Peace, love, and high-speed WiFi: Woodstock is ready for its reboot, writes Brad Wheeler
Jorma Kaukonen wasn’t onstage at the Woodstock Playhouse but a half a minute when he referenced an event nearly 47 years in the past. “I can’t believe I get to play Woodstock again,” says the singer-guitarist, a member of Jefferson Airplane when those white-rabbit believers played the Woodstock Music & Art Fair back in the day. The crowd in front of him look to be of flowered-hair vintage. Once far out, they are only far along now.
Woodstock, the upstate New York town that’s a lovely place of white churches, quaint shops and a fortuitous association with an iconic pop-culture moment, doggedly flies its freak flag.
Kaukonen himself is an acoustic folk-blues specialist and handsome, roguish septuagenarian. He starts his show with Ain’t in No Hurry, about the setting season and an inclination not to rush, even though a train is coming his way. He’s entitled to his complacency, but there’s a feeling among some of the townspeople that maybe it’s time for the old Aquarians to step aside.
IF YOU GO
Woodstock, N.Y., famous for its bohemian tradition and association with the festival that bears its name, is gentrifying. Here are a few places for food, lodging and music that celebrate the past while embracing the future.
Where to stay
The White Dove Rockotel, 148 Tinker St., Woodstock, N.Y., thewhitedoverockotel.com. Rooms from $145 (U.S.).
Where to hear music
Bethel Woods Center for the Arts (a performing arts centre and museum located at the site of the original Woodstock festival), 200 Hurd Rd., Bethel, N.Y., bethelwoodscenter.org.
Where to eat
Phoenicia Diner (a Wonder Years-era eatery with modern twists, serving tourists, long-time residents and hipsters alike), 5681 Route 28, Phoenicia, N.Y., phoeniciadiner.com.
“The new generation is intent on this town not dying,” says Erin Cadigan, part of what she calls Woodstock’s “new blood.” She and her husband are escaped Brooklynites who own and operate the White Dove Rockotel, a funky Victorian inn awash in an aesthetic that is psychedelically retro, yet ultramodern in accoutrements that include high-speed WiFi, streaming TV and a Nexus 7 tablet with cyber-concierge services.
Students of history and hippiedom know that the actual music festival in 1969 took place a 90-minute drive across the Catskills in Bethel, N.Y., where three days of peace, love and music happened on the verdant fields of Max Yasgur’s dairy farm. And while the town of Woodstock has been milking the iconic event ever since, the rock-and-roll landscape of one of the most famous music towns in the world – once home to Bob Dylan, the Band, Van Morrison, Maria Muldaur and the folk-music impresario Albert Grossman – has dried up over the years.
Now, a reversal is afoot. It’s 2016, and Woodstock is ready for its reboot.
“The local music scene is really beginning to flourish again,” says Jimmy Buff, program director of Radio Woodstock, 100.1 on your FM dial if dials were still a thing. “People are looking for a place where they can do what they love and live affordably and still have access to New York City,” Buff explains. “That spot is increasingly becoming the Hudson Valley, and the northern migration of musicians is pretty amazing.”
One of the incoming musicians is Canadian expat Carl (A.C.) Newman, who, like Cadigan and others, left Brooklyn for idyllic wilds. The new breed rubs shoulders with the tie-dyed set. The Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian is still around – “I saw him last week at lunch,” Buff says – as is Woodstock organizer Michael Lang and the Band’s Garth Hudson.
Buff touts nearby towns such as Kingston and New Paltz as music hot spots, with sleepier Woodstock still in the early stages of its own revival. The White Dove’s Cadigan, a fashion designer and concert poster artist, is part of an incoming crowd of live-music boosters hoping to revitalize the scene. The inn offers free tickets to performances at the Paul Green Rock Academy – a school dedicated to the training of young rock musicians – and exclusive VIP packages with local music venues.
“Woodstock the town didn’t become the town because of the festival,” Cadigan says, speaking about an artist-colony heritage and free-spirit lineage that go back a century at least. “That festival became that festival because of the town.”
For my visit to the area, I stayed in the White Dove’s Experience suite, correctly billed as “750 square feet of psychedelic awesomeness.”
In line with Cadigan and her husband’s mission to celebrate Woodstock’s legacy while dragging the town out of the past, the deeply purple space shares silicon-age amenities and excellently oblique Jimi Hendrix allusions.
Over the fireplace in the living room hangs a print of the sound-wave visuals of the notes of the wild version of The Star-Spangled Banner the guitarist played at the festival. You can’t see it when the giant screen for the projection TV is unfurled. The kitchen wallpaper utilizes the sames symbols that once emblazoned Hendrix’s guitar strap.
With a white-fur rug here and a brass bed over there, the suite’s style is a mix of thrift-shop Americana and baroque mod – chic, brash and eye-poppingly evocative.
“What would this space look like,” Cadigan says, explaining her ambitious design motivations, “if the musician inhabited it?”
Other suites are homages to Joni Mitchell and Janis Joplin, while a Grateful Dead-edicated cottage – the only space in which pets are allowed – comes with a 40-inch flat screen with surround sound, along with a record player and original vinyl.
Back at the Woodstock Playhouse, Kaukonen finishes with his signature song, Genesis, an elegant rebirth reference. “Time has come for us to pause and think of living as it was,” he sings. “Into the future we must cross – must cross.”
It’s a gentle and wistful suggestion to live again as one did “when breathing felt like something new,” and it is a warning against keeping to a “vaulted well.”
Woodstock, it appears, is getting the message.