Woodstock's Vibe Alive and Well in 2009
People listen to music as the sun sets at the Bonnaroo music festival in Manchester, Tenn., Saturday, June 14, 2008. (AP)
The fields of what used to be Max Yasgur's farm are quiet now; the roads leading in are mostly empty. Passing through, you'd never know that 40 years ago something remarkable happened here - something the world remembers as Woodstock.
From Aug. 15-17, 1969, 400,000 people gathered near Bethel, N.Y. for what was billed as three days of "Peace, love, and music" and made history.
Full Coverage: Woodstock's 40th Anniversary
Last year, the Museum at Bethel Woods opened on the site to explore that legacy.
"The Woodstock ideal was, in a way, it was short-lived. But we're still living with the legacy," said curator Wade Lawrence.
"You talk to people today who were there… they get kind of glassy eyed. They talk about that magical moment that can't be re-created and I think that's true."
Visiting the museum is one good way to experience Woodstock. But there is another option.
While it's true that Woodstock's "magical moment" can't be re-created, 40 years later, a new generation is giving it a pretty good try - from Voodoo Fest in New Orleans to the Rothbury Festival in Michigan.
Since 1999, the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival has been drawing 80,000 fans to a 700-acre farm in Manchester, Tenn.
"It sounds corny, but from year one, the Bonnaroo experience was about peace, love and music," said Ashley Kapps, one of the festivals promoters. "It's a getaway,and it's an immersive experience being shared by people with a strong, common bond. And it challenges people to engage with other people on a level that they're not always able to do."
At Bonnaroo, more than 160 bands play on five major stages. Everyone from Pearl Jam to the Allman Brothers has performed here.
It is just one of dozens of festivals across the United States offering fans a musical smorgasbord.
One festival that clearly captures the Woodstock aura is the 10,000 Lakes Festival (10KLF) in Minnesota. Since 2003, A-list bands from Maroon 5 to the Dave Matthews Band draw crowds.
Emerging acts like Public Property benefit from the exposure.
10KLF Promoter Randy Levy says the goal is offering a 1969 vibe with 2009 amenities.
"Peace, love and happiness is certainly universal. And, while they're here we hope they feel it. And long after they leave, that should be everyone's credo," Levy said. "But I think what changes over time is the business of it has forced some professional aspects to it. You know, better facilities for people, better camping facilities. You know, clean water [and] showers.
So, unlike Woodstock, swimming in the lake here is an option - not a necessity.
And like Woodstock, the fans camp out - only with better equipment. There are cell phones, of course, and other technology not around 40 years ago. And this time, there's plenty of food and drink.
Tim Miozzi drove 950 miles to be here for the music, but mostly, he said, for the people.
"Everybody's here for the same reason and I think Woodstock had the same vibe to it where everyone was there, not just to have a good time - cause that sounds pointless - just somewhere where you can let go, enjoy people's company, enjoy the sense of community."
In other words, they came for many of the same reasons their parents' generation went to Woodstock in 1969.
Not to mention the music. As the festivals have grown, a certain style of music has grown along with them. Perhaps no band represents the free-ranging, jam-band spirit better than Widespread Panic
Virtually ignored by the mainstream music industry, Widespread Panic is legendary on the festival circuit. John Bell is the lead singer.
"This festival is really hip 'cause it kind of hearkens back more to the older, hippy days… That's what it was all built on," said Bell of Woodstock's legacy. Whether people knew about the vibe or they were [there] or they just watched the movie and the legend grew…That's what everybody looked back at and said, 'something incredible happened there…let's try to do it again."
So while Woodstock itself has been relegated to museums and history books, the impulse behind it hasn't aged a day since that magical moment 40 years ago.
As long as there are open fields, and bands willing to play, if you put on a rock festival… they will come.
For more info:
- Bethel Woods Center for the Arts
- Widespread Panic
- Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival
- 10KLF - 10,000 Lakes Music Fesival
- Voodoo Experience
- Jenny Lewis
- Public Property