Back To Which Garden?

The Squabbling Spawn of Woodstock

Roy Howard brushes dirt off the CD and hands it to his wife. "I found this in the woods." he squints at the disc and scratches his white beard. "Is it anything?" howard, a sturdy 65-year-old, had been mowing the lawn, prepping his field so friends could plant vegetables for their free kitchen. His pals also hoped to plant corn in the shape of a 200-foot diameter peace sign. Only problem was, Howard couldn't find his plough amid the mountains of machinery, junk, and relics in his barn. Plan aborted— but he found a pretty cool CD, perhaps. His wife, Jeryl Abramson, puts the CD in the player. Out blasts a familiar, searing guitar lead that could only be "all along the Watchtower." Abramson laughs, embarrassed she didn't recognize the musician that closed Woodstock '69. Hendrix's face, on this '90s reissue, had been obscured with a slick, orange tint.

It's a typical summer weekend gathering for Howard, Abramson, and the handful that have shown up to camp, plant, and plan for this August's reunion— a free festival in Bethel that has, by word of mouth and World Wide Web, drawn thousands to Max Yasgur's Farm since 1996 to commemorate the spirit of the 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Fair.

The Bethel reunion is one of at least three vastly different concerts this summer honoring the memory of music, mud, and mayhem that occurred 30 years ago, trying desperately either to recapture the vibe or capitalize on it. While Howard's hippie ilk want to preserve the Woodstock ideal of free tunes (although '69 wasn't meant to be free), another promoter has been trying to turn Woodstock's original locale into a family-oriented theme park. But the strangest spawn yet might be the July 23­25 concert actually called Woodstock, flying its dove-and- guitar flag atop its new site— a former air force base. War, what is it good for? A rock concert.

A guy who goes by the handle Wayne G., webmaster for a Woodstock-dedicated Web site, posts, "Will the real Woodstock please stand up?"

The name "Woodstock" is owned by original cofounder Michael Lang and Woodstock Ventures, hosting his extravaganza over 100 miles away, literally and figuratively, from the rolling fields and skinny-dipping waters of Bethel's White Lake. "Woodstock is a state of mind, not a locale," says Lang from command central in Rome, New York. Woodstock 99 is getting ready to rock in the quarter-million- capacity confines of the decomissioned Griffiss Air Force base— well-constructed for a mega­ music festival, with its sloping green fields, concrete walkways, built-in plumbing, and 3600 acres of land. Airplane hangars will house an indie film festival and a 2 a.m. rave. Extreme sports, a cyber village, and arts-and-crafts tents will decorate the tarmac. "The far right built this complex for tens of millions of dollars," says Lang's partner John Scher. "It stood for all the things that we stood against. Now we're here 30 years later, they've abandoned it, and we get to use it for a rock festival. How cool it that?"

It's also more secure than Saugerties, where an estimated 150,000 crashed Lang's 25th anniversary party in 1994— this military design was built to be defended. Like '94, the music spans the collectively soulless MTV gamut— from Everclear to Everlast, Jamiroquai to Jewel, Metallica to Morissette and Dave Matthews. Mickey Hart offers an ounce of hippie cred; Fatboy Slim and the Chemical Brothers plug in their machines; Wyclef Jean and George Clinton smear a little funk on top. But the kids will get most excited moshing to the violent screeds of Korn, Limp Bizkit, Kid Rock, and DMX— acts almost a propos for a military base.

Back in Bethel, the Friends of Yasgur's Farm meet in an old calving barn­cum­music hall, bright with stained-glass portraits of ancient Woodstock stock like Richie Havens and Roger Daltry. Wearing muddy Tevas, a guy named Jerry who just emerged from camping in Roy Howard's and Jeryl Abramson's forest recounts luminaries from previous reunions at Max Yasgur's homestead: Melanie in '97. The juggling Chaos Kids who put on a circus in the forest. The 28-member Hidden Years Band that traveled all the way from South Africa. That German chick Esther with the spikes in her hair who drove all the way from Haight Ashbury.

Still searching for his plough, Howard mumbles angrily and doesn't get involved much with the planning. Like Max Yasgur himself, who rescued Woodstock '69 when no one else in Sullivan County wanted dirty hippies on their property, Howard is just the facilitator for this hoedown. Having lived in Bethel all his life, running a discount beverage store in town, he bought Yasgur's 103-acre homestead and farm buildings from Miriam Yasgur in 1985. "I'd go by that farm a lot, driving to Homesdale with pallets of soda, it looked so nice," he says. But he doesn't own Yasgur's land where Woodstock actually took place. (Tourists still think the town of Woodstock is where peace, love, and music converged in '69. Nope— get back in your VW van and drive southwest, young man.) The site was bought by local boy and cable-TV billionaire Alan Gerry in 1996, along with 1500 acres surrounding it. Gerry hosted last year's 29th anniversary of Woodstock with a two-day singer-songwriterly fest called "A Day in the Garden."

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