The drive was about two hours long through seemingly uninhabited forest or, worse, the occasional creepy town. That's the danger of plugging an address into the GPS and following blindly. Upstate New York driving is unlike any other in my experience. There is absolutely no sense of direction. For all I knew I was driving in circles. What if I plugged in the wrong address? The GPS could have taken us anywhere. That's another one of my fears.
The museum is not large, a medium sized wooden structure in the middle of a field. There were not too many cars in the parking lot. Hitting the information desk and looking at the map, it was clear this would be a pretty short tour.
Downstairs was a special exhibit - never before seen photos of John and Yoko's Bed-In. I've been doing a lot of thinking about Lennon for my Maybe Baby (or, You Know That It Would Be Untrue) rock history blog, and his phenomenal dickishness is impossible to ignore. The sound system played "Gimme Some Truth," a hate-filled diatribe against the establishment from the Imagine album. It was fitting. After all, this was an exhibit about protesting. The opening strains of "How Do You Sleep?" were a shock to hear. It's John's vitriolic attack on Paul, with George helping out, playing a slide guitar solo with fangs. Terribly vicious and venomous, an uncomfortable song to listen to. Well, I said to myself, that's odd to play John at his meanest at a peace exhibit. But, someone had been listening, someone knew. The track was played sans vocals, as an instrumental. That great defender of humanity, John Lennon, could remain intact in the confines of the exhibit.
One of my sons brought his camera. He's been a regular shutterbug lately, clicking away for later Facebook postings. It's great, since I never take photos and wish I had. He took some great shots of the recreated hotel room. Then he met The Man head on. We all missed the "No Photography" sign. OK, that happens, and the guards are certainly within their rights to say "No pictures please." What my son got was "One more picture and I'll call the Sheriff's Department." AND we were followed throughout the museum all day long. Now, while some of us expected a lot of hippies on the scene, we never considered that at a museum celebrating the Woodstock spirit of cooperation, peace and love, that fascists would be patrolling the floor. The death of the dream indeed.
The museum itself is alright. A short history of the 60's, the planning of the show and the show itself. There were some interesting films, the best covering local reaction and witness accounts. I loved seeing the present day photo of the couple who adorn the cover of the soundtrack album. Footage of The Band's performance, which has been held up since the show for legal reasons and not seen in the film, or in the new DVD, was a joy to behold. Speaking of The Band, I have Levon Helm's address in my GPS from when I attended The Midnight Ramble that takes place at his Woodstock studio. I knew the original festival wasn't in Woodstock, but thought Woodstock the town (or village) was pretty close to Bethel Woods. It turns out that the two places are about 50 miles apart! I was stunned. So we ducked into Monticello and ate at Tilly's Diner instead.
The best part of the day was backtracking about 1/4 mile to the festival site. A funny, somewhat amateurish monument marks the spot and gives the lineup. Like the Babe Ruth plaque at the Baseball Hall of Fame, Jimi Hendrix' name is rubbed to the point of shininess. Sorry, Mountain, no one cares. Down below you can see where the stage was and the now famous hill to the right. I can tell you that if you were past the apex of the hill, on the plateau, you were screwed. Figuratively, and possibly, literally, based on how the love-in played out.
The openness of the concert area itself was just the breath of fresh air we needed after the autocratic museum. It made clear the wonder of Woodstock, where a vast empty space could, through the vision of a small group, become the signature event of a generation. Just add a bunch of bands and several hundred thousand people and there you have it.