Peace, love, politics at Woodstock
Project's funding raises sour note
By Michael Kranish, Globe Staff | October 29, 2007
BETHEL, N.Y. - The emerald hill at Yasgur's Farm is quiet now, the
electrified sounds of Jimi Hendrix and other performers from the
Woodstock concert of 1969 long since faded. But at the hillcrest
rises an extraordinary sight: a $100 million Tanglewood-style concert
pavilion and an adjoining museum that soon will tell the story of the
1960s with exhibits such as "The Hippies" and "Three Days of Peace and Music."
The museum, intended to heal generational divisions, has instead
brought a political war back to the farm. The project's backers asked
New York's two US senators, including Democratic presidential
candidate Hillary Clinton, for $1 million in federal funds for the
museum. They portrayed it as a modest economic salve for a depressed region.
But the Senate killed the funding proposal earlier this month, and
Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican seeking the presidency,
made it into a laugh line at a debate last week, mocking Clinton for
trying to memorialize a "cultural and pharmaceutical event."
McCain brought the debate audience to its feet when he added, "I was
tied up at the time," referring to being a prisoner of war in Vietnam
while hippies danced in Max Yasgur's muddy fields.
He turned the attack into a commercial airing in the first-primary
state of New Hampshire, complete with images of swaying concertgoers.
"No one can be president of the United States that supports projects
such as these," McCain said in the debate. In one sweep, McCain
performed a triple hit on Clinton, suggesting that she supports
wasteful spending by earmarking funds for special projects, that
Clinton is connected to Woodstock-style values while he was a POW,
and that she is unqualified to be president.
The museum's mission is to put into perspective the events of the
1960s, including the Vietnam War and the assassination of John and
Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, which were followed by
counterculture rebellions and a burst of folk and rock creativity
that culminated in the Woodstock festival.
At the Woodstock concert site, where the autumnal glory of the
Catskills had just reached its peak late last week, there were
amazement and understanding about how a long-sought infusion of
federal funds for an economically distressed region turned into an
issue in the presidential campaign.
"I've been telling people for years that we need either a shot in the
arm or a shot in the head to put us out of our misery," said Town
Supervisor Harold Russell, a Republican and a farmer. "Well, this is
the shot in the arm we needed. It's been a revitalization of the town
If McCain had visited the town before attacking Clinton, Russell
said, he would have understood how much the project meant to the region.
But even some local townspeople who might benefit from the project
were skeptical about federal funding. Rickie Craft, manager of the
Woodstock Emporium, a country store 1 mile from the festival site
that sells concert memorabilia, said she objected to $1 million in
federal dollars going to a project that has plenty of private
backing. "You could give that money to homeless people," she said.
After word spread about the funding provision, Republicans earlier
this month joined with five Democrats - including Vietnam veteran
Senator James Webb of Virginia - to kill the funding. But the Senate
left intact every other earmark in the bill, more than 1,000 items
worth $563 million, according to the nonpartisan watchdog group,
Taxpayers for Common Sense.
"This is an example of how the system is out of control," said Steve
Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense. The Woodstock earmark was no
more or less deserving than other grants, he said. The bigger issue
is that Congress allows powerful members to get money for pet
projects, he said, usually without a vote.
"If you are going to play the game, you put yourself at risk for this
criticism," Ellis said. "They are more than willing to take credit
for the various projects, but all of a sudden when somebody comes
calling on it, it becomes an orphan."
The Woodstock project is the brainchild of a most unlikely patron: a
locally born billionaire named Alan Gerry, a former Marine and a
Republican who made his fortune in the cable television business.
He lived in the area during the festival but would not allow his
daughters to attend. But one daughter sneaked out and went anyway,
and another later helped convince her father that the site should be preserved.
Gerry decided to construct a 16,800-person concert venue, with 4,800
covered seats. The pavilion, known as the Bethel Woods Center for the
Arts, opened in 2006 for all kinds of music.
Indeed, Gerry brings to mind the famous Hendrix lyric about a
"white-collar conservative. . . . Mr. Businessman." Gerry's
associates smile knowingly at the comparison but say it took a
by-the-numbers businessman to see the potential of the site.
So Gerry's nonprofit family foundation kicked in nearly $85 million
for the facility, which also received $16.5 million in funds from New
York taxpayers during the administration of Governor George Pataki, a
Republican who backed the project. The $1 million in federal funds
was almost an afterthought.
Yet, the funding was sought around the same time that Gerry and his
family contributed $9,200 to Clinton's presidential campaign, and
$20,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, led by New
York's other senator, Charles E. Schumer. Gerry, who declined to
interviewed, said earlier this month in a television interview that
the timing of the contributions was a coincidence.
