Jeanne Sager | Democrat
CALLICOON RESIDENT JIM Schultz watched a portion of the show on the giant screen that graces one side of the pavilion.
Woodstock's 40th is a spirited smash
By Jeanne Sager
BETHEL There were no babies born or conceived for that matter but 40 years later, there was a wedding at Woodstock.
It was nearing midnight on a day that began when gates opened at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts mid-afternoon, but a crowd mellowed by music and age let out cheers when Town of Bethel’s former supervisor, Alan Scott, moved center stage and announced he would be joining Mountain lead singer Leslie West and fiancée Jenni Maurer as man and wife.
The ceremony was brief, cemented with an even briefer kiss, and the clang of the cowbell signaled the return of the music that has kept Mountain atop lists of America’s best rockers long since their fourth live concert appearance in a field in Bethel.
And it was as much about the spirit of the Woodstock Festival as the hours of music before and more than an hour to come.
Yes, Woodstock was about the music it was, after all, a festival featuring dozens of the world’s most celebrated musicians.
But in the 40 years since, it’s been honored for creating a community of mankind.
It was a place where, as Sullivan County Attorney Sam Yasgur said Saturday afternoon, reading from the words his father said when pulled onto the stage at the festival in ’69, “you've proven to the world. . .that a half a million kids and I call you kids because I have children that are older than you are a half million young people can get together and have three days of fun and music and have nothing but fun and music, and I God bless you for it!”
Yasgur told a crowd of 15,000 his father would be proud of the Town of Bethel, Sullivan County, State of New York and Bethel Woods founder Alan Gerry for bringing music back to the site of his alfalfa field.
“He would have been overjoyed,” Yasgur said. “I God bless you all… on his behalf, I welcome you to a very special evening at Bethel Woods.”
It was an evening that brought together the largest gathering yet of original Woodstock artists since the festival itself, an evening that included Country Joe MacDonald as emcee, Ten Years After, Levon Helm of The Band, Canned Heat, and, of course, Mountain. Big Brother and the Holding Company, although not at the original show, stood in to play the classics of the late Janis Joplin while 15-year-old guitarist Conrad Oberg brought back the spirit of Jimi Hendrix with his simultaneously show-stopping and show-starting opening rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner.”
It was an event planned not to top Woodstock but to celebrate it, and performers and festival-goers alike treated the predecessor to the Heroes of Woodstock show with reverence and humor mixed as cautiously as a batch of hash brownies.
As the county’s most famous hippie, Duke Devlin, said Saturday, “I’ve been looking for my youth . . . I can’t find it, but it’s out there somewhere.”
Devlin, made famous for coming to the county and staying, has turned it into a day job as site interpreter for Bethel Woods, ferrying artists up to the monument erected at the corner of Hurd and West Shore roads. His face has been plastered on national media in recent weeks as the world turned its eyes on Bethel.
That’s a sign that it isn’t just the members of the Age of Aquarius who haven’t forgotten Woodstock, but their kids and grandkids who Devlin said are looking to mom, dad and grandpa and saying “maybe there’s something to what happened there.”
“They’ve got the Woodstock bug too,” he said with a laugh. “It’s going to go on for a long time.”
Indeed, the pavilion lawn filled with lawn chairs for the boomers, accustomed now to comforts not available on their first visit to the site, was spotted with younger faces, toddlers, teens and twenty-somethings, many who said they’d always heard the legends and wanted to see what this was all about.
Gloria Cahalan’s daughter was raised by a Woodstock mom and now travels to follow her favorite bands when time permits.
“She’s a big tie dye kid, an art teacher,” the Monticello native said with a laugh. “Peace, love, ecology.”
Cahalan was just a teenager, a fresh graduate of Monticello High School when she showed up at the festival to listen to the music. But it was her work as a nurse’s aide at the emergency medical center set up at for the festival at a Monticello school that changed her life.
“It made me make my decision to become a nurse,” she recalled. “There were so many people tripping out, having babies . .”
Yes, she says she saw the infamous Woodstock baby born with her very eyes.
And she became a nurse because she saw people helping people, simple kindnesses in the midst of what was then the largest gathering of people the world had ever seen.
“You can’t believe, there were thousands of people there, and it was all peace and tranquility,” Cahalan recalled. “They could have overtaken this county, but they didn’t.”
But they did leave it marked forever as musical hallowed ground, as a place where people’s memories are so strong that they return 40 years later to start afresh.