Monday, August 18th, 2008
“Well I dreamed I saw
A child of God,
He was walking along the road…”
– Joni Mitchell, “Woodstock”
Last weekend, Aug. 15-18, was the 39th anniversary of Woodstock, at Yasgur’s Farm on Hurd Road, right off Route 17B. I was in Camp Hili that summer, less than a mile away, across White Lake. One could hear Janis Joplin through the clouds in the night.
There was a kid who had a bar mitzvah scheduled that Shabbos in camp; some of his guests were stuck on Route 17 with Woodstock Nation, some of whom parked their cars on the road and walked.
They didn’t realize that 17 was always like that on a Friday afternoon.
The day or so before, hitching back to camp from Monticello, I was given a ride in a van that had an 8-track in the glove compartment playing the first Crosby, Stills & Nash album. It was the first time I heard CSN and the first time I saw an 8-track.
In what was still the Castkills’ Jewish heyday, the festival and its pilgrims spilled over into the nearby roads and towns. On Shabbos afternoon, bungalow Jews went for walks along the road. At night, after Shabbos, I, all of 17-years, went out to look for this Oz that landed on my Kansas. It was a night when you met people and were carried on a wave into someone’s smoky, dimly lit home, crowded with young strangers who didn’t think they were strangers.
For decades there was only a stone slab, with a metal plaque marking the spot on Hurd Road. The stone named all the musicians, a surprising number of whom were obscure, some one-hit wonders, who performed on that 1969 weekend.
One August anniversary in the 1980s, in the last years of Grossinger’s, that hotel tried to have a Woodstock weekend but not too many guests cared. They had invited media coverage and I was one of maybe three guys who covered what little there was to cover.
On my way home, I drove to White Lake. The old summer camp was in ruins, papers and color war placards strewn about in the old abandoned dining room. I drove to Hurd Road, to the shady area where the stone marked the spot. That Sunday morning it was as overgrown and empty as some of the abandoned hotel lawns down the road.
Then, when almost no one was around, John Sebastian drove by, alone in his car, from his home in the Hudson valley, wanting to see the old hillside.
If you’re lucky, after paradise gives way to a parking lot, the parking lot gives way to a museum, and this one is worth a several-hour excursion the next time you’re in the mountains.
Last week, the Allman Brothers and Bob Weir played at the Bethel Woods Center, the music facility built over Yasgur’s place. The Jonas Brothers played there last week, too, which only goes to show you something or other.
Joe Cocker came back earlier this summer. And like a grown-up going on Facebook, The New York Philharmonic played there earlier this summer, too, saluting history by playing a surreal symphonic version of Jimi Hendrix’ already surreal “Star Spangled Banner,” giving proof through the night that our flag was still there.