Walking Woodstock: One summer day in Byrdcliffe

Viveca Lindfors

Viveca Lindfors

The flaneur went for a walk in Byrdcliffe on a fine summer day in the late 1980’s, and here is some of what he saw.


Mount Guardian

He met Aileen Cramer in the old quarry that served as a trail head. Cantankerous, opinionated, Aileen was senior member of the Woodstock Guild board that inherited Byrdcliffe from “Pete” Whitehead. For her, clearing the Mount Guardian trail was noblesse oblige. The flaneur followed her lead, and let her do the talking — it was difficult to do otherwise. She used the big clippers, and he picked up the cuttings and tossed them. They marked the spots that called for a chain saw, and it was still early morning when they reached the summit. They straddled the boulder, looking down upon Woodstock, and out over the green mountains that marked the borders of Ashokan.

“I wish it could remain like this,” she sighed. “But it won’t. Human beings spoil everything.”



The Movie Star

The flaneur walked past Bob Dylan’s old house, and came to the Villetta, on Camelot Road across from the theater, where a bustle of activity indicated progress in preparing the first Artists Residency summer program. He sat on the Villetta steps, and soaked in the sunshine. Then a familiar face blocked the sun with its own radiance. He drew a sharp breath of mild disbelief. Viveca Lindfors smiled down at him with the same smile she had given Errol Flynn in The Adventures Of Don Juan. She had come to Byrdcliffe to do a play, “The Passion Of Anna,” in the Byrdcliffe Barn, and he had interviewed her.

They hit it off when he said his favorite of her films was The Damned, directed by Joseph Losey, an apocalyptic science fiction film in which she plays a sculptor, one of the most convincing portrayals of a female artist he’d ever seen.

“I hope I’m not interrupting your thinking time,” she said, laughing the way beautiful famous women do when they know a man would be bonkers not to be thinking solely of them.

The flaneur was no exception, being a movie buff, he was hypnotized, as if the giant figure on the silver screen had stepped from it to stand over him in his theater seat. They had talked easily during the interview, but that was professional. Now he was simply a fan, and he was tongue-tied. She had a question about taking a hike — it was such a heavenly day! — which he answered without offering to be her guide. Other movie stars came to Byrdcliffe because of River Arts Repertory’s productions in the theater across from the Villetta, stars of greater magnitude, like Paul Newman, Treat Williams, and Joanne Woodward; but the flaneur, in his 40s that summer day, had a crush on a woman over 60 he’d first seen on screen when he was 12. Then he has a chance to spend time with her, and he’s too shy. Go figure.

After awhile he got up and walked slowly down the road to the Byrdcliffe Barn, where the Fugs were rehearsing. They would appear with Allen Ginsberg that evening. The Barn was sold out.


The Fugs

Tuli Kupferberg was standing outside the entrance to the barn when the flaneur arrived, talking with fellow Fugs Steven Taylor and Ed Sanders. Before the flaneur could greet them, Allen Ginsberg came out, blinking in the bright sun. It would be the flaneur’s job to introduce them before a large crowd that evening. Ginszap, as Ed had nicknamed his old buddy, looked well for a man with liver cancer. Tuli looked frail. The Fugs were turning into the Fogeys, the flaneur thought. He had known Allen casually since being introduced to him by Ray Bremser in the ‘60s. He said he had to set up chairs for the concert, and Allen volunteered to help. They worked in silence for awhile, and then Allen asked about the make up of the audience. “A lot of people still looking for the Sixties,” the flaneur told him.

Allen looked around at the signs for past and upcoming events: Champagne and Candlelight Classical piano concerts, Cabaret, Special Events. “It looks like a lot is going on right here,” he said.

That night Ginszap and The Fugs took everyone back to the Sixties. (Tuli fell off the stage, but was unhurt.) Byrdcliffe rocked.