Sunday, August 16, 2009
We slept really well at the Walmart and woke up to find we weren't the only ones--a van with peace signs and other psychedelia painted on it was parked a few spaces away from us. We picked up some more water and groceries, and then we headed back to Bethel Woods to visit the museum there. The theme of the museum is--surprise!--the 60's, and specifically, the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair--Three Days of Peace and Music, from August 15-17, 1969.
Well, this museum is totally WONDERFUL!! It has many videos and some interactive displays, as well as all kinds of memorabilia. It begins with info on the 60's in general, but that is really secondary to the Woodstock story. However the general information did include some fun things, such as a "Top 10" interactive display. I spent about 30 minutes there (I would have been happy to spend longer, because I didn't finish all 10 years). You put on headphones and then click on a year from 1960-1969. It tells you ten of the top 10 songs of the year, showing them as being pop, folk, rock, or r&b songs. You can see the times changing, with most of the songs in the pop category during the earlier years being novelty numbers (all those dead teen songs! And things like Alley Oop, and Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini), a huge swing over to folk around 1963 with Peter Paul and Mary, and then the heavy rock years with the British Invasion in 1964, etc. They gave background info on each song as you listened to it, and as I said, I found it fascinating and fun. The display accompanying it was a collection of old transistor radios--the one item which allowed every kid to have portable music all the time. Oh, how I still remember my very first transistor radio, and how thrilled I was with it--don't you remember yours??
But very soon you get to the meat of the museum, the Woodstock Festival. The details, when they are laid out, are simply astonishing--four young guys in their 20s had this idea to have a music festival in a field in order to promote the new recording studio they were setting up. NONE of them had a CLUE about how to run a festival, but they just went right on ahead planning it. One of my favorite videos described how they put together the site. As you may remember, they first contracted with a guy in Wallkill, NY, to use his field. He describes on video how these kids wanted a field "for a concert with about 5,000 expected to be there." So he rented them the field. When they left, the first thing his secretary said when she heard about it was, "Where do they think they'll find 5,000 idiots to sit in a field and listen to music?" LOL!!! 400,000 "idiots" later, Woodstock was history.
By the time I got to this point in the museum, we'd been there for two hours, and we were hungry. Also, the place was pretty crowded with the overflow of people who had hung around the area from the night before. (The museum guy told me they'd had to stop selling museum tickets at noon on Saturday.) So we went back to the RV for some lunch and naps! It was a warm day but we were up on the mountain and did manage to catch a little bit of breeze. However, it was too hot to think about wandering around the festival field, so we simply chilled and read our books.
At about 4 pm, we went back to the museum and continued. Some more highlights: a video about how people managed to make it into the site despite the traffic. The video was shown inside a fabulous psychedelic bus, complete with tie-dyed fabric ceiling, beaded window curtains, and full paint job. Videos of interviews with people who had worked behind the scenes helping feed people, direct traffic, etc; and a wonderful, wonderful 20 minute film about the music itself, with amazing footage of the singers and commentary by other singers who had been there. The latter was the only film in a real "theater", with terrific sound. We spent another 2 hours there before finally leaving through the gift shop. The place is stocked with books, music, and all kinds of Woodstock paraphernalia, but in all honesty I've never seen a more picked-over gift shop in my life! I think the hoards of pilgrims from the weekend probably bought 60% of everything in the place! I was only happy I'd already thrown my Jefferson Airplane and Jimi Hendrix CD's into the car, so we still had the right music for our frame of mind.
We were lucky that there was also a special exhibit at the museum which was right up our alley--a collection of photos taken of John Lennon and Yoko Ono during their Bed-In for Peace in Toronto. This was a "performance art" idea that they did for a week in a fancy hotel; they set up the room with the bed in the center of the suite, everything was white, and they sat in bed giving interviews about how to bring peace. During the course of the week, they recorded "Give Peace a Chance" with about 40 people--whoever was in the room at the time! The photographer who took the photos was there for the entire week, and some of the photos were really interesting (including one very beautiful portrait of Yoko.) Joe and I agreed later that the photos got a bit repetitive, but we really enjoyed the "reading material"-- interviews with numerous people who had been involved with the event, visited the suite, and who had spent a lot of time with John and Yoko.
After we left the museum, we got back into Mo and drove down to the original Woodstock field, which was "next door" to the concert area we'd been in the night before. You can see the natural bowl and how perfect the site was for a concert (the gravelly area to the left is where the stage was.) The area is beautiful, and having seen all the crowds at our 40th anniversary concert, it was easy to imagine what it must have been like during the original concert. Plus of course we still had all the videos and photos from the museum in our heads. So we lingered a while, savoring the fact that after 40 years, we "finally" made it to Woodstock. The remarkable thing about it, however, is that we feel "we were there"--as, I know, do millions of others. The museum tries to help a visitor understand why the event had such an impact on an entire generation, but when all is said and done, it's hard to really fathom why we feel so strongly about it. But the fact is, however, that we do.
By this time it was after 7 p.m. During the afternoon break, I had phoned a nearby campground and made a reservation--we wanted electricity and hot showers! We got both of them, although the campground itself was a bit run-down, and the bugs were out full force. In order to cool off, we ran the AC for a while--and ended up keeping it on all night! We have almost never had to do that before, even with our trips out west. But we were both feeling so heat-exhausted, and were happy to be cool for the night.