Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Taking Bethel Woods: Celebrating Woodstock’s 40th Anniversary - Part 1

Unless you live under a rock somewhere, yet still have the ability to read my blog, you’ve probably heard that this summer marks the 40th anniversary of the 1969 Woodstock music festival. A few years ago the grounds of the festival in Bethel, NY (no, the festival didn’t actually take place in Woodstock) were converted into the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, complete with a large outdoor pavilion, smaller stages and galleries, various eateries and dining options, a museum commemorating the Woodstock experience, and a promise to uphold the integrity and splendor of the surrounding rural landscape. Having grown up not too far from its location, I figured what better time to check out the new arts center than during the summer of this iconic anniversary?

The first stop was the museum, a multi-media experience that takes you through the 1960s that lead up to the Woodstock festival, then tells the story of Woodstock, from its initial conception to the aftereffects, using text panels, artifacts on display, and audio and video displays. For those who lived through it all, the museum will either be a nostalgic trip or a display in the “why does anyone still care about this anymore?” way of thinking, but for those (like myself) who were born too late to experience the ‘60s, it’s an interesting and insightful look as the not-so distant past.

The entire museum is colored in all the psychedelic colors of the ‘60s and almost feels like the set of Laugh-In, and some of the information on display is far from revealing (Wow, the Beatles were really popular then? And the Vietnam War caused all sorts of social and political clashes? You don’t say!). But once you get into the Woodstock part, things get more interesting. You get to see original posters and advertisements for the festival, learn about how and why it changed locations two times, watch filmed interviews with attendees telling their personal experience there, and learn about the community’s mixed reaction when the festival became to much more than was anticipated, just to name a few things. One of the museum’s highlights is a 21-minute film about the musicians that performed at Woodstock and features never-before-seen footage of some performances and interviews the musicians gave before heading to the festival. On your way out of the museum, you exit through the gift shop where you can buy various tie-dyed and peace sign affixed memorabilia to feed your inner hippie.

Downstairs in the same building as the museum is a gallery that houses a rotation of displays. Currently on display are a series of photographs by Gerry Deiter chronicling John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Bed-In For Peace (where they stayed in a bed in a Canadian hotel for eight days as a protest for peace). While some of the photographs began to seem redundant (how many times do you need to see John and Yoko lounging in their pajamas?), there are a few highlights that show various friends of theirs stopping by to show support, including Tommy Smothers (of the Smothers Brothers) and Timothy Leary. All in all, the museum is worth a trip and should be given at least two hours to be seen in its entirety.

Check out my entire photo collection of the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts.

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