Just months ago, this summer’s 50th anniversary of the Woodstock music and art festival held much promise for music fans wanting to celebrate the historical three days of peace and music.
Reports in late 2018 confirmed plans for a 50th anniversary event on the original concert site. The “Bethel Woods Music and Culture Festival, celebrating the golden anniversary at the historic site of the 1969 Woodstock festival” was described as a three-day “pan-generational music, culture and community event” taking place August 16 to 18.
Earlier in November, it was revealed that plans to co-produce the event with the original Woodstock founders were scuttled. Michael Lang, co-founder of Woodstock Ventures, perhaps now caught in the devil’s bargain, would go on to announce plans for a competing festival on the same dates in Watkins Glen.
In early February, it was announced that Mountain Jam, one of the Northeast’s largest camping and music festivals, was relocating from Hunter Mountain to Bethel Woods.
Co-produced by Radio Woodstock, the four-day festival would serve as the perfect kick-off to the 50th anniversary celebration. Artists include Woodstock alum Phil Lesh, founding member of the Grateful Dead.
On February 19, Bethel Woods announced a significant scaling back from the originally planned “Bethel Woods Music and Culture Festival” when chosen co-producer INVNT dropped out. The venue will instead now focus on “A Season of Song & Celebration” all year long.
For those left helplessly hoping to see a reunion of Crosby, Still, Nash and Young (the inaugural act for Bethel Woods in 2006) or The Who (currently on tour), your closest option will be the planned screening of the documentary film Woodstock on August 15.
So far, none of the bands performing on the summer bill have even a remote connection to the original Aquarian Exposition. Out of the 32 acts that performed at the original concert, Bethel Woods has managed to get three Woodstock alumni back to the garden.
Carlos Santana, Arlo Guthrie and Edgar Winter will perform either as opening or supporting acts on August 16 and 17. A late-to-the-date booking has John B. Sebastian (who performed on the Saturday in 1969) playing two months later on October 19.
So far, the Sunday date August 18 is without a song or a celebration.
It’s perplexing that not one of the more than 25 groups (Bob Dylan, Chicago, Jethro Tull, Iron Butterfly, just to name a few) that declined an invitation or missed their connection in 1969 were given a rain check for 2019.
In the February 19 press release, Bethel Woods Chief Executive Officer Diane Fedun writes, “We are humbled by the interest in the anniversary year and we realized it was greater than we’d ever dreamed.”
Life is for learning. However, maybe it’s the time of the year for Fedun to try and salvage this summer by booking some relevant artists. Regretfully, a lack of imagination for this golden anniversary will have few of the Woodstock Nation going down to Yasgur’s Farm.
Eugene Wolff is a graduate of the Narrowsburg Central Rural High School and an international agronomist. Arriving in Tusten in July 1969, his parents built a home on the river in Narrowsburg. In the summer of 1981, he was a college intern at the newly opened outdoor amphitheater “Music Mountain” in Woodridge, the first legal outdoor venue for rock concerts allowed in Sullivan County since Woodstock. Wolff continues to travel for business and lives part-time in Narrowsburg.