August 23, 2012 —
It’s impossible to visit, much less live in this neck of the woods, without acknowledging the region’s history. The resorts—and talent that appeared in and around them—are legendary. Books have been written and movies have been made. During simpler times, comic Red Skelton starred in the 1938 romp “Having Wonderful Time,” set in a Catskills hotel. Roman Polanski’s creepy “Knife in the Water” takes place here in the mountains, focusing on a hitchhiker and a couple’s weekend outing in 1962. Oddly, another hitchhiker making his way through the Upper Delaware Valley is the focus of Josh Apter and Peter Olsen’s independent “Kaaterskill Falls” which garnered some awards on the indie circuit, but failed to catch on with audiences. And then there’s Woodstock.
A quick glance at www.amazon.com  yielded results that made my head spin. Michael Lang’s “The Road to Woodstock,” Peter Fornatale’s “Back to the Garden: The Story of Woodstock,” Elliot Landy’s “Woodstock Vision: The Spirit of a Generation” and Bob Spitz’s “Barefoot in Babylon” all leaped off the page. Elliot Tiber and Tom Monte’s “Taking Woodstock: The story of a riot, a concert, and a life,” which tells how Tiber helped bring the Woodstock Festival to Bethel, NY, was adapted for the screen in 2009.
Flash forward to this past weekend, and the 43rd anniversary of the concert that forever altered the landscape of Sullivan County. I made my way to the memorial, now the home of the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts (www.bethelwoodscenter.org ), and looked for alumni, who make the trek annually to commemorate their sometimes life-changing experience during the turbulent ‘60s. In addition to the summer-long concert series and event gallery, the museum provides visitors an opportunity to reminisce or experience for the first time what the hubbub was all about.
Costumed volunteers strolled the grounds, leading folks on a tour of the facility. Inside, there were book vendors, photographers and artists chatting with people who had traveled from all corners of the world to get a peek at the past. One was Bob Knox of Litchfied, CT who was here (at the concert) when he was 16, and had loaned a rare poster to the museum for the “Byrd/Skolnick – A Tale of Two Posters” exhibit that museum director Wade Lawrence had curated earlier this year. Knox’s art work, depicting the festival taking place in nearby Walkill, NY, played a big part in the Woodstock story, and we chatted briefly about his experience before I spied Lawrence and cornered him for a moment.
“On these anniversaries, we find people wandering in with artifacts and stories year after year,” Lawrence said. “Visitors like these are a nice validation of what we do.”
Wade then suggested that I visit nearby Hector’s campground, where “many return year after year, like the swallows to Capistrano,” and look for Mark Victor, who had stopped by earlier to show Lawrence his van, which is painted like the VW busses of old, and is personally signed by many of the performers who had been at the Woodstock Festival.
I found Victor, who had driven his mobile salute to the ‘60s from Grand Rapids, MI, hanging out with friends and graciously allowing anyone who wandered by to take pictures and chat about the vehicle. It certainly symbolizes the time period, replete with peace signs, naked revelers and a life-sized portrait of The Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia. Victor invited me inside, and we spent some time pouring over his scrapbook of Woodstock and the scads of musical icons who have signed the van. Hippies, both young and old, were everywhere, and the mood was festive at Hector’s. More vendors were visible, but the majority of campers were quietly celebrating the anniversary, while swapping stories, strumming guitars and hanging out by the fire pit.
As I prepared to make my way to the Catskill Distilling Company (www.catskilldistilling.com ) just across the road from Bethel Woods, I couldn’t help but muse on the times, and how they have indeed changed, yet somehow continue to resonate with the past. The distillery was introducing their newest spirits, “Most Righteous Bourbon” and “Wicked White Whiskey,” which took their rightful place alongside the company’s first offering: “Peace Vodka.” Understanding that time stands still for no one is healthy, but it’s nice to look back and honor the past. The region already holds several pages in the history books, and it ain’t over yet. Can’t wait to see the next chapter unfold.