He has also defended the museum as commemorating an important cultural event.
"It is not a hippie museum," said Gerry's chief of staff, Darrell
Supak, who spoke for the businessman. Supak said the foundation
envisions baby boomer parents arriving in minivans to teach their
children about Woodstock. It is, he said, designed for
family-friendly entertainment, scoffing at McCain's drug-infused description.
Michael Egan, the chief executive of the museum, saw a larger irony
at work, saying one of the themes of the museum has been
unintentionally illustrated by the McCain-Clinton feud. One exhibit
"talks about how we split politically as a nation at that point in
the '60s, and it has never been healed. That is really the beginning
of the red state-blue state bifurcation of the country," Egan said.
Clinton has not responded publicly to the attacks by McCain. Her
aides referred questions to Schumer, who attended a Bob Dylan concert
here this summer. Schumer has sung the project's praises on the
Senate floor, arguing that it would provide needed jobs. "I'm proud
of this earmark," he said. "It's the right type of earmark."
When the earmark received initial approval in June, Clinton and
Schumer put out a joint release that said the two senators "worked
closely" to get the funding. The June 22 statement did not mention
the word "Woodstock," saying instead that the funds would help pay
for exhibits about "the period of the 1960s and its continuing legacy."
McCain and his press secretary did not respond to a request for
comment. In describing the earmark during last week's debate, McCain
said the money was going to what he called the "Woodstock Concert Museum."
In fact, the money was intended for what will be called the Museum at
Bethel Woods, scheduled to open next summer. The self-described
hippies and flower children who run an unaffiliated facility 70 miles
from here called the Woodstock Museum were not amused at McCain's statement.
"We really were the hippies living it," said Shelli Lipton, chief
executive of the Woodstock Museum. She attended the concert and
scoffed at the notion that Clinton, who voted for the Iraq war but
now is critical of it, has Woodstock values. "I've never heard her
say, 'The hippies were right,' " Lipton said.
For many of those connected to the original event, the spat over the
$1 million in federal money and the opulence of the facility pale
beside the joy of being able to enjoy the return of acts such as
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
"It's a little bit corporate for me, but it is great to see music in
the valley," said Michael Lang, a producer of the original festival.
As it happens, Lang attended a fund-raiser for Clinton on Thursday in
New York City and they discussed McCain's attack on her. "She said,
'Life's too short to be worrying about comments like that,' " Lang said.
Some original concertgoers never left. Duke Devlin, whose barrel
chest and flowing beard give him a resemblance to the 1960s comic
strip character Mr. Natural, attended the festival and works for the
center as a historical interpreter. Asked what Hendrix would have
thought of Woodstock's makeover by an incarnation of Mr. Businessman,
Devlin said the place was - and should still be - all about the music.
"He would have said, 'When do I go on?' " Devlin said of Hendrix.
No Museum Cash, Says Woodstock Vet
By FREDERIC J. FROMMER
October 29, 2007
WASHINGTON (AP) Sen. Norm Coleman attended Woodstock and even did a
video for a planned museum commemorating the famous music festival.
But the Minnesota Republican recently voted against spending $1
million to help with the effort, saying government has better things
to do with its money.
"I was at Woodstock. I have been to the site of the Woodstock
museum," Coleman said last week. "It's a wonderful museum. That
doesn't mean the government has to pay for it."
This month, in a mostly party-line 52-42 vote, Coleman voted with the
majority to strip the $1 million earmark sought by New York Sens.
Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles Schumer, both Democrats. In
another tie to the past, Coleman and Schumer attended high school
together in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, just a few years
Coleman, a former long-haired, anti-war student activist, described
his museum video as "kind of a historical a U.S. senator, and I was
at Woodstock. It may appear someday in the museum."
"As somebody who was there, who has actually seen the facility, I
have an appreciation for it, but the vote was about federal dollars," he said.
Officially, the Woodstock museum is known as the Museum at Bethel
Woods, and is due to open next year. Bethel is the upstate New York
town where organizers eventually put on the three-day Woodstock Music
and Art Fair in 1969. Museum officials declined to share the Coleman video.
Coleman worked as a roadie for Ten Years After in the summer of 1969,
helping set up stage equipment. But he quit by the time the band
played at Woodstock. In a 1994 interview with The Associated Press
commemorating the 25th anniversary of the festival, he explained: "I
didn't want to work. I wanted to play and hear music."
