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December 28, 2014
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Sensory overload

Peace officers patrolled the grounds at Bethel Woods during the three-day music festival known as Mysteryland, but the crowd was totally well behaved and respectful.
TRR photos by Jonathan Charles Fox


For something completely different, I’m tired. Aging gracefully has never been my strong suit, and when I pass a mirror these days, I wince a little and move on. As a kid, I lamented my special day (read “birthday”) being usurped by Memorial Day, since many families would head out of town, leaving me friendless on my special day. In my 20s, I was convinced that the nation was throwing a party just for me, and reveled in the fireworks and parades that honored the day I came into the world. After 30, I became blasé for a decade or two and now… well, I’m feelin’ kinda old. While many have suggested that “age is just a number,” I feel compelled to chime in that these days, “It’s a pretty big number” and weep silently, lest I seem ungrateful in response to the overwhelming flood of well-wishers, cards and emails that are still streaming in. In an effort to underscore the importance of this particular number, one of my friends from the old country (I mean California) flew in to celebrate with me and was a bit overwhelmed himself as we toured the countryside with the Wonder Dog in tow, stopping every few miles to chat with a neighbor, as they acknowledged my milestone, assuring me that the best (I mean a dirt nap) was yet to come.

While many of you were preparing to entertain and grill, I steeled myself for the event that has had Sullivan County buzzing for months—Mysteryland. Having done a bit of homework, I had already learned that the three-day music festival has been around since 1993, originated in Holland, and it has attracted hundreds of thousands of electronic music fans from all over the world, presenting a multimedia extravaganza of monumental proportions that changes with each exotic locale, as the organizers strive to imprint each new generation with global concerns and a new-age philosophy of the old adage (from my generation) of “Peace-Love-Happiness.”

Honestly, I was scared. Although the festival is strictly for those 21 and up, the average age of attendees certainly hovered under 25, much like the last iconic festival held on the same spot, way back in 1969. It’s no coincidence that Mysteryland made its U.S. debut here in Sullivan County; in fact, the promotion was overloaded with references to the Woodstock Music Festival and the rich history that Mysteryland desired to catapult off of, and make history come alive with a new generation, a new angle and a new sound. Knowing little about the electronic music scene did not help to assuage my fear, and with trepidation and camera in hand, I entered, with The River Reporter’s Amanda Reed at my side, mopping my furrowed brow, assuring me that it was “going to be OK.” I don’t think I was the only one with jangled nerves. After all, “the festival is the first time since 1969 that the Town of Bethel has granted camping permits on the soil Mysteryland organizers refer to as ‘holy ground.’ Acts over the three-day festival included electronic music names like Steve Aoki, Nicky Romero, Kaskade and classics of the genre, like Moby,” (www.mysteryland.com), and I think the townsfolk (like me) were nervous.

Imagine my surprise, then, to find that the 20,000 kids who turned out each day to dance and party were (dare I say) friendly, respectful and pretty darn cool. While there may have been some glitches in the organization, the festival went off with nary a hitch and I’ve seen less well behaved crowds on the grounds (www.bethelwoodscenter.org) during a rock concert. With the constant thrumming of bass beats echoing for miles around, we trudged through Friday’s mud (ring a bell?) visiting with the campers and taking hundreds of photos amidst a sea of revelers, most of whom were decked out in outlandish get-ups that appeared to be de rigueur for Mysteryland. As we rounded every corner, themed dance tents, DJ booths and art installations greeted us, providing rich opportunities for the lens. Rain pelted on and off during the 12 hours Amanda and I spent on Saturday, but never dampened the high spirits of the 20-somethings whose mantra, “eat, sleep, rave, repeat,” was evident throughout the long weekend. For those who believe that Mysteryland was not a good idea for Sullivan County, I humbly disagree. I spotted kids before, during and after supporting local eateries, buying souvenirs, and again, they were respectful, polite, neat and clean.

It’s entirely possible that (IMHO) I was the oldest man there. While posing for pics, the kids said things like “Thank you, sir,” and, “It’s an honor to be here, sir,” which stung, but also put a smile on my face. Considering the lights, the music and the fantastical costumes, I’m still on sensory overload, old bones creaking, and listening to Joplin as I prepare myself for the next big thing. I salute you, Mysteryland. Job well done.