Visiting Bethel Woods Center for the Arts (the Woodstock Festival site)

The original Woodstock Festival ads were for a different location and lineup than what became the actual festival.  We know that the festival site ended up being near Bethel and White Lake, NY.  Not all of the bands listed in the original ad had actually agreed to do the festival.  Some declined because of schedule conflicts and various other reasons.

Woodstock ad - first site

This was one of the bands who didn’t agree to do the festival.  Forty-one years later though, they did agree to do a concert at Bethel Woods, and that’s when I decided to check the place out for myself.

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On my arrival at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, there was no resemblance to the original setting we’re used to seeing in pictures and video.  The entrance did not have a 1960s vibe, and it wasn’t artsy.  It resembled a 1990s gated community.  

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There’s a museum inside.

On stepping into the museum, visitors were greeted with a video of Country Joe and the Fish singing, “And it’s 1, 2, 3, what are we fighting for?…”  Museum goers then spontaneously started singing along, “Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn….”

The ‘artifacts’ in the museum are relics of the fun, glamorous image of hippies.

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There is a nice, serious nod to Phil Ochs.

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Then, as I was zooming in for a close up of this festival magazine ad, a security guard charged at me yelling, “No pictures!  Photography is not allowed in here!”  Seriously?  Do they think a Doors album cover, or a photo of the Haight-Ashbury street sign, or a Woodstock magazine ad are rare and proprietary artifacts?   Sheesh.  Too many rules, man.

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Annoyed, I made my way to the museum store and soothed myself with the purchase of a thin, overpriced t-shirt.

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Moving on from the museum to the outside.  They’ve constructed an outdoor amphitheater where concerts take place now.  It’s way on the other end of the property from the original stage.

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Before long, soundcheck was underway.

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Then a good crowd started arriving.  

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The concert began. 

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Then, just like 41 years earlier, the skies opened and it began pouring rain.  To my amazement, everyone on the lawn stayed seated and just put up umbrellas.  The rain was coming down in sheets and buckets, but the audience just sat there listening to the music, and the show went on as if nothing were wrong.  Pretty cool.

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Back to the ‘garden’.

The morning after the concert, before heading to the airport, I circled back to the festival site to quietly take in the setting on a lovely Sunday morning.

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This is looking at the original stage location from the Hurd Road side:

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This is looking up the road with access to the original stage being that gravely patch on the right.  I parked there, got out and climbed over the fence.  

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I stood at ‘center stage’.  This is a stitched together pano of the view from ‘center stage’: 

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It really is a garden on that spot.  (Someone should tell the group who now wants to excavate the stage location and ‘install’ a garden.)

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Then it was time to get on the road.  The 2-hour drive back to the Lehigh Valley (Allentown/Bethlehem) Airport was scenic.

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This was the town of Eldred, NY, where I stopped for ice cream at the general store.

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I crossed the beautiful Delaware River, and was back in Pennsylvania.  

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A little more driving and then a few hours on a plane and I was back in Kansas.

14 thoughts on “Visiting Bethel Woods Center for the Arts (the Woodstock Festival site)

  1. My question- is it worth going to? We are going on vacation in a few weeks- since we are heading across New York and checking out some things in NY State before heading into New England states– would a stop there be worth the time?

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    1. I would say for you, with your passion for music, it’s a must. But aside from the museum, if you want to connect with the Woodstock setting and vibe, it will be a self-styled walk around the grounds. You’ll be deciding what you want to see and finding those spots on your own. And maybe that’s how it should be. (Caveat: I was there in 2010, so they may have added some features since then that I wouldn’t know about.) I envy you going across NY. I really enjoyed my scenic drive to BW and back to PA, and know I only scratched the surface of what scenery there is. If you go, I’ll look forward to your post about it.

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      1. I didn’t even realize until fairly recently that there was anything at Woodstock other than the open field. I will be sure and take that walk around the grounds. Thanks for the post! I am planning on seeing a lot of rural areas – not just driving the NY Thru Way to get somewhere.

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      2. My pleasure. It’s great you are going to take the smaller highways through NY. That’s what I would want to do. About BW, taking the walk around and seeing the place with my own eyes, helped me come to the realization that it was way fewer than 400k people there. I’m thinking more like 200k tops. Attending a few large festivals myself helped with that realization, too. I wonder if you will see it differently.

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      3. I just picked up a book at a used book store that I am going to get into about Woodstock- Barefoot In Babylon by Bob Spitz. I wonder how they came to the 400,000 number? I had to laugh in re-watching the movie- the girl talking on the phone saying to the person she was talking to that it was ‘the third largest city in the world!” How much time did you spend there? I am looking at traveling the southern part of the state- another trip to Cooperstown since I am a baseball fanatic and then heading towards Bethel etc..

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      4. I’ll be interested in whether you recommend the book. I arrived at Bethel Woods Saturday at lunch time and was there through the evening, because of the concert. I did some exploring of the site, but spent most of that day with friends. Then I went back alone Sunday morning to drive around and got out and walked around the stage area and lawn for a few minutes. If you go there just to look around, you can probably do it in a couple of hours, including the museum. It’s just how long you want to spend looking around, and how much of the surrounding area you want to explore. The town of White Lake is pretty. I don’t think I actually went through Bethel. Cooperstown is the HOF I’d like to visit sometime.

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      5. Cooperstown is like walking back into a time tunnel- it certainly doesn’t feel like your in 2019 more like the 1960’s– no fast food franchises etc..

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  2. Incredible pictures…the ones that I liked best were of the town. What a scenic town that is…To be in that field would be special…where the garden spot is…When I first read about a garden…I was almost sure that you were going to show illegal plants planted by older hippies lol.

    I can’t believe they placed some of those bands on the poster that wasn’t confirmed…well yes I can…it was the sixties.

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    1. Thank you. Your mention of illegal plants made me laugh out loud. I didn’t even consider that. I loved the drive, which was a complete surprise. I was immediately kicking myself for not scheduling an extra day or two there to explore the surroundings and do more sightseeing. I was basically on a mission to go to Bethel Woods and to the concert, with no idea that it was so scenic in that region. I do want to go back.

      Elsewhere online I’ve seen a list of bands who turned down Woodstock, and some of their reasons. It’s a pretty cool who’s who.

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      1. The town looks so idyllic

        I saw a few lists… I think Ian Anderson said he didn’t want to spend a weekend with unwashed hippies lol. Some of the bands of course regretted it…Tommy James was one of them.

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