While the focus this year is on the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock Music & Art Fair on Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel, what gets lost in the shuffle is the struggle the town of Woodstock endured in dealing with an influx of people after the music was over.
“Now…and then in Woodstock,” a panel discussion at 4 p.m. Saturday, August 10 at Christ’s Lutheran Church, 26 Mill Hill Road, will address challenges faced then and now.
Panelists will share stories of the challenges faced as people flocked to Woodstock with no plans or places to stay.
“These are people who are not folks you think of,” said panel organizer Barbara Kortrey, a Family of Woodstock board member who volunteered in the walk-in center in organization’s beginning. “We’re bringing back people who have first-hand experience. These people are eager to share. It’s important as we’re all getting much older.”
The small, sleepy town of Woodstock was not prepared to deal with strangers smoking pot and sleeping under trees on private property or playing drums at 2 a.m. The police didn’t want them and as part-time constables, they didn’t have the resources to deal with them. The Town Board resisted them too, Kortrey said. “There was a sense that anything goes in Woodstock. That misconception was what caused some of the problems,” she understated.
“A sudden shift in clothing styles and body tattoos were often misinterpreted as evidence of drugs,” she added. Some residents had enough and moved out while others welcomed the newcomers. “There was no road map or encyclopedia to indicate the proper way to deal with a sudden influx of people who were still in a party mood,” she said.
Faced with a crisis and despite resistance from town officials, churches got together and made sure this new population had food, shelter and some basic necessities.
“The churches had leaders at that time who really saw the problems and wanted to get things moving in the right direction,” Kortrey said. “They really took the brunt.”
Christ’s Lutheran Church offered its parsonage as a nursery for children so they’re parents could seek jobs. The church also opened its doors on Fridays for any musicians who wanted to have a jam session.
It was right around that time that Family of Woodstock began to organize to fulfill the needs of these new residents, but they met a lot of resistance.
“The Town Board said we’ve got to get rid of Family because they’re bringing in all these people,” Kortrey said. Eventually Family developed a workable relationship with the town.
While people were streaming into town, the period was also during the height of the Vietnam War and the communities dealt with an influx of Vietnamese refugees fleeing the conflict. True to Woodstock’s nature, the churches and volunteers welcomed and housed them and helped them get work. Panelist Barbara Pickardt, who was instrumental in coordinating adoption of Vietnamese families, will speak more about the topic.
Speaking are the following: Tamara Cooper, Program Director, Family of Woodstock; Susan Goldman, Family of Woodstock; Ruth Levine, former Family staff member and volunteer trainer; Barbara Pickhardt, conductor and artistic director of Ars Choralis; Harry Tysen, former minister of the Woodstock Reformed Church; Doug Osgood, former pastor of the Overlook United Methodist Church; Abner Cunningham, former pastor of Christ’s Lutheran Church; Ned Houst, business owner.
The panel will be moderated by Barbara Kortrey.
Marc Black and Michael Esposito will play music from the 1969 festival at the opening and closing of the discussion.
The event is free of charge. Christ’s Lutheran Church is at 26 Mill Hill Road.