Dominic Ambrose Blogblot

of words: narrative, film and non-fiction

Woodstock Redux at Bethel Woods: Here to stay or gone forever?

Many people believe that Woodstock took place in the town of Woodstock in Ulster County, New York. It didn’t. It was supposed to, but Woodstock, New York would have nothing to do with this enormous kermesse of hippies, yippies and various hangers-on. So the organizers went out and searched for another venue… and eventually found Yazgur’s Farm in Bethel, New York, many miles away, near Monticello in Sullivan County.

The site of the original Woodstock, as it looks today at Bethel Woods

The rest is history, or at least partially history, and a good deal of myth. If it were truly history we might also know that the area around Monticello has gone through a downward spiral economically that has closed all of the big hotels that once thrived in this area. The myth gives us an image of Yazgur’s Farm as some kind of Garden of Eden in the Catskills.

the museum and hall

But myth is important, and powerful too, and it was the power of that myth and the energy that it inspired that led to the rebirth of the Woodstock venue in recent years, as Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, a vast, mostly open air celebration of contemporary music, arts and crafts. It includes a museum, and crafts market and conducts outreach and educational programs for the community.

The grounds are immaculately landscaped, the stage modern, acoustic and huge, the seats comfortable, the lawn pristine. And unlike the original Woodstock there are ample food stands, parking, and toilet facilities. On a recent night to see the Goo Goo Dolls, the place was full of happy concert goers on lawn chairs or seated on rocks or on cushioned seats, and the place was rocking. Unfortunately, it wasn’t nearly full, and a few nights later for Janet Jackson, it was still not sold out.

The modern stage and open air amphitheater

Has the damage to tourism in Monticello already been so complete that even Janet Jackson can’t draw a capacity crowd to a state-of-the-art open air venue in mid-summer?

There have been other attempts to revive tourism in this area of the lower western tier of New York State. Proposals have been drawn up to rebuild the Concord Hotel and to build new facilities for horse racing. However, these projects have been stalled by the lack of funding and proven marketability. Now a new nemesis has arisen: the introduction of fracking. This controversial method of extracting natural gas from shale strata below the ground dangerously close to the water table has split the local community. Some farmers who are now barely subsisting on their hard labors have been offered big bucks by oil companies to allow fracking on their property. They may be concerned about the possibilities of potential environmental problems in the future, but they are also concerned about putting food in the mouths of their children and paying their mortgages today. It is inevitable that some of them will be forced to take the money and allow the practice. Thus, the question mark of how this industrial activity will impact Sullivan County and its hopes for a touristic revival. Fracking is done along the Marcellus Shale Formation which extends through much o Appalachia. It has already had disastrous effects elsewhere where it has been loosely regulated and applied in an exploitative way by unscrupulous businesses. New York State hopes to regulate the activity and limit it to “safer” areas. It has its proponents, too, even among environmentalists who point to the possibility of safe methods. In addition, it should be noted that New York’s energy plan needs to find new resources to replace the Indian Point nuclear power plant near New York City (for which it provides up to 30 percent of the electricity), and fracking could help.

The Goo Goo Dolls in concert

The area is at the crossroads between revived tourism and industrial development. But could what appears to be diametrically opposed futures actually come together to lead to future prosperity? If the fracking can be closely monitored, learning from the mistakes in other states, and the large corporations that inevitably get involved can be required to help with touristic development, perhaps some kind of symbiosis can be achieved. That may be a new myth, but one worth striving to make reality.

Click the link to Bethel Woods.

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August 10, 2011 - Posted by | concerts, music, performances | , , , , ,

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