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No-drama Woodstock anniversary

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The 50th anniversary of the Woodstock Festival of Music and Art has come and gone without the major disruption to local communities that accompanied the original, which played out in 1969.

The traffic nightmares that were predicted by many never materialized, and, by all accounts, those traveling to the anniversary bash found traffic to be flowing more freely and easily than during a typical sold-out event at Bethel Woods.

To be sure, as with the original festival, the weather interrupted the activities a couple of times during the week, with outbreaks of lightning, thunder and pouring down rain. But that is to be expected when events are scheduled for August evenings in the Casttills.

This time, however, festival goers did not stay out in the open and play in the mud. Instead, those with lawn passes were allowed to get out of the rain by stepping inside the Event Gallery, which was doubling as a media center for the extending weekend.

And if some locals complained of “police state” tactics employed to keep any of the public without tickets away from the roads around Bethel Woods, others were grateful for the planning that went into the run-up to the event, which came off without major incidents.

All those warnings about staying clear of the Route 17 corridor for people who had no business in the area may have had an impact in other places in Sullivan County. Anecdotal reports say that some places that are normally hoping during a summer weekend, like Narrowsburg, were more quiet than usual.

The musical acts that performed in the outdoor arena received mostly good reviews from critics. One reporter wrote that Arlo Gunthrie, who performed at Woodstock in 1969, “charmed” the aging, tie-dye-wearing hippies who made up a large portion of the crowd.

Even 79-year-old Ringo Starr was praised. A headline from the Poughkeepsie Journal read “Beatle Rocks Bethel Woods with Skill, Swagger.”

Edgar Winter played an extended version of his well-known hit Frankenstein and clearly pleased the crowd with his ability to still rock the night away.

Carlos Santana opened his show with video clips of his performance on the original Woodstock stage in 1969, a performance that launched him and his band into instant rock stardom.

John Fogerty closed out the weekend on Sunday with performances of various Creedence Clearwater Revival hits, interspersed with clips from his original Woodstock performance.

It is more than a bit impressive that 50 years on, these performers can take to the stage and still entertain. They pleased the audience, and that is worth a lot. What they didn’t do—what nobody could do—is recreate the sheer culture-changing jolt and spectacle that was Woodstock 1969.

As Guthrie told reporters before the show, “For me, the Woodstock festival was a celebratory end of an era. It was not the beginning of anything. It was the end of something, and it was an end of a very turbulent time that was also very wonderful.”

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