It’s the fancy (and by “fancy,” I mean Latin) quasi-poetic way of saying “time flies,” and ain’t that the truth. When we’re young, we think we’re gonna’ live forever, but around middle-age, we start to wonder where the time went. It was easy to lose track of time during my years in southern California, since the weather never changes, seasons blend into one another and many familiar faces are cosmetically frozen in time. I found those things disturbing, and prefer my life here in the Upper Delaware River region, where we honor the seasons, and I wear gray hair and wrinkles like a badge of courage.
Even if I wanted to, it would be impossible to ignore the passage of time this year, because I live in Bethel, NY—otherwise known as the “Home of the 1969 Woodstock Music Festival”—and the countdown clock is ticking. I can’t recall a year more riddled with momentous events. The first moon landing, the Beatles’ last public performance and the untimely death of Judy Garland all occurred in ’69 as the war in Vietnam raged on. Mario Puzo released a little book titled “The Godfather,” Richard Nixon was elected president, Charles Manson committed an unspeakable crime and John Lennon recorded “Give Peace a Chance.”
In the same year that “The Brady Bunch” debuted on television, “Monty Python” was making a splash across the pond and (believe it or not) a little thing called “the internet” was created. Buzzwords like “Chappaquiddick” and “Stonewall” peppered water cooler conversations and Disneyland opened the doors of its “Haunted Mansion” for the very first time. In mid-August of that year, the skies opened and torrential rains soaked the 450,000 hippies who descended on Sullivan County and Max Yasgur’s farm to hear the likes of Richie Havens, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Janis Joplin, Joe Cocker and, well, you get the idea. All in all, more than 30 acts were on the bill for the three-day concert that forever changed the world of rock and roll and put the county under a microscope, altering the landscape forever.
Nowadays, of course, there is a monument to that event and Bethel Woods Center for the Arts occupies the land where Yasgur’s cows once grazed. A fantastic (IMHO) museum dedicated to the ‘60s and the Woodstock experience houses both a permanent exhibit and roving installations; its newest, “We Are Golden,” opened to the public over the weekend. Housing more that 170 artifacts from the Woodstock Festival, the exhibit showcases the work of photographers, including Amalie R. Rothschild and Elliott Landy. Landy is best known for his artistic portraits of classic rock-era performers, including Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin, immortalized forever in more than a few of Landy’s iconic photographs taken during the show in Bethel. While some locals were supportive of Yasgur agreeing to host the festival, there were those who opposed, often in writing: on signs, pieces of wood and even a metal table top, famously emblazoned with the words “stop Max’s hippie music festival,” all of which are currently on display at the museum.
On opening day, museum director Wade Lawrence hosted a panel discussion with Fillmore East (and Woodstock concert) photographer Rothschild, audio historian Andy Zax and Bill Hanley, who designed and engineered the sound system used at the concert. Sharing the stage were Alex Del Zoppo and Fred Herrara from the band Sweetwater, all of whom shared anecdotes about their participation in Woodstock and what it means to them now, 50 years later. The conversation included questions from the audience and gave me an opportunity to ask Amalie about a now-famous photograph simply titled “the boy on the fence.” Rothschild explained that when that image was published, the young man in question was identified by his wife, who reached out to the photographer from their home in Colorado. While there are literally hundreds of thousands of faces in Rothschild’s Woodstock images, the “boy on the fence” is the only one she’s heard from and met face-to-face. “That might change now,” Rothschild intoned, referring to the new book “Woodstock: 50 years of Peace and Music” (due out this summer), which features Rothschild’s photos, many of which have never been seen. While eyeing the exhibit downstairs, I met Laura Williams and her companion Michael Wilson, who had traveled from Boston, MA to be part of opening day, honoring Michael’s uncle, Alan Wilson. Guitarist, harmonica player and primary songwriter for the band Canned Heat, Wilson was found dead in Topanga Canyon, CA in September of 1970 at 27-years old, the same age fellow Woodstock alums Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix overdosed and died. Although 50 years have passed, there are days when it feels like yesterday. You know what they say: time flies.