BETHEL, New York – The concepts of unity and freedom are once again constantly being heard these days in this small town north of New York City, where the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock music festival is being celebrated.
“You can’t duplicate something like that, you know? It’s just a special time. ... It’s just hard to put it into words. You know, you had to be here,” said Jeff Bakewell, one of those who attended that unparalleled rock festival who – along with dozens of others – came back to see a small monument commemorating the Aug. 15-18, 1969, gathering.
During those several days, more than 400,000 mostly young people flocked to the site to see and hear music stars like Jimi Hendrix, Joan Baez, Janis Joplin, Carlos Santana, The Who, Sly & The Family Stone, along with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Jefferson Airplane.
Bakewell recalled that nobody expected so many people to show up at the farm where the festival was held, adding that once people arrived there, the atmosphere was so exciting that “it was impossible to leave.” The avalanche of people that descended on Bethel in 1969 was such that the surrounding roads were completely blocked.
And that convulsive decade of the 1960s – marked by the Vietnam War, the ongoing racial problems, the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, his brother Sen. Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, united the new generation in a huge rejection of violence and intolerance which culminated in Woodstock.
“I came for the music. ... Freedom. Be yourself. ... Nobody hassled anybody. Everybody worked together, shared. ... They brought food in and fed the people. It was special. I never saw any fight(ing),” he said, recalling the festival that – among other things – was complicated by torrential rain and the lack of enough fresh water, food and lodging for the multitude on hand.
Like Bakewell, people from all over the world have come to the site, viewing it as a kind of sanctuary on the huge meadow where the festival was held and which now is part of the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts.
Coming from France, Luxemburg, Belgium, Brazil and Ireland, decked out with flowers, colorful garments including the now-iconic tie-dyed t-shirts that were the daily outfits for many hippies, people spared no effort to get to the three-day concert festival, which now marks its 50th anniversary.
Rogerio Cazzeta, for example, traveled from the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre to see Ringo Starr, Carlos Santana and Creedence’s John Fogerty even though he was only 4 when Woodstock occurred.
“I always dreamed about this but I thought it would never happen,” said Cassetta, who has managed a record store for 30 years and since age 13 has been collecting the music of all the artists who performed at Woodstock.
“Woodstock reflects a spirit of love and unity that, these days, should be expanded to the rest of the world,” he said.