For the scant attention some people pay these days to the real artists-colony heritage of Woodstock, you’d think the Weavers, envisioning the gas-guzzling sport utility behemoths of the future, really sang, “If I Had a Hummer.”
Our ’60s legacy, even diluted by tourist façades, weekend homes and a general attempt to try and push music out and rent up, can’t be fully erased. Indeed, Bearsville Theater and other venues like BSP in Kingston or the ingenious O+ Festival have built on it, sparking a spirit of swingin’ surefire community creative involvement which resets and renews the message of a local-centric yet socially wider focus, drawing the best talents to our region while nurturing our own.
That said, and acknowledging that all amazing things get their facts burnished, tweaked and sometimes completely overwritten in the name of mythmaking, there are a lot of misconceptions about the Woodstock area and the ’60’s. Back in that legendary time, before the yuppies and before the patchouli-drenched poseurs wandering up and down Tinker Street in search of a live bodhi, there were Rocky (R.I.P., big guy) or Jogger J. or Wheelchair Ray or Conga Richie.
“I used to work at Rock City Rags in the ’80s,” says Corinne Ramos of Catskill. “Tourists asked us all the time where the festival was. My co worker and I would point at the green.”
The 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje spoke in 2015 from Andy Lee Field about how Woodstock hippies “get it right,” so why do so many people have it wrong about the town’s greatest myths? Let’s hear some overheard rumors and uncertanties that may or may not be true from the ears and lips of true locals.
“I mostly get people asking if everyone there is a hippy, which is funny if you visualize a town of ONLY hippies,” says locally raised rocker babe Oriana Fine. “Like hippies are running the mechanic shop and the gas station and driving all the school buses.”
“The myth that is ‘orange juice guy’ from Woodstock,” recalls Alex Greaves, a Kingston local who interns for Wright Gallery Records. “The story goes he ate too much acid and now fully believes he is a glass of orange juice and if you walk near him he screams ‘be careful, I’ll spill and die’ at you.”
“I turned up a few Dylan stories when I wrote about his time in Woodstock for the Freeman years ago,” says Ulster Publishing’s own Jesse Smith. “One was that the line ‘The pump don’t work ’cause the vandals took the handles’ references an actual water pump outside a [long gone] bar adjacent to the Bard campus. The PR people at Bard actually think there may be some truth to that one. Two verifiable true Dylan stories are that he wrote ‘Bringing It All Back Home’ while living in an apartment above the old Tinker Street Café, and while living in Woodstock he went in with Janis Joplin investing in black angus cattle over in Dutchess County.”
“Ben Orr and Ric Ocasek of The Cars came to Woodstock as a folk duo trying to make demos and get signed,” offers local Deadhead and wiseguy Tom Moretti. “Then they failed and moved to Boston and started The Cars.” (It turns out The New York Times backs this one up. The Cars were once a folk band called Milkwood, it reports.)
“Supposedly Keith Richards also kicked smack once at the Turtle Creek barn with a little black box that emitted magnetic pulses,” Moretti adds.
Other towns and cities in our area have myths persist as well, from the old Ulster County Jail showing up on an episode of TV’s Ghost Hunters (despite scientists generally agreeing that ghosts aren’t real) to people who’ve asked if Woodstock ’94’s Saugerties location was the original ’69 site, since it is close to the town of Woodstock. According to urbandictionary.com, which has a rather scathing entry from 2009 on Saugerties, a popular misconception is that there are nice cars in the town. “Excluding the local car show, the only vehicles to be found are tractors, rusty pickups, minivans and assorted, hideously painted, decal-covered monsters that might once have been decent looking,” the entry reads. That’s very likely untrue.
Smaller than it feels
“I think people think that Kingston is bigger than it is, or has more going on because of social media, etc.,” muses BSP Kingston’s resident Millennium Falcon pilot Mike Amari of BSP. “Really it’s a very small town. Most people know each other. If you need to talk to someone chances are you’ll run into them within 24 hours, and when you put it into that perspective, the level of arts, music, culture happening — and not just at BSP — is pretty incredible.”
Amari continues, “I definitely think the Hudson Valley is increasingly an extension of New York City, as more people are priced out but still commute there, or are telecommuting and don’t need to live right in the city. That’s really been driving tourism, service industries, real estate — people make their money in the city but spend it up here. But I think it’s crucial for communities like Kingston to attract entrepreneurs and tech businesses. This begins with infrastructure, and ends with how we market ourselves. I’ll leave it at that,” he concludes with a laugh.