Democrat File Photo
THIS REVELER WAS one of thousands who enjoyed the annual unofficial Woodstock reunions that used to be held at Roy Howard and Jeryl Abramson’s property on Route 17B in Bethel.
County's Most Famous Couple Moves Westward
By Dan Hust
BETHEL August 17, 2007 After 22 years of ownership, Roy Howard, Jeryl Abramson, and their 14-year-old son Zach are headed to Phoenix, Arizona.
Their Bethel property including a 2,000-square-foot circa-1940 home, a 5,000-square-foot farmhouse built in 1876 and a 7,000-square-foot barn is up for sale for a cool $8 million.
And Abramson, for one, isn’t looking back.
“Without the reunions, there’s nothing really keeping us here,” she remarked Monday, hours before she and Zach were scheduled to wing their way southwest.
Abramson was referring to the Woodstock-themed gatherings held at her property virtually every August for the past decade, where people the world over could come to celebrate 1969’s iconic three days of peace, love and music.
While the actual rock festival was held about two miles away on Hurd Road, Howard and Abramson have owned the late Max Yasgur’s farm on Route 17B in Bethel since 1985.
Yasgur, one of Sullivan County’s most successful and innovative dairy farmers, gained fame and adoration when he leased his 37.5-acre alfalfa field on Hurd Road to Woodstock organizers and even more adulation when he affectionately addressed the half-million people who showed up August 15-17, 1969.
This week, during Woodstock’s 38th anniversary, visitors to the festival site will be greeted by the manicured lawns and copper-roofed pavilions of the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, billionaire Alan Gerry’s gift to his home county.
Woodstock originals Arlo Guthrie and Richie Havens will be playing the 16,500-seat main pavilion tonight, which is the only way anyone will be allowed on the festival field (short of the historical monument off West Shore Road).
But over on 17B, Howard and Abramson’s 103 acres will be quiet, a notable departure from years past, when thousands of people would come to socialize with people they considered family, hawk their wares, play every genre of music and, yes, sometimes participate in drugs, sex and rock ‘n’ roll. It was the closest re-creation to Woodstock one could get in the area.
Town officials always viewed it dimly, however, worried about lawsuits, crime, neighbors’ complaints and permitless concerts similar to their approach way back in 1969.
After years of wrangling, they won, successfully preventing Howard and Abramson from holding any more events without permits. Howard and Abramson sued, citing discrimination, but a federal judge disagreed.
For Abramson and Howard, already disillusioned with local politics, it was the last straw.
“There are Woodstock reunions all over the world, except in Bethel,” lamented Abramson. “The only people who don’t truly recognize the significance of Woodstock are the people who live in Bethel.”
“We basically kept it [Woodstock] alive,” added Howard.
But with a large home in an upscale neighborhood and Zach in a good school, Phoenix has already become home to the family for the past year.
Howard said he plans to sell the rest of his property in the Monticello area, as well save for Tilly’s Diner, a ’50s-styled restaurant near 17B and 17.
And while the $8 million price tag on his longtime home has raised some local eyebrows, there’s little doubt Yasgur’s old farm will soon sport a “Sold” sign.
With it will go another piece of Sullivan County history and some of the last traces of Woodstock’s (and Roy and Jeryl’s) free-spirited nature.