Where is Woodstock?

Woodstock and Bethel
A graphic that shows both Woodstock and Bethel, N.Y., on opposite sides of the Catskills.

The saying goes that if you can remember Woodstock, you probably weren't there. But the reality is that even those who were at Woodstock weren't actually at Woodstock.

Today, 40 years after the infamous weekend of peace, love and music, two distinctly different towns are competing for the historical designation of being home to the world's most famous music festival, reports CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman.

Woodstock, N.Y. was the concert's inspiration, but Bethel, N.Y. was the concert's location. The two towns sit on opposite sides of the Catskill Mountains, an hour and a half apart.

Every year thousands of people pull into Woodstock and find themselves wondering if they are in the right place.

"This is Woodstock but it wasn't in Woodstock," explains a local.

Joyce Beymer, president of the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce, says the realization is a disappointment for a lot of people.

"But go to Bethel where the concert was and you'll be more disappointed," Beymer says. "There's no Woodstock there."

Woodstock Special Section

Charles Burdick, who runs the only business on the main drag in Bethel, disagrees with Beymer.

"This is Woodstock - 1969," Burdick says. "A lot of people want to bring Woodstock back to where Woodstock is - not the town of Woodstock - Bethel, New York."

Bethel has a new museum perched on a hill overlooking the concert site. The Museum at Bethel Woods takes visitors back to the festival itself and the sixties in general. The town of Woodstock, on the other hand, doesn't have a museum.

"If a civil war buff wants to experience Gettysburg, they go to Gettysburg, they don't go to Dubuque," says Wade Lawrence, director of the Museum at Bethel Woods.

Beymer says Woodstock is still very much the music and artist colony that inspired festival promoters in the first place. If you want hair, hippies and guys walking in circles for no particular reason, you'll definitely find that in Woodstock. The town has everything except for what may be the most important thing: the field.

"It's not just an empty field," says Harry Sessa, who was at Woodstock in 1969. "There's souls and stuff out there."

Sessa was in that field and saw all three days and all 36 acts - from Jimmy Hendrix to Sly and the Family Stone. He pleaded for peace and wallowed in the mud with nearly half a million of his closest friends. He saw it all, but forgot most of it when he was hit by lightening and got amnesia in 1973.

But returning to the Woodstock field - in Bethel - brought lots of his lost memories back, memories of "the faces and the hippy chicks we hung out with." He even remembered the spot where he sat.

With one namesake and another location and the curative powers to bring long lost memories back from the abyss, Woodstock may not just be a city, but a state unto itself.

  • Steve Hartman
    Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.