Woodstock / credit: Christophe Perez

It's almost 50 years since Jimi Hendrix electrified a crowd of young hippies with their eyes encircled with its psychedelic and apocalyptic version of The Star Spangled Banner. This year is the fiftieth anniversary of the Woodstock festival (although the festivities of "Woodstock 50" have organizational difficulties). From August 15 to 19, 1969, this event brought together 32 of the biggest names in rock and folk music, including The Band, Joan Baez, Joe Cocker, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Santana, The Who … The organizers were expecting 200,000 festival-goers; it came 500,000.

As we measure the historic significance of this event today, his birthday is an opportunity to visit the city of Woodstock – where the 1969 festival was originally to be held – and the Bethel site, where he finally got location. The car remains the best way to move freely to visit the region. Woodstock, about 160 km north of New York City, is less than two hours away on Route 87, and Bethel is a two-hour drive from New York and one and a half hours from Woodstock. It is also possible to get to Woodstock by bus with Trailways from Port Authority, starting at $ 60 round trip. Another bus company, Coach USA Shortline, offers day trips between the Port Authority and the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts for $ 66, and will charter buses for the anniversary concerts on August 16 and 17. There is no bus between Woodstock and Bethel.

Woodstock, utopian city

If the 1969 festival was originally to take place in Woodstock, NY, it is because this small town of Catskills, 160 kilometers north of New York City, is since the beginning of the twentieth century a center of activity artistic and progressive activism. In 1902, the colony of Byrdcliffe artists settled there, a Utopian community whose life was centered on arts and crafts. Many other artists, musicians and free spirits followed. Bob Dylan lived there 1965 to 1972, and several members of The Band who accompanied Dylan at that time remained figures of the local rock scene for five decades.

Today, several shops on the two main streets – Tinker Street and Mill Hill Road – perpetuate the spirit of 1969 with t-shirts and other hippies. If you need a tie-dye t-shirt from the Grateful Dead, this is the place to find it. Art galleries and craft stores also line the streets of the city. The most famous are the galleries of the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild, of the Woodstock Artists Association and The Center for Photography at Woodstock, a photography gallery that presents until September 2 the photos of the 1969 festival by Elliott Landy. Lovers of old objects will find happiness in the big flea market who settles every weekend from mid-May to late November on Maple Lane. It is also possible to visit the Byrdcliffe Arts Colony, whose beautiful rustic houses nestled in the woods on the outskirts of the city, welcome artists, musicians, comedians and writers in residence.

For fans of rock and folk music, a detour is required by Levon Helm Studios, a farmhouse reconverted by Levon Helm – leader of The Band – in concert hall and recording studio. The organized concerts in the barn from this farm are very coveted but places are limited; better book in advance. You can also listen to live music every Friday and Saturday night at Station Bar and Curio, a former station became a kitsch bar with a large covered terrace, and Thursdays and Saturdays in Woodstock Brewing, a craft brewery located in Phenicia, 20 km from Woodstock.

Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, a historic site

After difficult negotiations with local authorities and residents worried about the idea of ​​a hippie invasion, the organizers of the Woodstock festival still had not found a suitable site a month before the 1969 event. They were saved in extremis by cow farmer Max Yasgur, who offered to host the festival on his farm in Bethel, 90 km southwest of Woodstock. This is where the festival took place.

You can still see the sloping lawn that was home to half a million hippies. It is certainly a lawn, but a historic lawn at the foot of which a painted concrete stele commemorates the legendary festival. In 2006, was also built next to the Bethel Woods Center for the Artswhich is both an art center, an outdoor concert venue and a museum. The permanent collection of the museum allows you to dive into the history of the Woodstock Festival and the hippie movement through photos, films and many objects related to the festival. This year, a temporary exhibition titled We Are Golden returns to the cultural and political impact of the 1969 festival. From spring to fall, the open-air stage of the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts welcomes renowned musicians. The anniversary of the Woodstock festival will be marked by three concerts on the spot: Ringo Starr on August 16th, Santana on August 17th and John Fogerty on August 18th.


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