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Re-discovering Woodstock’s lost relics

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Despite the Woodstock festival occurring years before concert merchandising became a big business, there is still a surprising amount of memorabilia from Woodstock that has survived.

Posters with the legendary image of the dove perched on the neck of a guitar are undeniably one of the most famous pieces of music art. Three Sullivan County residents, through ingenuity and luck, have made significant contributions to the insatiable appetite of fans to own a bit of stardust from the famous “Aquarian Exposition.”

In a bungalow colony in Woodbourne, NY, a weathered paddleboard wall stood for almost 50 years. Claw hammer in hand, Steve Gold removed the first plywood panel from the paddleboard wall and was suddenly transported back in time to Labor Day weekend 1969.

Gold was helping his girlfriend’s father Alex Gray unload plywood panels from his truck. Gray’s family owned the Robi-Lane bungalow colony and Gray was planning to build a paddleball court; he had just come from Yasgur’s Farm in Bethel where everything left over from the Woodstock festival was being sold. These plywood panels were from the main stage.

The legendary stage took weeks to build by a crew of workers under the direction of production supervisor Chip Monck.  Monck was famously drafted as the master of ceremonies for the festival. He can be heard and seen in Woodstock recordings making the stage announcements, including requests to “stay off the towers” and the warning about the “brown acid.”

Now nearly a half-century later, Gold noticed plywood panels with the same hand painted colors matching the iconic photo of Ritchie Havens playing on stage. Subsequent to his amazing find, Gold had the wood authenticated by a wood specialist and the senior curator at The Museum at Bethel Woods. Music lovers can now see the panels recreated in a stage in the newly open exhibition “We are Golden” at the Bethel Woods Museum.  For those eager to own a piece of music history, Gold is selling products online made from the stage through their company, Peace of Woodstock Stage.

When the crowd of 400,000-plus people dispersed after four days of peace, love and music, lengths of fencing were left behind. Soon after, a local farmer picked it up to use for livestock on his property.

In the 1980s, Bethel resident James Alexy, smitten with the ‘60s, began collecting Woodstock photos from local residents. In his quest, Alexy wound up meeting the farmer and eventually acquired fencing and two gates. Alexy had a vision to share the fence with others in the form of collectible jewelry. Alexy fashioned peace sign pendants out of the fence and started selling them online to fans around the world at www.PieceFence.com. After Alexy’s untimely death, his family decided to keep the project going in his honor. The Alexy family has also loaned one of the gates to the Museum at Bethel Woods.

Woodstock producer Michael Lang woke up Friday morning, August 15, 1969 to find that something was missing... the ticket booths. Others had known for days, but Lang said it was his first inkling that Woodstock never collected a single dollar at the gate. Ken Van Loan, the owner of Ken’s Garage in Bethel, had been hired two days before the festival to tow about two-dozen ticket booths into position. “All we ever got to move was two or three,” Van Loan recalled. “There were too many people and cars blocking the way.” Shortly after, Lang made the famous announcement that Woodstock would become a free show.

On Monday, August 18, 1969 Norman Karp, a local teenager from Woodbourne who attended the festival all weekend, helped two Woodstock Ventures employees repair a golf cart.  As a show of appreciation, they gave him a stack of unused Woodstock tickets, telling him they might be worth something one day.

In August 1981, Karp heard that someone was offering a number of unused Woodstock tickets for $9,000. Remembering his stash of tickets, he went home and searched high and low and found 31 tickets.

Soon after, Karp purchased several un-opened safes from a family friend, Al Kross. Kross was closing his office supply business and these safes had originally been leased to Woodstock Ventures. Once the safes were opened, Karp found 150,000 unused tickets, plus Jimi Hendrix’s signed contract. Karp advertised in magazines and reportedly sold 30,000 tickets at $29.95 each, plus $2 for shipping. These tickets continue today to be sold on online auctions.

Hope remains for the many Woodstock fans that other lost relics may be re-discovered in barns, attics, closets and suitcases in Sullivan County from that golden time in 1969. 

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