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Friday, October 28, 2016

Woodstock, New York

Woodstock: a symbol of a bygone era...two bygone eras, actually.
Today, when someone mentions Woodstock, most people immediately bring to mind the famous (or infamous) Woodstock Music Festival held August 15-18, 1969. There are several peculiarities involved with this historic landmark event. If all the people who claim to have been there actually had been there, then it would probably still be going on, or at least they would still be trying to get there, or leave there yet today. Of course, after almost fifty years, a lot of them would be dead by now. To say that Woodstock was peculiar might be an understatement; ill-fated might be more accurate. First of all, despite the name, the Woodstock Music Festival was not held in (or even near) Woodstock, New York. The city fathers, when they learned the size of the crowds they would be dealing with quickly decided they wanted nothing to do with it. So, the organizers leased a farm some forty miles south of Woodstock near the tiny town of Wallkill, New York (also forty miles closer to New York City).
Chasing down a venue--(1.) Woodstock. (2.) Wallkill. (3.) Bethel, New York.
Tickets were $18 in advance,
$24 at the gate. ($120 and $150
 in today's money.) In fact,
admission was mostly free.
Fine, except that the same thing happened again. Wallkill said, "NO WAY...go away." But by then it was too late. Several acts had already been signed, the publicity had gone out, advanced tickets had been sold by the tens of thousands--186,000, to be exact(eventually around 400,000 showed up). The rock music happening had to happen. As a last ditch effort, the organizers moved about fifty miles west to another tiny town called Bethel, New York. Had that town known what they were getting into, they too probably would have "pulled the plug." In any case, given the confusion as to the venue, baby-booming hippies were prowling the narrow backroads of Ulster and Sullivan counties just trying to find the location well after the 24-7 three-day concert (later extended to four days) was well under way. Then the organizers' worst nightmare began--rain--often a deluge, and with it came mud, traffic jams, nude group-and-grope bathing, food, water, and toilet shortages, drug overdoses, and probably the greatest rock music concert in the history of rock music concerts.
They planned for 25,000. 400,000 showed up.
Although Woodstock didn't take place at Woodstock, the history of both communities can be sharply divided into two periods--Pre-Woodstock and Post-Woodstock. Despite the fact that the concert didn't take place there, insofar as Woodstock's baby-boomer tourists are concerned it might just as well have. The hippie era image lives on wherever there's a dollar to be made. Today Woodstock is a mixture of low-brow gift (souvenir) shops, flea markets, book stores, tie-dyed clothing stores, art galleries, theaters, country restaurants, inns, and hotels all referencing the three rainy days in August when a great rock concert was supposed to have happened there...but didn't.
Old hippies never die, they just keep getting "hippier."
The so-called "Woodstock Music and Art Fair" was not the first time the arts had come calling at this quiet little farming community. Less than five miles from the river, Woodstock had played host to numerous Hudson River School painters during the 1800s. Then in 1902, the Arts and Crafts Movement came to Woodstock with the arrival of Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead, Bolton Brown and Hervey White. Together they formed the Byrdcliffe Colony less than a mile northwest of Woodstock. Then in 1906, L. Birge Harrison and others founded the Summer School of the Art Students League of New York in the area, primarily to encourage and teach landscape painting. Since that time, Woodstock has been considered an active artists colony. From 1915 through 1931, Hervey White's Maverick Art Colony held the Maverick Festivals, when hundreds of liberal artists gathered each summer for music, art, theater and drunken orgies in the woods. These have featured folk and rock acts like Richie Havens, Paul Butterfield, Dave van Ronk and Van Morrison, who were all identified with Woodstock's reputation as a summer arts colony. The Sound-Outs inspired the original Woodstock Festival's organizers to plan their concert at the Winston Farm in Saugerties. We all know how that turned out.
Hudson River School, Circa 1850, Ashokan Reservoir
The Byrdcliffe art colony is one of the nation's oldest Arts & Crafts colonies. It brought the first artists to Woodstock to teach and produce furniture, metal works, ceramics, weaving and established Woodstock's first painting school. Byrdcliffe forever changed the cultural landscape of the town of Woodstock. In 1916, the utopian philosopher and poet, Hervey White, built a "music chapel" in the woods. This became the home of the Maverick music festival, the longest-running summer chamber music festival in the country. It's still held annually. The town is also the home to the Woodstock Artists Association and Museum (WAAM), founded in 1919 by John F. Carlson, Frank Swift Chase, Andrew Dasburg, Carl Eric Lindin, and Henry Lee McFee. The WAAM Permanent Collection features work by important American artists associated with the region, including Milton Avery, George Bellows, Arnold Blanch, Doris Lee, Marion Greenwood, Philip Guston, Paul Meltsner, and many others. The Art Students League of New York's summer school was in Woodstock from 1906 until 1922, and again after World War II, from 1947 until 1979. The Woodstock School of Art has been operating since 1980.

Original Woodstock School of Art, built in the 1930s with
WPA labor. It was used by the Woodstock branch of
New York's Art Students League until 1979.

Styles change, as do the seasons, but the scenery remains the same.

Today's Woodstock School of Art (painting under the Pines).


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