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Democrat Photo by Dan Hust

THIS IS WHAT the New York Philharmonic, Brad Paisley and Ashlee Simpson will view (with a few more people) when they step out on the stage of the pavilion at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. The ribboncutting for the $75 million project was held on Friday, and the center opens on July 1.

Welcome, Bethel Woods

By Dan Hust
BETHEL — June 20, 2006 – Alan Gerry had the idea to hold a ribboncutting for his $75 million project – the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts – the night before the New York Philharmonic opens the performing arts center in Bethel.
His wife, Sandra, disagreed, saying it would be far too close to the July 1 opening. She urged him to set a date several weeks in advance.
And just like he did when daughter Robyn pitched the very idea of a venue to capitalize on Sullivan County’s most famous event, Alan thought it over . . . and wisely agreed.
As testament to his gratitude for their advice and wisdom through the years, much of the Gerry family helped Alan cut the garland ribbon Friday to officially open Bethel Woods.
Well, almost open. Work is still ongoing at the site, especially around and inside the interpretive center and amphitheater near the entrance off Hurd Road.
But the more than 300 well-wishers and dignitaries at Friday’s event did get to see open-air pavilions where outdoor attractions like the Harvest Market will occur . . . and the main concert pavilion itself, now complete with 4,800 seats under its huge awning and room for 12,000 on the green grass surrounding its concrete stage.
“I cannot tell you how pleased I am at the results,” said Gerry, thanking the community for its patience and support.
Politicians from the nation, the state, the county and virtually every municipality in Sullivan County were on hand to witness what Congressman Maurice Hinchey termed “an historic day for Sullivan County and the Catskills.”
Returning the thanks to Gerry, Hinchey predicted Bethel Woods “is going to, in many ways, elevate the culture of the entire region.”
Other politicians couldn’t contain their excitement either. NYS Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther took to the podium with a peace sign, while NYS Senator John Bonacic put his feelings into words.
“I’ll start with the word ‘wow’!” he told an applauding crowd. “This facility came out better than the renditions, and when does that ever happen?”
But it was the characteristically reserved Monsignor Edward Straub of St. Peter’s in Liberty who captivated the audience, telling the history of the site, culminating in his attendance as a young priest aiding in Catholic masses at the 1969 Woodstock festival.
“This land . . . was part of an area considered sacred to Native Americans, a place of healing,” he related from a conversation he had had with County Historian John Conway.
Those tribes were followed by Europeans, especially tuberculosis patients, seeking the challenges and respite Sullivan County offered.
They in turn were followed by summer vacationers, and then came Woodstock.
“And a whole generation would take its name and inspiration from this place,” said Straub.
“There was something special here,” he recalled of his time at the famous rock festival. “And in that vast crowd, there was the human spirit – open, yearning.”
And so radically adventurous that the very man who shunned the concerts 37 years ago (while his daughter slipped away to the site) caught that infectious spirit himself . . . and now has built a monument to it all.
Facing a standing ovation that day, Alan Gerry grinned and told the crowd, “Thank you for giving me the right to be crazy enough to do these things!”

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