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Fans Flood to Woodstock Site for Start of 50th Anniv Weekend with Memories, Spirit, Tie-Dye

A crowd of about five thousand people wanted to recapture the feeling or relive memories at the home of Woodstock Thursday. Bethel Woods hosted the opening of a weekend of 50th anniversary concerts, with Arlo Guthrie performing on the exact date he played in 1969.

He wasn’t able to play in the exact place ... but was just up the hill.

Credit Tom Honan
Arlo Guthrie performs at Bethel Woods on the exact date he performed at Woodstock 50 years ago. He opened the Golden Anniv celebration with a concert and showing of 4-hour Woodstock documentary.

“We are happy to be somewhere near it, and just celebrate the fact that we’re still here (applause), still playing, still singing, still going to shows an enjoying ourselves, and kept the spirit alive for a long time.  So here we are and just trying to celebrate that.”

There was no shortage of people reminiscing ... and plenty of tie-dye. Don D'Orio of New Jersey remembers coming to the original festival on a whim -- with a six pack, a can of tuna and some Wonder bread -- to see what was going on.  He was most impressed by these memories.

“I didn’t know half of the people performing but I’d say it’s three groups: The Who, which that was incredible in the morning; Jefferson Airplane Sunday morning; and then Saturday night, Sly and the Family Stone just blew this mountain off the top of the earth, I’m telling you.” 

Credit Tom Honan
Jim Shelley of New Jersey came to the anniversary event and says he was able to point out where he sat in 1969.

I caught up with Jim Shelley looking out over the field that held, by some estimates, 500-thousand people at various times.

“(pointing) …right around there, we sat and we waited.”

He also remembers one highlight being The Who, playing most of Tommy, watching the sun come up after music had continued through the night, then Joe Cocker performed. But one band truly became his surprise memory.

“And then another band came on, and neither (friend) Tony or I had ever heard music like that before.  It was rock and roll, electric guitar, but a lot of percussion in the back.  … And it was Santana, and after Santana played, standing ovation… 500,000 people stood up and gave a standing ovation.  And if you’ve ever been in the middle of 500,000 people giving a standing ovation, it is a physical event.  The air is moving,” recalls Shelly, who now gives tours of the Woodstock site as a volunteer.

Credit Tom Honan
Melanie attended with her son just as a fan. She remembers being a scared, young performer when she took the stage in 1969 and had no idea here career would last 50 years. She still performs today.

Also in the crowd was someone who says she was a frightened, young performer at the first Woodstock. Melanieremembers a crowd of hundreds of thousands holding candles and lighters to ward off rain ... a moment that made its way into song. 

“And after the show I had written the anthemic part of Candles in the Rain, but just that experience of being in front of those people.  The candlelight was coming toward me.  It was just this flow of humanity and I just knew I had been taking part in something that was going to be immortal.”

Bethel Woods now has a modern performance center, museum, amphitheater and landscaped grounds. But they’ve tried to keep intact iconic areas, such as the hill where crowds gathered, listened to music, sometimes slid in the mud, and took it all in on what was then a piece of farmland. 

The Golden Anniversary continues tonight with original festival band Blood, Sweat and Tears -- though no original band members are there -- and Ringo Star Performs.  Tomorrow is headlined by Carols Santana and Sunday John Fogerty ... both of whom did play as much less famous stars at the first Woodstock.   

Chris Bolt, Ed.D. has proudly been covering the Central New York community and mentoring students for more than 30 years. His career in public media started as a student volunteer, then as a reporter/producer. He has been the news director for WAER since 1995. Dedicated to keeping local news coverage alive, Chris also has a passion for education, having trained, mentored and provided a platform for growth to more than a thousand students. Career highlights include having work appear on NPR, CBS, ABC and other news networks, winning numerous local and state journalism awards.