Woodstock Festival site added to national register of historic places

Swami Satchidananda giving the opening speech (Mark Goff)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo today announced that the site of the 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Fair has officially been placed on the State and National Register of Historic Places.

The Sullivan County site, now home to Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, is 10 miles west of Monticello on Rt. 17B and over 50 miles southwest of the festival’s namesake town. In August 1969, more than 400,000 people traveled to Max Yasgur’s dairy farm for the now-famous three-day music festival.

The combination of some of the best bands of the time, peaceful incorporation of more than twice the total number of expected attendees and general non-commercial good vibes of that weekend led to the festival being remembered as a high point of the counterculture 1960s. (Today’s festivals have no shortage of tie-dye and recreational chemicals, though the economics have changed; a ticket to Woodstock, for those who paid, cost $50 in 2017 dollars, while the cheapest tickets for a similar length festival with a top-tier lineup, like this weekend’s Bonnaroo Festival in Tennessee, start at several hundred dollars. And, needless to say, there were no “glamping” tickets at the original Woodstock.)

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(Ric Manning)

“Woodstock was a pivotal moment in both New York and American history, bringing together the unique art and music in an event that changed this nation’s cultural and political landscape,” Cuomo said. “This prestigious recognition will help preserve a priceless New York landmark for current and future generations of New Yorkers.”

Bethel Woods includes a museum devoted to the festival and “the entire decade that it came to represent,” as well as a 15,000-seat concert venue.  The center welcomed the designation.

“Being placed on the National Register will only further our efforts and ensure that these hallowed grounds are preserved for generations to come and enjoy,” said Darlene Fedun, chief executive officer.

Some of those preservation efforts include  protecting several trees on the site that witnessed the festival, including the “Message Tree” where festival-goes left notes for one another (today’s festival-goers can only imagine the logistics of finding friends in the pre-cellphone era), clearing the viewshed and the creation of a contemplative overlook at the top of the festival field.

Bethel Woods

The centerpiece of the initial preservation project is the restoration of several of the footpaths that crisscrossed the Bindy Bazaar woods across Hurd Road from the festival field. These restored paths will offer visitors the opportunity to explore what was once an important vending area and crossroads of the festival. The colorful sign that marked the entrance to the woods during the festival will be reproduced, as will the famous, hand-painted directional signs that proclaimed the “High Way,” “Groovy Way,” and “Gentle Path” in the woods.

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