The Undulating Hillside: Going Back to Bethel
September 25, 1969
I went back to Bethel a couple of weeks ago.
I said to myself, I’m visiting friends nearby and I might as well go back to the incredible undulating hillside. But maybe I went up to see those friends because they were so close to the site. Maybe the experience of the Woodstock festival remained undigested, and there was some part of me that had to be satisfied that the hillside actually was a part of the real world after all.
I parked my car on Hurd Road and watched the scene. Two workmen dismantling electrical equipment where the stage had been, a large bare spot in the ground around them. Piles of garbage up and down the hillside, one still smoldering. Alfalfa — greenness — struggling back to dominate most of the amphitheatre.
And the parade. They came by in sedans, in sports cars, in taxis, in trucks. Most middle-aged. All staring at the alfalfa field like it would tell them something — something about themselves, something about their kids, something about the life that has been too easy and without meaning.
“Where was the stage?” they’d ask. Always the same question.
There was Allan Swartz, 21, of Albany, showing his parents the site of the festival he almost went to. “I wanted to come down, but I wasn’t going to sit in my car for seven hours.”
Down by the pond where — well, the famous pond — three kids from Port Jervis, were poking around. One had been at the festival and decided to show it to his friends.
And walking back from a swim to resume loading logs onto the back of his father’s electrical contracting truck was Robert Pantel, 20, of South Fallsburg. He had been working around the site since weeks before the festival. “Used to be three tractors a day past here would be a lot,” he laughed. “Now it’s turned into a tourist attraction. We already have scroungers. They take blankets, sleeping bags, ponchos, anything that might be usable.”
A passing truck stopped. Its elderly driver knocked on the door of the nearby empty office trailer, then turned to Pantel. He explained that he had provided something for the festival and had never gotten paid.
“They’re good for it,” the bearded young man said. “They seem to be quite a responsible outfit. You’ll get the money.”
A garbage truck rumbled by, loaded to above the brim with filled green bags of garbage — the green bags passed around the audience enthusiastically a few weeks before. Along the sides of Hurd Road and the other roads in the area was more garbage. There were more piles of garbage in the woods on the way to the Hog Farm area, as well as huts and lean-tos, wooden booths, and thousands of flies. The Hog Farm area itself was empty and clean except for a few portable toilets, some scattered farm implements, and metal fence posts and tent poles. “Happy Birth” read a section of red snow fence.
“The cows thought it was great. And they’re fine. All 71 head of them.”
They looked contented, being milked mechanically in a barn on West Shore Road, as John McAdams lavished praise on the Hog Farmers. McAdams is in charge of Max Yasgur’s dairy barn on the farm — one of 10 farms Max owns in the area.
“Those Hog Farmers watched our barn for us and I’d have them back anytime. Why, first they had those $50-a-day New York City cops supposed to be watching the barn. Well, the foreman caught them sleeping on the barn floor and threw them out, and we brought back the Hog Farm. We had no trouble after that.”
McAdams said most of the farm had been rented after the festival to a farmer from Knoxboro named George Peavey. Peavey’s lease doesn’t include the dairy herd or the alfalfa field amphitheatre. “I guess he’ll take some of the load off Max,” McAdams said.
Max Yasgur lives in a pleasant white wooden house on the crest of a long sloping lawn overlooking Route 17B. Behind his house is a house for some farmhands. Mrs. Yasgur answered the door, a smiling, gray-haired woman. “How has Max’s life changed? Well, there have been a lot of people by, mainly reporters, but Max better tell you himself. He should be at his office.”
The office of the Yasgur Dairy is in one of two barn-like buildings just down Route 17B. The milk bottling building has a room where visitors can watch the whole process through plate glass. Max himself, 49, gaunt, two fingers of his right hand taken off in a long-ago accident, was getting ready to take his station wagon home.
“I’m getting close to retirement age,” he said, after a few minutes of conversation. “If I had a job where I could work with those kids on a national level — gratis — I’d do it.” The father of two, he has “worked with kids all my life — the 4-H, Boy Scouts. I think there is a rapport between kids and me. I went out on a limb for those kids and they bore my faith out.”
Since August 15 he has received 1500 letters from kids (“Dear Max, We have proved to the world that you can’t enforce peace”), invitations to a lot of television talk shows, and some requests for autographs (“a bunch of kids mobbed me on a street in New York”). He has appeared on one television show and has decided in the future only to go on “thought-provoking shows, not on entertainment shows.” Milk sales have gone up.
Max said he couldn’t believe the stories about widespread dope use — “addictive dope, that is” — at the festival.
Next year? “We proved the point. Let well enough alone. Any rock festival this close to New York will draw a million and a half next year. You’d have to have 10,000 acres.”
Back along Route 17B the only remaining sign of the highway happening was the “Parking $2” painted on a shack in an empty field. At Esther Manor, a football squad was working out on the lawn. About a hundred long-haired kids cavorted on the rocks and in the water where the road from Fallsburg to Woodridge crosses the Neverink River. They wore bathing suits.