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A COMPUTER-GENERATED SKETCH of what one of the exhibits at the Museum at the Bethel Woods will look like. A few select visitors have gotten a preview tour of the museum. The rest of us can see it when it opens later this spring, and even board this bus.

Museum will 'relive'
the Woodstock era

By Dan Hust
FERNDALE — February 19, 2008 — It’s here, inside a corner office within the CVI building in Ferndale, that Woodstock has been relived every day for three years.
Photos of Sullivan County’s biggest claim to fame line the walls, while a flat-screen TV sits ready to play footage from August 15-17, 1969.
Desks, tables, drawing boards and chairs are filled with notes, illustrations, reams of music licenses – and not too long ago, artifacts like concert tickets, personal accounts of some of the nearly 500,000 who went, even a telephone pole that supported part of the tent that served as Woodstock’s green room.
For most of the granite-clad CVI building’s lifetime, this space was called the “war room,” according to Mike Egan, who helped Alan Gerry build his cable TV empire in the ’80s and ’90s.
“Now we call it the ‘peace room,’” he said with a grin, gesturing to the cluttered expanse.
But its status as a repository of all things Woodstock is in jeopardy – indeed, the “peace room” may already have been eclipsed by its very reason for existence.
Most of the memorabilia has been moved fourteen miles southwest, back to the place where much of it originated, back to the Woodstock festival site.
At the top of the natural amphitheatre made famous for three days of peace, love and music sits the Museum at Bethel Woods, which up to now has served as a small events gallery, sitting in the shadow of the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts’ better-recognized 17,500-seat performance pavilion.
But come late May or early June, the 40,000-square-foot building will hereafter be known as a truly unique museum, devoted not just to Woodstock but to the entire sixties.
“We really try to make you feel you’re there,” explained Egan, the the Gerry Foundation Museum Development Group’s CEO. “This is very immersive.”
Only a select few have been inside to see the nearly completed exhibit, mostly Bethel Woods workers and their families who have a job to do there or got a carefully structured preview.
In other words, up till now the museum has been a closely guarded secret, even to the dozens upon dozens of people whose connections to Woodstock were thoroughly documented by the museum’s research team.
But thanks to Egan and Bethel Woods Senior Director of External Affairs Darlene Fedun, here’s a sneak peek inside:
What You’ll See
Upon crossing Hurd Road and entering the midsection of the building, guests will pay an as-yet-unannounced fee (or can purchase tickets in advance), see the museum store and then walk past curving murals showcasing the immense crowd that descended on Bethel nearly 40 years ago.
But while Woodstock is the focus of about two-thirds of the museum, guests will also be treated to a detailed look at the events, politics, industry and social climate of the 1960s.
“The Woodstock festival is explored in this exhibit as the culminating event of the decade,” Egan explained.
Through period art, machinery, film clips and interactive touch screens, visitors will learn how Woodstock was shaped by all that came before – Vietnam, the civil rights movement, the space race, the baby boomer generation.
“It’s really the story of their lives,” Egan said.
Woodstock devotees won’t be disappointed, however. Nor, for that matter, will locals.
While the Museum at Bethel Woods will celebrate the greatest rock-and-roll concert ever created, it will do so in a manner focused on the fascinating details – how it was never supposed to happen in Bethel, what bands ultimately didn’t play as well as those that did, and so forth.
Sullivan County, of course, was forever changed by those three days, and a team of filmmakers, researchers, writers and historians made sure to include dozens of former and current locals in the quest for Woodstock history.
Those stories will often be told via 200-word quotes accompanied by photographs of the interviewees from 1969 and today, strategically placed amongst gigantic murals designed by the premier firm of Gallagher and Associates.
“It’s very compelling,” promised Egan. “Through personal stories and profiles, immersive multimedia exhibit displays and experiences, engaging programs and educational events, the museum will encourage intergenerational dialogue about important ideas and issues relevant to today.”
A 2,000-square-foot high-definition theater will offer a live-action retrospective – as will TV screens displaying 20 original films between 3 and 21 minutes long – but what Egan calls “the most intellectually challenging room” will be the last part of the exhibit, focusing on Woodstock and the sixties’ impacts on modern American life.
In all, the two-hour tour will cover 7,000 square feet and offer 130 authentic Woodstock artifacts in “a blend of a traditional museum and a more contemporary experience,” he said.
The 4,300-square-foot events gallery, two classrooms, a kitchen, a downstairs space for ever-changing exhibits and an outdoor patio and amphitheatre will combine with the main exhibit area to create a complex Egan hopes will be appealing to teachers, students, researchers and, of course, Bethel Woods concert visitors.
“It’s a first-class facility from top to bottom,” he assured. “… We expect tens of thousands of visitors every year just to the museum itself.”
Part and Parcel of Bethel Woods
Though a smaller facility than the performing arts pavilion next door, the museum will theoretically have the ability to outstrip the pavilion’s attendance figures (nearly 100,000 people came to concerts last year), as well as those for the Harvest Festival, both of which mainly operate in the summer and fall.
“We expect the museum to be open 10 months a year,” said Egan, only closing for Sullivan County’s typical “quiet” season between mid-January and mid-March. “We’re hoping this will be a way of extending the stay of a concertgoer and that it extends the calendar for the use of the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts… It will also help to preserve the historic site on which the 1969 Woodstock festival took place.”
As Fedun and Egan are quick to note, the museum is a component of Bethel Woods, and staff from all over the CVI and Bethel Woods complexes have assisted in realizing this dream.
“Now the Bethel Woods operating team takes charge,” said Egan, ruefully noting the approaching bittersweet moment when he’ll hand off his duties to a crew that includes Museum Director Wade Lawrence.
Lawrence himself, however, has been working closely with Egan and staff for the past six months, fresh from overseeing the 100-year-old Congdon estate called Glensheen in Duluth, Minnesota.
“Mr. Lawrence is a career professional in the museum business,” explained Egan, ticking off Lawrence’s past jobs. “He’s been pretty much everything in the museum business… And he’s very excited to be here.”
The Doors Will Be Opening Soon
A major opening event is planned for late May or early June and will be announced in the coming months.
Count on Alan Gerry attending, even if he did eschew the original festival while introducing Liberty residents to the wonders of cable television so many years ago.
Ironically, it is that very dedication to his craft that has made this tribute to Woodstock a reality.
“Alan Gerry didn’t succeed by accident,” observed Egan. “He’s a smart guy, and he’s committed to doing it right.”

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