third Eye Blind and other new and old pop stars performed there, Britney Spears rocked in Bethel in a 17-minute stage show, and country-western stars Reba McIntyre and Randy Travis played to appreciative audiences.
After the second Day in the Garden drew to a close, things were quiet at the corner of Hurd and West Shore roads, and the focus of attention switched to an old cow pasture a few miles up the road.
In an example of the festival that refuses to die, this year there was a reunion at Roy and Jeryls 104-acre spread. In recent years, the property has witnessed a yard sale and were not here signs, followed by were still not here, but were back political rallies.
Its a reunion, said Jeryl Abramson a few days before things got underway. Theres no place else to go, and as usual well be home and would love to see everybody again.
Howard, a man whose family roots are deeply set in county soil, bought the farm from Yasgurs wife in 1985. He has lived there since 1993.
I made several trips back and forth to the festival on my motorcycle, recalled Howard of events 33 years in the past. We sold 40-cent bologna sandwiches made in my store in Monticello from the back of a van at the intersection of West Shore Road and Horseshoe Lane.
In 1969, Abramson was a 15-year-old vacationing at Lefkowitz Bungalow Colony in Monticello. As a teenager, she joined a bungalow sandwich brigade taking food down a hillside to hungry motorists stranded on the way to the festival.
Back in 1969, it was just phenomenal that all these people came here for peace, love and music she said.
Fast forwarding to 2002, Abramson said of the annual reunion on Maxs old farm site, Every generation leaves behind a legacy. . . . Ours was of peace, not war. People come here for the camaraderie and to remember those years of Woodstock, the civil rights movement and protesting against the war in Vietnam.
The reunion attracted a diverse crowd of folks.
Twenty-one-year-old Jeffersonville-Youngsville High School Class of 1999 grad Richard Krauss was busy picking up loads of garbage strewn across the fields.
Sporting a 5th Annual Blues 2000 & Beyond teeshirt, the leader of the Wild Bill Lewis Blues Band headed off to the woods to lend his harmonica and voice to the rotating performances set up on a makeshift stage before an audience enshrouded in a purple haze, lost somewhere between today and yesterday.
On Sept. 23, 2000, Eric and Kate Paddock of Warwick exchanged wedding vows in Yasgurs old wooden barn. Over the Woodstock Weekend 2002, they came back to the farm to visit friends and recall the moment they were married.
We just love coming here, said Kate before heading off through the fields with her beloved.
The Woodstock Preservation Alliance was on hand with their message: Remember Woodstock. Make Sure the Next Generation Does Too. Help Us Save the Site!
Members of the Green Party touted Peace Is the Only Way to Victory. (Abramson is the local party leader.)
Ben Magic was there talking to passersby about the real meaning of Woodstock: Were only hippies looking for a happy place.
Afterwards, when the need for food struck Magic, he stood in line for a burger with Richard J. Treitner of the Ulster County town of Woodstock, a young fellow in glittering wings who said his alter ego was Miss Anita Pinga.
Im here for all the fairy bliss, he said.
Around the corner, one of the cars parked next to the Green Party tent sported a bumper sticker with a different take on blissful# existence: Dont Follow Me, Im Following My Bliss, it proclaimed to the world.
The 2002 reunion was blessed by the arrival of Logan Sierra Bryan at 1:14 a.m. on Saturday, August 17. her mother, Elizabeth Jezorski, went into labor at the farm and with the help of many was taken to Catskill Regional Medical Center, where she gave birth.
The next day, the father, James Bryan, was walking proudly through the fields carrying a drum labeled with his new daughters vital statistics: 8 pounds, 3 1/4 ounces and 20 1/2 inches.
Phil Marasco, a self-proclaimed evangelist, said, I came out here to announce Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, to find the lost and help anybody who needs help.
First-time Woodstocker Kim Bennitt of Sayre, Pa sat on a log with 2nd-time-around reunionizer Gino Sabatini of Corning. They were perched up there in Vernville, a section of the property named after Vern Helper, a long-time member of the Rainbow Family.
Vern was like a grain of sand in an oyster, recalled Abramson of her departed friend. He could be irritating, but he was really a pearl.
Sullivan County Sheriff Dan Hogue said it was pretty much business as usual, as local law enforcement agencies served the public during the Woodstock weekend, all out of the pocket of local taxpayers.
According to Hogue, his deputies made 16 arrests during the period.
Compared to other years, I think it was a little bit quieter, he said. There were a couple of assaults and a few drug arrests. . . . What happened to that court injunction?
Asked to comment about the reunion or plans at the site, Town of Bethel Supervisor Allan Scott replied with his usual no comment.
On Monday afternoon, memories of Mudstock 2000 and Duststock 2002 merged like lines on hazy pavement under a scorching summer sun.
On the way to someplace else, Grandpa Woodstock stood along the road by a gas station in White Lake, flashing the peace sign and tooting a horn to anyone looking in his direction.
During the Woodstock weekend at Roy and Jeryls, Grandpa was a familiar, if somewhat daunting, sight as he posed au natural at the drop of a hat (or the hem of his robe). During the reunion, the vintage Rainbower delighted in showing folks snaps taken of him sans robes at various gatherings across the nation, from the West to right here in Sullivan County.
As the last of their faithful or those just out for a good time left the reunion, a hand-painted sign stood as a lonely sentinel out there by the highway:
Partys Over. Closed.