Phish tales at Bethel Woods
For months, some in the community worried that the three-day Phish event would bring traffic nightmares, vandalism and worse. But when the jam band finally appeared at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, the holiday weekend unfolded relatively smoothly.
Because a fleet of buses travelled from campsites to the center, traffic problems were minimal, and the fans were mostly well behaved, both in the concert facility and around the area.
For three hours before each concert, the parking lot at Bethel Woods became an impromptu bazaar, where vendors sold everything from paintings to crystals and even Jello shots; the atmosphere was festive.
Still, there were a few minor flies in the ointment. The New York State Police at Liberty and the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Department arrested about a dozen people at the concerts for such infractions as possession of marijuana and Ecstasy and resisting arrest.
Overall, however, the weekend was considered by many to be a success. Bethel supervisor Dan Sturm said that the Phish fans were a “great crowd,” and he was pleased with the way the weekend progressed.
Probably the most controversial aspect to the weekend was the 15-year feud between Roy Howard and Jeryl Abramson and town officials that flared up again.
Howard and Abramson applied for and received temporary camping permits that would allow them to accommodate about 250 campers at their farm on Route 17B. But Abramson announced on the internet that the couple had plenty of space and had hired bands for the occasion. Thousands of campers were expected to turn out.
Town officials sent a letter to the couple saying that they had violated the terms of a consent order they signed in 2007, when the couple agreed not to hold any more Woodstock reunion concerts. The town issued violations before the first campers showed up.
Abramson said that, by her estimation, if the couple allowed all of the campers onto their 100 acres, they could be facing a minimum of $100,000 in fines, and perhaps much more than that. Therefore, the couple closed their land to all but about 250 campers, and hundreds of young people showed up in town and had no place to stay.
Many of them ended up at Hector’s Inn on Route 17B and Dr. Duggan Road. There were 120 cars in a lot across the street. Steve Agoston, a veterinarian who lives next to the inn, said there were no sanitation facilities provided, and the campers were using his lawn as a latrine, which he found to be upsetting.
Others campers went to Fiddlers Flea Market, which had also applied for temporary permits. Sturm said town officials working with the Sullivan County Visitor’s Association fielded about 150 calls from campers and were able to find places to stay for all of them.
Jonathan Fox, who was gathering material for a column for The River Reporter, said that he talked to hundreds of kids who had been turned away from Howard and Abramson’s place. He said, “There were kids hiding out in the woods all over town. They didn’t know where to go.”
Sturm said town officials had some 28 cars towed from Yasgur Road, the road leading to Howard and Abramson’s place, and the owners paid hefty fines before they could be retrieved.