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Back to the Garden: Our Afternoon of Peace and Music

We spent yesterday hanging out with a bunch of hippies, reliving Woodstock.

46 years late, but finally here.

46 years late, but finally here.

It was a pilgrimage of sorts.

Catherine was dying to see for herself what she’d heard and read about the seminal counterculture event.

Basil has been dreaming about the concert for 46 years — ever since his father quashed his plans to go with an older cousin. Basil never got over the parental betrayal. Indeed, it ranks on par with the cancellation of his eighth birthday party, which had been scheduled for what turned out to be the day after President Kennedy was assassinated.

He was all too glad, then, to set off on the two-hour ride when Catherine suggested the road trip.

By the time we got to Woodstock we were three strong. We got off the Exit on Route 17B and drove past Schmidt’s wholesale plumbing supplies, the Monticello raceway, several old farm buildings that have surrendered to the elements, and two gentlemen’s clubs advertising “exotic topless dancers” (what of the non-exotic varieties?) before finding the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts.

There, we and a large Corvette appreciation group were quickly immersed in the era.

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The museum is terrific, offering historical background on the changing times, eyewitness reports from those who trekked to Max Yasgur’s farm that weekend in August, artifacts and news coverage from the event — and music, natch.

We couldn’t help but marvel over how much time has changed.

For example, Catherine has a good handle on the music of the era, but had never seen a transistor radio like the ones on display here.  And while she knows her way around iTunes with her eyes closed, she’d never seen an eight-track tape or played a 45 rpm record like the ones on view.

One glass case showed draft cards (Basil thinks he still has his tucked away somewhere) and soldiers’ dog tags, another focused on the fashions of the time and how they evolved.

Short movies highlighting the politics of the time and the nascent civil rights movement further set the stage for the sections of the exhibit dedicated to the concert itself.

Most of the museum-goers we rubbed elbows with were of a certain age and remember the old days well. With them, we dance-stepped our way through the place, mouthing along with Richie Havens, Canned Heat, Sly and Family Stone, and Joe Cocker.

We read about the crowds of people and the traffic jams; and learned about the local people who, moved by the news, made and distributed sandwiches and donated medicines. We saw footage of the Hog Farm folks feeding the masses; mused over the carefully saved notes that people in those pre-cell phone days left on trees and poles trying to find their friends; and watched news clips of the rain-soaked concert-goers.

A 20-minute film spotlighting the musical acts had us singing along as Basil played a mean air-drum solo or two. For once Catherine wasn’t embarrassed.

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After our tour, we headed to the field where it all happened, trudging downhill to the site’s colorful marker where we lined up for a photo.

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Then we stood for awhile on the length of grass where the stage was situated, looking out over the expansive field where a peace sign has been cut into the clover, and tried to imagine what the view must have looked like for the musicians who played there.

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View from the stage.

View from the stage.

After stopping for a delicious late lunch at the Dancing Cat Saloon, we pointed the car toward Connecticut.

Ominous storm clouds chased us home, prompting us to chant, “No rain. No rain.”

This time the incantation worked.

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