Peace, Love And Capitalism
I'm no hippie, but buying Woodstock was still one of the best deals I ever made.
Edwin Durgy, 09.21.11
We're not entertainment people, we're not music buffs, and we're not groupies or leftover hippies or anything like that. We're businesspeople, and we thought that buying the original site of the 1969 Woodstock festival would be an opportunity to perhaps contribute to the economic welfare and development of the area that I grew up in.
Going back as far as the 1930s, when my family came here, Sullivan County was a vacation mecca, with hundreds of hotels. By the mid-1990s the area had fallen on hard times, and today that industry is all but gone.
I don't want to sound corny, but if these communities are going to last in this country you can't have everyone run off to the cities and abandon the heartland. Our idea was to draw upon the fact that the Woodstock event in 1969 was held in Sullivan County and the land that it was held on had developed into some sort of shrine. For years, although the site was undeveloped, scores of people would come to visit and"pay their respects." We thought we could memorialize the site and at the same time resurrect the tourist business by bringing some responsible management to the site.
We started in 1998 and 1999, a couple years after we'd sold out of the cable business--running music festivals on the anniversary weekend of Woodstock with musicians who'd played at Woodstock and others who were more popular then. We had tens of thousands of people show up during those two events. The consensus after they were over, after talking to a lot of those people, was they'd love to come back, but these 50-, 60-, 70-year-olds were really looking for a little more comfort. We set about designing what we considered to be a world-class outdoor amphitheater.
There was an awful lot of detail in putting together something that would be different and unique from anything else that is out there--the acoustics, the sight lines, the seating and the contour of the lawn. We have 4,500 seats and room for another 10,500 people on the lawn. That lawn is tapered so that when you're performing on the stage you can look everyone in the eyeballs.
The artists really, really like the operation. We built special rooms for them--dressing rooms, lounge rooms. We fed them very, very well. We took extra-special care with the parking. These folks come in with their big tractor-trailers full of music gear and stage equipment and all that other stuff--this is some thing I didn't learn in the cable business. Fast-forward here, we're wrapping up our sixth season right now at Bethel Woods. We didn't want to call it Woodstock. We felt we were creating not only something respectful to commemorate what occurred 40-plus years ago, but also a new experience for those who would return for a visit or for those who would visit for the first time.
We have a maximum capacity of somewhere around 16,000 or 17,000 people. They come up here from all over the world--from Europe, the Far East. We've met people from Japan. There's a big monument on the grounds where the original stage was in 1969, and people come out there just to stand on that ground. It's an amazing thing. It's like some sort of a mystic calling. Several people have said,"We've come here to feel the vibes."
So far it's working. The best part is the letters that we get thanking us for"giving us Bethel Woods." So there is a lot of satisfaction. But most importantly, it's hard to say about anything that it's good for everybody, but this is good for everybody.