25,000 attend free concert at original site

August 14, 1994|By Newsday

BETHEL, N.Y. -- By yesterday afternoon, up to 25,000 purists -- most too young to have been at the original Woodstock festival -- descended upon the site of the 1969 event, waiting for a hastily organized reprise concert to begin.

Route 17B was lined with signs welcoming "Woodstockers," skinny-dippers were back in Filippinis Pond, portable toilets and telephones had been set up on the former Max Yasgur farm, local families were fixing hamburgers to sell to the visiting music fans, and even the rains made a repeat appearance.

A 100-minute downpour late in the afternoon blew down the just-erected tarpaulin over the stage, almost toppling a sound scaffold. The rain also sent about half the crowd scurrying to cars and tents.

Arlo Guthrie, who said he had turned down an offer to appear at the Bethel '94 concert that was canceled two weeks ago, was among the first to arrive for the free concert organized by Richie Havens. Both Mr. Guthrie and Mr. Havens sang at the original Woodstock.

Sitting outside his tour bus signing autographs and chatting, he said, "I thought it should be free all along." As for the construction delays that postponed his performance, he waved in the direction of the disorganized scene and said, "It's feeling pretty familiar right now."

Folk singer Melanie, who also performed at the original concert, saw some differences: "It's healthier," she said. "It's not them against us." Still, the famous Woodstock vibe was discernible. "It was incredible," she said. "When you come to this spot you can feel something happening.

Jewel Eggink, 17, who lives in the original event's namesake town of Woodstock, was here with her parents for the fourth year in a row. But music was not the draw. "It's totally free and awesome here," she said. "Forget the concert -- it's just the people."

One of the biggest boosters of the 25th anniversary free concert is Art Vassmer, 68, owner of Vassmer's Grocery Store.

He was made famous by the Woodstock movie, which showed him refusing to jack up his prices in 1969.

"I'm getting a lot of visitors who were here in '69," he said, "and it's a nice feeling."

Steve Higgins, a Vietnam veteran from Maryland, missed the first festival because of the war. "I missed one, so I thought I'd come to this one for the party. This makes up for Vietnam," he said.

While some came to Bethel to commune on the original site, others stopped a few miles down Route 17B at Freedomfest. This year, it's an 11-day festival about five miles from Bethel. For a $15 parking fee, they could listen to lesser-known groups who will be playing through Aug. 22.

By yesterday morning, more than 2,000 people had arrived for the event, some staying up for music that continued until 5:30 a.m. Some said they'd been headed to the other site, but ended up at Freedomfest by accident.

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