September 4, 2020:  A day trip with friends to Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, that turned out to be an emotional experience that I desperately needed.

You know when someone says, “Thanks, I needed that!” – Well, I needed that day trip like nobody’s business, and I didn’t know it until we were there.  A few weeks beforehand, we were dropping something off to our friend, when he suggested that we take a day trip during the Labor Day weekend, since none of us had been anywhere, except for work and the grocery store (thank you, pandemic).  So, without giving a second thought, I said, “we should go to Woodstock!”  All agreed, so it was settled:  we were going full-on hippie on the Friday before Labor Day! 

A little background information on the Woodstock Festival from Wikipedia before we begin (even though most of you already know!):

Woodstock was a music festival held August 15–18, 1969, on Max Yasgur‘s dairy farm in Bethel, New York, 40 miles (65 km) southwest of Woodstock. Billed as “an Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music” and alternatively referred to as the Woodstock Rock Festival, it attracted an audience of more than 400,000.  Thirty-two acts performed outdoors despite sporadic rain.

The festival has become widely regarded as a pivotal moment in popular music history as well as a defining event for the counterculture generation.  The event’s significance was reinforced by a 1970 documentary film,  an accompanying soundtrack album, and a song written by Joni Mitchell that became a major hit for both Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Matthews Southern Comfort. Music events bearing the Woodstock name have been planned for anniversaries including the tenthtwentiethtwenty-fifththirtiethfortieth, and fiftieth. In 2004 Rolling Stone magazine listed it as number 19 of the 50 Moments That Changed the History of Rock and Roll.  In 2017 the festival site became listed on the National Register of Historic Places

Now I’m gonna geek out on y’all:  OMG, it was SO COOL!

I’d always wanted to go up to Bethel Woods, and last year, when it was the 50th anniversary of the festival, I was so excited when I saw pics on Facebook of friends who went up for the anniversary. The place does not disappoint, and was worth the wait.  Honestly, because of the pandemic, it was a much quieter place to visit, and I feel strongly that I was meant to visit exactly when I did. 

Our visit to Bethel Woods included visiting the Woodstock Museum, as well as the augmented reality walking tour of the field- The place where all the magic happened! 

The museum was a phenomenal experience.  I don’t know how they were able to pack SO MUCH into a somewhat smallish space!  There was a timeline of events in the years leading to the festival, and exhibits of records, radios, clothing- even a bus and a VW Bug- and little films interspersed with video footage of the times.  I mean, there was just so much to take in, and one thing was cooler and more interesting than the other.  It brought you into the experience of the festival as much as possible, through things and stories of the people that were there- from the travel manifest of a commune in New Mexico, to the stories of area locals, who stepped in when things were needed (food, antibiotics, whatever). 

The last stop at the museum was to a small theater, where you can view a movie compilation of the festival experience, from the points of view of the performers and concert goers, as well as footage shot at the festival itself.  Fascinating is an understatement!  After walking through the museum, I was already feeling emotional, but there were points during this 20-minute movie where I was tearing up, because certain moments, certain songs, and certain footage was just hitting a chord within me, making me remember WHY I had become a musician, and how this festival had the capacity to forever change anyone who was there, performer or otherwise.  I was truly amazed to see that Richie Havens, the opening act of the festival, had made up the song Freedom on the spot, as he was on stage!  WOW!  And to see how young the performers were- Carlos Santana was just 19, and his drummer was 17!  Then- to watch Jimmie Hendrix play…You could literally see the music flowing from him- which I suppose was more apparent a) by being there in person and b) because, it was perhaps enhanced by recreational drugs used while there, lol.  Then, the footage of Grace Slick getting on stage at like 8:00am on the last morning of the festival, and singing that early just as well as if she’d gone on when scheduled, which was the night before.  There was an energy on that field that was just pure magic, and you could see it in the footage of everyone there.  What really touched me, though, was Crosby, Stills and Nash’s performance of Blackbird (by the Beatles).  It was dark, as the power had gone out, and the three men were just up on that stage, singing an acoustic version of that song that was absolute beauty.  Now, you have to know something about me:  I don’t care WHO is singing WHAT song- if it’s musically well done, then I appreciate it.  Period.  Well- this was musically well done.  Very well done.  The harmonies were gorgeous, and that song in that place, at THAT time was a moment of perfection. I’ve heard Paul McCartney sing it millions of times, and I do love his original version- but this was just right, and I felt ALL THE FEELS.  At the end of the blog, in fact, I’ve included my version of Blackbird, as it has stuck in my mind ever since.  And, in true Woodstock fashion, I recorded it with no special setting, lighting or anything.  I shot it while sitting in my dining room! 

Here are some photos from our day:

Now, to the augmented reality tour…

This tour was AWESOME! We didn’t really know what to expect, but it was so great, and I highly recommend that you do this, if you visit Bethel Woods (which you should).   We got an iPad for this tour, and you just hit the “start” icon and go.  The tour is narrated by Nick and Bobbi Ercoline, the couple on the cover of the famous Woodstock album, which already makes it super cool.  They take you to certain markers on the property that correspond to important areas during the Woodstock festival.  One of the last stops is the stage area, which is covered in dandelion-like flowers, and at the end, is the historic plaque marking that the festival happened there, etc.  Here I am standing on the stage at Woodstock:

Folks, if you haven’t visited this wonderfully amazing place- PLEASE DO.  It was an experience that awakened the passions in me that had been suppressed by, well, life.  Seeing the people, hearing the music, and reading about the experiences made me remember what it’s like to be in love with life, and to express yourself fully- not in the way you’ve been conditioned to by years of routine.  I was touched- and what I would give to have been alive back then…

Peace and love, everyone!

Jennifer Angarano Ricci is a wife, mother & creative soul-searcher.  She is a musician, artist, and baker, and runs her home business Baked By Jen, in addition to running her local community theater group.  She loves to sing, create and help others and tries to connect all three passions whenever possible.

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