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Peace & Music at Yasgur’s Farm – Woodstock 50 years later

June 2019

“By the time we got to Woodstock
We were half a million strong
And everywhere was a song and a celebration”
–From “Woodstock” by Joni Mitchell

In May 2019, I finally made the pilgrimage to the site of the 1969 Woodstock Music & Arts Festival outside of Bethel, New York.  The site looks nothing like it did 50 years ago, when dairy farmer Max Yasgur allowed his 600-acre farm to be transformed into what has now become an iconic music festival venue.  Billed as “An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music”, the festival was held over three days from 15 – 17 August 1969.

As I was only 1 1/2 months old at the time, I was a too young to attend on my own, although at least one baby was born at the festival.  By 2019, while on a tour of the Borscht Belt area of New York State, an area popular with Jewish families from New York City and the surrounding area prior to integration, I finally made the trip to see the place for myself, ahead of the impending 50th anniversary version of the Woodstock festival.  The Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, which now occupies the original 1969 site, is hosting a competing festival to the one being organized by Michael Lang, one of the producers and organizers of the original Woodstock event, to be held in Watkins Glen, New York, 150 miles north-west of Bethel.

The area where the stage was located can easily be seen, facing towards the hill that was once crowded with the “hippies” we have all seen hundreds of times in photos and films.  Off to stage right, a monument was erected in 1984 as a tribute to the cultural phenomenon that we know as Woodstock.

Yasgur’s former farmhouse, located 3 miles from the festival site, can still be found on what is now called “Yasgur Road”, in tribute to an unlikely cultural icon of the “flower-power” generation.

Yasgur took a lot of heat from his neighbours and the residents of Bethel for his support of the festival.  Signs began appearing around Bethel proclaiming, “Local People Speak Out Stop Max’s Hippie Music Festival. No 150,000 hippies here” and “Buy no milk.” 

Although he welcomed the festival and the “hippies” to his farm, Yasgur was quoted as saying the objections of the local residents were because, “…you don’t like what they look like.  And I don’t particularly like what they look like either…They may be protesting the war, but thousands of American soldiers have died so they can do exactly what they are doing.” 

Yasgur did decline a request to host a proposed 1970 version of the festival as he simply wanted to tend to his farm, however, it may also have had something to do with the extensive damage to his fields as a result of the festival, for which he received a $50,000 settlement.

Max Yasgur sold his farm in 1971 and moved to Marathon, Florida, where he died on 9 February 1973 at the age of 53.  He is buried in his family plot in Landfield Avenue Synagogue Cemetery in nearby Monticello, the same cemetery where Borscht Belt legends Helen and Milton Kutsher, the former owners of Kutsher’s Hotel and Country Club, are buried.  Kutsher’s was one of the resorts that served as the inspiration for the fictional “Kellerman’s Hotel” in the 1987 hit film, “Dirty Dancing” (the other being Grossinger’s in Liberty).

The Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, opened in July 2006, carries on the tradition of hosting musical acts at “Yasgur’s Farm,” along with other cultural events, with its three-venue site:  a 15,000-seat outdoor concert venue, a 1,000-seat outdoor terrace stage and an intimate 440-seat indoor hall.  Notable artists who have performed at Bethel Woods include Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, who performed for 16, 000 fans on 13 August 2006, almost 37 years to the day of their performance at the original festival (they performed on 17 August 1969).

The center also includes the Museum at Bethel Woods, opened in June 2008, which contains film and interactive displays, text panels, and artifacts that tell the story of the Woodstock Music & Arts Festival.

Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Max_Yasgur, https://www.thevintagenews.com/2018/06/12/woodstock-couple, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woodstock, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bethel_Woods_Center_for_the_Arts, https://www.bethelwoodscenter.org,

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/peace-music-at-yazgurs-farm-woodstock-50-years-later/

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