Last week, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., tried to capitalize on the
brouhaha over the earmark, running a TV ad that mocks fellow
presidential candidate Clinton for the spending proposal.
"A few days ago, Senator Clinton tried to spend $1 million on the
Woodstock concert museum," McCain says in the ad, his words from a
Fox News Channel debate played along with psychedelic music and
colors. "Now my friends, I wasn't there. I'm sure it was a cultural
and pharmaceutical event."
Then, as footage shows McCain strapped to a bed as a POW in Vietnam,
he adds, "I was tied up at the time." McCain, a Navy pilot, was shot
down in 1967 and spent 5 1/2 years in a North Vietnamese prison.
While McCain tries to use Woodstock against Clinton, Republicans once
talked up Coleman's participation in the event.
In 2002, Ken Mehlman, the White House political director at the time,
tried to favorably compare candidate Coleman with the incumbent
senator, Minnesota Democrat Paul Wellstone.
"Only one of two candidates attended Woodstock ... Norm Coleman,"
Mehlman told reporters, according to The New York Times. As to
whether that was a good thing, he responded: "I think it's good.
Voters like people who are who they really are."
Wellstone died in a plane crash just days later, and his replacement,
former Vice President Walter Mondale, lost the election to Coleman.
Woodstock Museum Becomes A Campaign Issue
Hippie Museum Or Not, It's Started A Squabble On Capitol Hill And On The Trail
Oct. 27, 2007
By Joel Achenbach
BETHEL, N.Y. - It rises from the hilltop, bigger than a barn, built
of stone and roofed in copper. Officially it will be the Museum at
Bethel Woods, and it will be focused on the Woodstock festival, the
"three days of peace and music" that took place here in August 1969.
But the museum has been tagged by critics with a different name: the
"This is the farthest thing from a hippie museum that anything could
be," declared Harold Russell, a dairy farmer who is the town
supervisor -- and a reelection-seeking Republican -- in Bethel. "I
personally take a little offense to that."
In this rural area, the project is seen as crucial to the economic
recovery of a region hammered by the closing of once-popular Borscht
Belt tourist resorts.
But the museum has become a magnet for criticism. A $1 million
congressional earmark -- pushed by Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D), with
fellow New Yorker, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D), signing on --
generated a squabble on Capitol Hill, and Republicans, led by Sen.
Tom Coburn (Okla.), killed the measure with the help of a handful of
A campaign ad for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) unveiled this week is a
send-up of Clinton for supporting the museum earmark in a
congressional spending bill. The spot opens with a spinning tie-dye
image and shows footage of a dancing, presumably zonked-to-the-gills
flower child at Woodstock. McCain is seen at a Republican
presidential debate, saying, "A few days ago, Senator Clinton tried
to spend $1 million on the Woodstock concert museum. Now, my friends,
I wasn't there. I'm sure it was a cultural and pharmaceutical event.
I was tied up at the time." Cut to footage of McCain as a prisoner of
war in Hanoi.
McCain (who missed the vote on the earmark) got a big laugh and a
standing ovation from the crowd and his fellow Republicans. But if
his zinger played well on the trail, it hasn't here in Bethel.
"It's definitely not a celebration of hippiedom," said Darrell Supak,
a former Army colonel who was wearing a blue pinstripe suit and
polished burgundy shoes as he greeted a visitor at the entrance to
the museum. Supak is the right-hand man of billionaire Alan Gerry,
whose foundation runs the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. "It's
definitely not a hippie museum," he said.
The museum is not finished, and officials with the arts center, which
includes the museum, would not permit a tour of the exhibit space.
But Mike Egan, the Gerry Foundation executive who has spent more than
two years putting the museum together, provided a detailed briefing
complete with computer graphics and a blueprint.
A visitor entering the permanent exhibit will learn about the broader
historical context of Woodstock -- the baby boom, the Cold War, the
roots of rock-and-roll, the civil rights movement, the assassinations
and riots of the 1960s, and so on. Inevitably, the visitor will come
upon a section labeled on the blueprint as "the Hippies."
"We talk about the hippies, we talk about the look of the hippies, we
talk about the drug use of some of the hippies, and we talk about the
burnout," Egan said.
It will be possible to go inside a school bus modeled on the one used
on cross-country treks by author Ken Kesey and his band of "Merry
Pranksters," whose antics were documented by Tom Wolfe in "The
Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test."
Music and videos will be everywhere. The central area will be devoted
to the festival proper, and visitors can sit partially surrounded by
a video screen that will create the illusion that they are at the
concert watching the performances.
