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Déjà vu: Woodstock Light Bus returns

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The psychedelic painted VW “Light” Bus is tripping back to Bethel for the Woodstock 50th Anniversary celebration. As a symbol of the Woodstock generation, the bus is best described in this excerpt from David and Cee Eccles book, “Traveling with the VW Bus and Camper,” published by Abbeville Press:

Light drummer Rick Peters, left and singer Trudy Cooper enjoying the view
from the roof of the original Light bus.

“Not only was the ‘Light’ Bus by Bob Hieronimus one of the first VW buses to be painted in the ‘psychedelic sixties’ style, its Woodstock heritage adds to its importance and influence on the future. It is not just another ‘hippie bus,’ but a work of art in its own right, which captures the mood and aspirations of a generation searching for its own identity and place in the universal scheme of things.”

It all started in Baltimore in 1968 with a friendship between underground mural artist Bob Hieronimus and musician Bob Grimm of the rock band “Light.”

Hieronimus was establishing himself as a mural artist specializing in symbols of ancient cultures. In the next year he would go on to paint the now famous mural at Johns Hopkins University, titled “Apocalypse.” Hieronimus was known in the burgeoning rock scene, doing album covers for Elektra Records and striking up a friendship with Jimi Hendrix.

Light was a popular Baltimore bar band with a CBS record deal. Grimm was the lead guitarist for Light and a fan of Hieronimus’s groovy artwork. When the band decided to have their VW tour bus painted, Grimm approached Hieronimus. Delaying the Hopkins project, Hieronimus accepted the commission for $1,000. It took him almost six months to finish painting the “Light” bus.

In August 1969, Grimm and two members of the band decided to drive the newly painted bus to the Woodstock festival. They arrived in Bethel on Thursday the day before the festival was to start. Navigating the sea of humanity near the access road, they were told by a policeman they would have to park the bus and walk the rest of the way to the site. Thinking quickly, Grimm fabricated a story that that the bus was part of the art exhibition and was miraculously allowed to proceed. They wound up parking midfield, stage right for the next three days.

Once the bus was parked, it took on a life of its own. People flocked to it, as well as photographers from Rolling Stone and Life magazine. On Friday, an Associated Press photographer captured drummer Rick Peters, and singer, Trudy Cooper enjoying the view on top of the roof of the bus. Pictured above, this photo would go on to be published round the world and make the Light bus famous.

When Woodstock was over, the Light bus returned to Baltimore. The band went on to open for Jefferson Airplane and record two singles before shortly thereafter splitting up. Grimm joined the Four Seasons and went on tour to the UK. He left the Light bus at a Baltimore commune with Hieronimus. They eventually lost track of the bus after it broke down on the road in 1972.

In 2017, Bob Hieronimus and John Wesley Chisholm decided they would set out to find the Light bus and restore it in time for this summer’s 50th anniversary of Woodstock. 

Chisholm is a Canadian television producer with a long history of making films for National Geographic and Discovery about searching for lost and hidden things. He had worked with Hieronimus on a “Da Vinci code”-style film project in the past.

After an exhaustive yearlong search it was determined that the original bus no longer existed. It was then that Chisholm came up with the idea of resurrecting an exact replica of the magic bus and making a documentary of the project.  A Kickstarter campaign raised $67,000 to fund the purchase and restoration of an exact match of the original 11-window, 1963 Type-2 microbus with the split front window shield.

Skinner Classics in California, a Volkswagen restoration specialist rebuilt the engine, transmission and transaxle. The cargo flooring and the inner and outer rocker panels were all gutted and exchanged. Primed for painting, the bus was shipped up to Maryland where Hieronimus and five artists recreated the esoteric symbolism in six weeks. The bus then made one more trip to East Coast VW Restorations in Florida for interior and exterior detailing.

Hieronimus and Chisholm unveiled the reincarnated Light bus in February 2019 at a VW bus owners’ gathering in California. The bus is now making its way across the country in preparation to be in Bethel for the golden anniversary weekend in August. Chisholm in conjunction with CurosityStream will release his documentary, titled “The Woodstock Bus” this summer. Chisholm eventually hopes find a place for the resurrected magic bus in an appropriate museum.

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 business travel and lives part-time in Narrowsburg.

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