Sunday, July 26, 2009
By Scott Mervis, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
BETHEL, N.Y. -- With a psychedelic Chevy bus as a backdrop, Wade
Lawrence is trying to talk the shirt off a man's back.
It's not just any shirt.
It's an original Woodstock T-shirt, and there were no T-shirts or any
other merchandise sold at the legendary festival -- just another way
the organizers lost money.
The only people with Woodstock T-shirts were crew members, which is
how this current roadie for the Doobie Brothers got his faded purple
T with the dove logo.
"It's only the second one I've seen," said Lawrence, the director of
the The Museum at Bethel Woods (aka the Woodstock Museum).
The crew member got away still wearing the shirt, as Lawrence didn't
really have anything to offer him but a smile and a glass case of immortality.
"We don't have an acquisitions budget," Lawrence says. "When we see
things like that, we just ask people to leave it to us in their will."
The museum, which opened in June of 2008, is one piece of the $100
million Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, which rests in the lush,
green Catskills, on a hillside above the original Woodstock site.
The facility also consists of a beautiful and somehow cozy
15,000-capacity amphitheater, which recently held concerts by the
likes of Dave Matthews and Bob Dylan.
On Aug. 14 and 15 it will mark the original event with Richie Havens
and a Heroes of Woodstock concert with the Levon Helm Band, Jefferson
Starship, Ten Years After, Canned Heat, Big Brother and the Holding
Company, Mountain, Tom Constanten, and Country Joe McDonald.
The Bethel Center itself is quite a story. It was the baby of a
Bethel Woods Republican and former Marine, Alan Gerry, who became a
billionaire through cable TV. In 1969 he forbade his daughters to
attend the festival, but one slipped off and went anyway.
Looking to inject economic life into the struggling community,
Gerry's foundation funded the facility to the tune of $85 million,
and the rest came from New York taxpayers. (The $1 million requested
-- and not granted -- in federal funds became a political football
during a debate between then New York Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen.
Those expecting to find a little room housing photos and artifacts
will be surprised and delighted by a monument that's smaller but in
many ways cooler than Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The museum sets the stage for Woodstock with a glimpse into the
culture, fashion and politics of the '50s and early '60s, using
record covers, a timeline along the wall and vintage video clips.
The festival's convoluted planning is documented, from the original
idea of a recording studio in Woodstock to the full-blown event on
Max Yasgur's farm, and then visitors can plop down on bean-bag chairs
in a theater-in-the-round to watch a short concert film with
theatrical lighting accenting the sunshine and thunderstorms.
The best part is climbing aboard the aforementioned hippie bus for a
film projected on the windshield about the road to Woodstock. Among
the artifacts scattered about are host Wavy Gravy's tattered
overalls, photos and news articles about the festival, and
handwritten notes Woodstockers wrote to each other during the
weekend. (Note to parents: It's almost like the drugs and nudity
The final stops are a computer kiosk where visitors can leave
messages and a barn theater where the sounds of Santana, Joe Cocker,
The Who, Hendrix and others can finally be cranked at proper volume.
Just a few steps from the museum is the entrance to the amphitheater,
which has a woodsy feel that's a cross between the PG Pavilion and
Hartwood Acres. Although concession prices are comparable, parking is
(amazingly) free and the venue has more of a laidback rural quality
with parklike landscaping and relaxed security. The covered pavilion,
about half the size of the one in Burgettstown, makes the performers
appear bigger than stick figures from the lawn.
From the stage, those performers get to say things like, "If I'm not
mistaken, Woodstock happened right over there," Doobie Brother Tom
One of the popular living artifacts at the facility is 66-year-old
Duke Devlin, who hitchhiked to the festival from Texas and never left.
"I didn't plan on staying," says Devlin, who sports long gray hair
and beard and a Woodstock tattoo. "I landed a job on a dairy farm,
was going to make some money to get back. The next thing I knew, it
was November and the snow was starting to fly, and I think I had
about five or six invitations to Thanksgiving dinner. I made a lot of
friends around there because this area is noted for its beauty and
hospitality ... well, the content of the people is just as beautiful.
I met a girl and we got married."
For 30 years, they ran a farmers market, which they recently sold.
Devlin now spends a few days a week at the museum as a "site
interpreter" to make people's visits more authentic. "The Gerry
Foundation was putting together the museum," he says, "and I'm like
one of those old retired Dalmation fire dogs -- when the bell rings
he still comes running."
Devlin says he doesn't think of the center as a museum.
"I call it a time machine. You didn't even have to be at the original
event. As a matter of fact, you didn't have to be born yet to go in
that museum and make a trip back to Woodstock."
As for the amphitheater, he loves what it's done for the local
economy -- and the sound of music at Woodstock is a magical thing.
"A guy from The New York Times said to me, 'Hey Duke, are you going
to see the New York Philharmonic? I said, 'No, man. They're comin' to
see me.' "
Scott Mervis can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-2576.
If you go
The Bethel Woods Center for the Arts and The Museum is at 200 Hurd
Road, Bethel, NY 12720; 1-866-781-2922; bethelwoodscenter.org. It's
90 minutes from New York City. The closest major airport is Stewart
International Airport, Newburgh, N.Y., about an hour's drive.
Special 40th anniversary concerts: Richie Havens performs at the
Center's Events Gallery at 8 p.m. Aug. 14 ($50). The Heroes of
Woodstock concert at the amphitheater is 5 p.m. Aug. 15 ($69-$19.69).
Go to bethelwoodscenter.org.