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The Dancing Cat owner recalls chipping in to feed hordes.
Stacey Cohen, owner of the Dancing Cat Saloon in Bethel, remembers Woodstock, but not in quite the same way as others do. She remembers it through the impressionable eyes of an 11-year old. “And it was really something.”
Cohen and her family moved from Monticello to White Lake, NY at the beginning of the summer of ’69. She was a newbie in town, but Cohen still seemed to fit in. It was probably because her mother, an artist, painted an old racing boat with the soon-to-be household name in the area, “Racey Stacey.”
Since Cohen was a few years shy of being able to legally drive, she got around Kauneonga Lake via her new DIY’d boat. Some of her adventures on Racey Stacey include catching live bands at Woodlawn Villa, frequenting Eva’s Diner, and causing trouble with the “summer kids” who came to the area on vacation with their parents.
Cohen quickly became known as Racey Stacey, and took on the responsibility of helping boaters who broke down or got stuck on the lake.
“It was my mission to keep everyone safe,” she recalled. “And the summer kids, they of course thought I was cool because I had a boat.”
It was with some of the kids, and a few locals too, that she took on Woodstock.
Woodstock was notorious for many things: peace, love, music—but also, a huge shortage of supplies. Namely, food and water. Cohen’s family stepped in to help in the effort of feeding thousands. They made pots of food and began sharing just outside the festival grounds.
“That’s what’s so special about the festival in the first place, if you could help, you did,” she said.
Cohen’s older brother, Jerry, also helped in the effort. After receiving an exemption from the Vietnam War draft following severe injuries from a car crash, Jerry made his contribution by manning the cash register at Eva’s Diner, the only diner in town at the time.
“I could barely walk at that point, but I helped when I could.” Jerry recalls working 16-hour days alongside his girlfriend and the other diner employees, only stopping to rest for a few hours before going back at it. “It took a huge effort from the local community to keep things going. We all played a role.”
As Cohen and the rest of her family did their part by handing out food and water, all walks of life passed by the gates. A very talkative child, she remembers striking up conversations with many passersby. “The hippies were dancing and singing and they were just as happy to talk to me as I was. Looking back now, they were probably on drugs, but I was just happy to see them so free.”
Eventually, Cohen and some of the other kids walked up to the festival itself. She remembers seas of teepees—an ungodly number of them. And more people than she’d ever seen before in one place, and realistically, would ever see again.
“I remember thinking to myself, how did all of these people make it to this field at once, with no communication?” she said. “There were no cellphones like there are now.”
She remembers seeing Joe Cocker, a favorite of hers at the time. Like many others at Woodstock, Cocker was known to perform without restraint, with a passion that came from the soul. “Everyone that performed wanted change,” she said. “They were sending a message.”
Fifty years later, Cohen remembers the weekend in snapshots, mostly. It’s the general vibe that’s carried on. “It was pure joy, you knew you were a part of something special,” Cohen said. “You could just feel it. I was too young to really know, but at the same time, I still knew. I had a feeling that I still remember.”
When asked about how the Woodstock anniversary festivals have changed over the years, Cohen seemed hopeful for the future of the tradition.
Smiling in a nostalgic sort of way, she said, “Woodstock was the first time that young people realized they had a voice, and that they could make a change. That’s echoed throughout generations. I’m happy that some of that makes it back here every year.”