…one, 1994’s, was actually close by in Saugerties.
Three Woodstock festivals. Yet none actually were in the town of Woodstock, the artsy haven of creativity and spirituality in New York’s Ulster County that lent the show its name.
The first Woodstock concert, in 1969, was in Bethel, NY, about 50 miles southwest of Woodstock. The third was in 1999 in Rome, NY, about 130 miles north. The second, however, was right next door in Saugerties, a historic, picturesque town tucked between the Catskill Mountains and the Hudson River. Saugerties was no stranger to music history; The Band’s classic album, “Music from Big Pink,” refers to a pink house in town that served as the band’s one-time headquarters.
The second Woodstock, billed as “Three More Days of Peace and Music,” was a 25th anniversary show from Aug. 12-14, 1994. Yes, it had elements in common with the 1969 festival: torrential rain, mud, lots of naked people, drugs, alcohol and many historic performances, including some by artists who were at Woodstock ’69, such as Joe Cocker and Santana.
But many newer acts cemented their reputation in Saugerties. The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Green Day, Violent Femmes, Nine Inch Nails, Metallica, Primus, Cypress Hill and Melissa Etheridge thrilled the 350,000 who trekked up the New York State Thruway to the Winslow Farm, an 840-acre pasture at the intersection of routes 212 and 32. And others showed how technology was continuing to make music evolve. Todd Rundgren, who at the time still owned property in Woodstock, brought his “Todd Pod”, a one-man interactive music computer setup allowing him to create music with synthesizers, percussion and improvisation.
Michael Lang and John Roberts, two of the Woodstock ’69 promoters, returned with more corporate savvy and detailed planning — attributes the first show, some say, had rebelled against. Yes, they again overcame substantial neighborhood opposition from residents remembering huge stacks of garbage and free-wheeling teenagers in Bethel. But the economics were quite different this time. Pay-per-view was a bonanza, and the show was beamed all around the world. In 1969, tickets were $18. In 1994, they were $135. Still, in this case, the song remained the same. Gatecrashers in 1994 meant very few tickets were taken after the first day. Meanwhile, as the music played in Saugerties, the spirit of Yasgur’s Farm in Bethel would not be denied. About 15,000 die-hards in tie-dye and less gathered on the original concert’s site for an impromptu show. Since 1969, the site had been sold off and subdivided, and when approached about hosting the 25th anniversary show, Sullivan County officials had refused to sanction another worldwide spectacle.
Still, the show went on. Arlo Guthrie, Melanie and Sha Na Na, as well as several local bands, played for free. The counterculture had been revived — on the same hallowed ground that moved a generation all those years before.