It is hard to believe, but it has been fifty years since the historic Woodstock festival in 1969.
Woodstock’s effect on music, art, and culture is indisputable. However, many people don’t realize that the Woodstock festival did not take place in the New York town of the same name. Instead, due to logistical reasons, the festival was moved several times until it finally settled in the town of Bethel, NY. The historic Woodstock festival grounds are preserved to this day as the site of the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. Today, you can visit the grounds, tour the museum dedicated to Woodstock and participate in special events. The summer is the ideal time to visit Woodstock’s Historic site and celebrate a special piece of history with a great weekend getaway from NYC.
Woodstock’s historic grounds
It is fascinating to explore the historic grounds at Bethel Woods. As you come out of the museum, head over the paved pathway towards a hill and a vista. After you walk for a few minutes, you’ll notice a large peace sign in the grass – this is the site of the original festival. It is hard to believe today, but over that historic weekend, more than 400,000 people fit on to this grassy hill. The stage was located at lower grounds towards the road. The original promoters of the festival picked this location because the elevation creates a natural amphitheater.
Here, festival attendees set up tents and laid out their blankets. It is also here that when the festival famously ran out of food, the community gathered together. The attendees cooked food in metal garbage bins someone purchased from a home supply store. It was here that the crowds soaked as the rain fell, and here that the choppers circled overhead bringing much needed US army medical personnel.
And of course, it was here, at this very site, that Richie Havens struck the first chord of Woodstock. As the night fell the festival attendees could no longer see the stage but they could still hear the music. Jefferson Airplane played through the night, and with the morning sun, Jimi Hendrix took the stage for one of the most famous sets of his short life.
You can explore the historic grounds of the Woodstock festival at leisure but there are plenty of other things to keep you busy at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts.
The Museum at Bethel Woods
Inside the Museum at Bethel Woods, you will find many original artefacts of Woodstock. In addition to recreating the spirit of Woodstock, the museum helps you to understand the historical context of the festival. The main exhibit hall really helps put the history of the 1960s in perspective. And of course, you will learn about how Woodstock still affects modern pop culture today.
The free docent-led tours are fascinating – several original Woodstock attendees work at Bethel Woods today. Join a tour to learn about the history and the music of Woodstock. In addition, you will likely pick up original anecdotes from these living witnesses to history. Woodstock was a personal experience, and every person who attended the Woodstock festival in 1969 can share a unique story or two.
Special Exhibits to celebrate Woodstock’s Fifty-Year Anniversary
Downstairs in the Museum at Bethel Woods, you will find two special exhibits to help celebrate the fifty-year anniversary. The first exhibit, “We Are Golden,” offers many never before seen artifacts from Woodstock. At “We are Golden” you can browse a collection of items left on the field and items donated by the families of the performers. Additionally, a new photographic exhibit allows visitors to immerse themselves in the spirit of the festival through imagery. An exhibit featuring both famous and completely unknown shooters of the day helps recreate the spirit of the festival. This is the first time many of the photographs are viewable by the general public.
The second special exhibit opens towards the end of Spring 2019 and helps celebrate the other huge cultural milestone of 1969 – the first moon landing.
Concerts at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts
It wouldn’t be the site of Woodstock without music. To help celebrate the anniversary, Bethel Woods is hosting a series of concert in the summer of 2019. Performers, as varied as Elle King, Dave Matthews, Sheryl Crow, and Lynyrd Skynyrd, will grace the pavilion stage. And on the anniversary weekend, on the night of August 17th, one of the original performers of Woodstock – Santana – will perform for the crowds.
Art and music programs at Bethel Woods
In addition to learning about history at the Woodstock historical site, you can work on your own musical and artistic skills. During the weekends, especially in the summer, Bethel Woods Center for the Arts offers drop-in art classes. Here the younger visitors and their caretakers can participate in craft and art education programs. However, the center also offers ongoing workshops programs in digital photography, printmaking and music education for all ages.
Other things to do in Bethel, New York
Although Bethel Woods Center for the Arts is no doubt the largest attraction in town, it is not the only one. Catskill Distilling Company is a great place to try out some great regional whiskey. Antiquing is very popular in the area and you’ll find many places to shop for unusual souvenirs – and maybe even pick up your own 1960s memorabilia. The town is also home to several high-end bed and breakfast facilities. And for food, there are many mom and pop owned restaurants like the Bethel Café (located just outside Bethel Woods Center for the Arts.) The Dancing Cat Saloon is another local favorite and offers an eclectic menu in a true Americana setting.
It’s been 50 years, and many things have changed since the original Woodstock festival. Some things, however, never can. Music is still a universal language; communities still pull together to do the right thing, and art can still bridge cultures and civilizations. Celebrating Woodstock’s fifty-year anniversary in the pretty town of Bethel New York is an ideal weekend getaway in the summer of 2019 – and beyond.