The plans call for a final stop dubbed "Woodstock Becomes
Mainstream." Beyond that is a large section on the blueprint that is
blank but for a single word: "Retail."
You could call it a hippie museum with a haircut. It demonstrates
more than anything else the American capacity to turn even the most
unruly and chaotic moments in our history into something orderly,
manageable and culminating in a gift shop.
The whole arts center, with its concert pavilion, amphitheater and
cavernous new reception hall adjacent to the museum, feels a lot like
Wolf Trap in the Washington suburbs. It's a place where you could
attend a performance and sip some white wine, but couldn't light up a
cigarette -- or anything else.
The museum is not designed to bring on the revolution. What it can
do, supporters say, is bring people and revenue to rural Sullivan
County, about 100 miles north of New York City.
Former town supervisor Allan Scott says Bethel has wrestled with its
Woodstock legacy. In years past, pilgrims would come to the area and
hold all-night concerts without approval from local authorities.
"It was so important for us to get control of this thing for the
benefit of our economy," Scott said as he drove along Filippini Pond,
famous for Woodstock skinny-dipping.
Sullivan County was more prosperous in the days when "the Catskills,"
as this area is called (the actual mountains are a bit to the north),
offered an alluring vacation destination for city folks from around
the Northeast and the Mid-Atlantic. They would go to tony hotels such
as Grossinger's, just up the road. But the Catskills went out of
fashion as the moneyed East Coast set switched to jet travel and more
"It was like falling off the edge of the world. It was terrible," Scott said.
The name Woodstock has generated geographical confusion for 38 years.
In 1969, the promoters of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair failed to
get a site, as they'd hoped, in the vicinity of Woodstock, N.Y.,
about an hour's drive from Bethel. Eventually, they persuaded Max
Yasgur, a dairy farmer in Bethel, to allow the concert to take place
on his alfalfa field. What ensued became one of the signature
chapters of the 1960s: a mass migration of young people, as many as 500,000.
They camped in the fields throughout the area and bathed in the lakes
and streams. For three days and nights, they listened to Jimi
Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Santana, the Who, Creedence Clearwater
Revival, the Band, Sly & the Family Stone, the Grateful Dead (cut
from the famous movie and album because of technical problems) and
But Bethel never became a brand name. As Woodstock hardened into
legend, many of the economic reverberations were felt far away, in
the town of the same name.
Enter Alan Gerry, local boy made good. A high school dropout and
former TV repairman, Gerry (who via a spokeswoman declined to speak
for this article) started a cable TV company and became a billionaire
when he sold his business to Time Warner. This year, he was No. 297
on Forbes's list of the richest Americans. In 1996 he formed the
Gerry Foundation, and it began buying up about 2,000 acres of land in
Bethel, including the Woodstock site. Last year, the Bethel Woods
Center for the Arts opened its gates.
This summer, the arts center held a concert called "Hippiefest," the
promotional material for which ("gather your groovy beads and we'll
see you on the lawn for a trip down memory lane") was read into the
Congressional Record by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) as he spoke against
the museum earmark.
Gerry and his family contributed $20,000 to the Democratic Senatorial
Campaign Committee, headed by Schumer, and $9,200 to Clinton's
presidential campaign after the earmark was inserted into legislation.
Coburn, the Republican who led the effort to block the earmark, said
in an interview that he doesn't object to the museum. In 1969, he
said, he was a junior in college and, though not a hippie, was very
much part of that generation: "If you saw pictures, you'd laugh ... I
was a mophead." Coburn said his complaint is that earmarks, special
spending for pet projects, are the "gateway drug" to congressional
Phil Singer, a spokesman for Clinton's presidential campaign, said
the arts center is an "economic development" opportunity for Upstate
New York, and he slammed McCain's criticism.
"Senator McCain should focus more on explaining to New Hampshire
voters why he supported the fiscally irresponsible Bush policies that
squandered a federal surplus and left us with the largest deficit in
American history," Singer wrote in an e-mail. "As President, Senator
Clinton will reverse those policies and restore the nation to fiscal
Schumer told his Senate colleagues that the state of New York has put
$15 million into the arts center and that the Gerry Foundation has
paid for the bulk of the rest of the $100 million project. In a
committee hearing on the earmark, Schumer said: "It was a tumultuous
decade, and it is a good idea to study it. Museums and libraries are
a very important part of our history and education, as well as a job magnet."
But a tourist magnet? That remains a marketing challenge. The
Woodstock name is trademarked.
"There is debate about whether it should be called Woodstock," said
Supak, the former colonel. "I don't think it's necessary. I think you
can do just about anything with marketing and branding."