BETHEL WOODS, New York (WABC) — What came to be called the “Woodstock Generation” got its name from a three-day music festival that happened 54 years ago, not in Woodstock, New York, but in Bethel, 60 miles away.
Today, a museum sits next to the original field where half a million gathered, and the open space is preserved as a national historic site.
Through the years I have talked to people who were at Woodstock and a few who merely pretended to have been there, but few have stories as compelling as Rona Elliot.
She’s a former network TV reporter, who interviewed the biggest legends in the music business, but in 1969 she was a young witness to history.
The event that defined a generation still resonates more than half a century later thanks to an Oscar-winning documentary and the memories of those who were there.
“Those three days were magic,” Elliot said.
Elliot was one of the first enlisted to help stage the festival.
“I’m doing local PR, so I spoke to their Kiwanis club about what a good thing this was going to be for their community,” Elliot said.
The 23-year-old booster is now on the board of The Museum at Bethel Woods located on the site of the 1969 event.
“There are very few people that experienced the development of Woodstock as it happened over the course of every day of about four months,” said Neil Hitch, senior curator.
She is a keeper of the flame who never tires of returning to the field where it happened.
“We were all so good-intentioned and so good-hearted, and such believers in the power of the music to heal,” Elliot said.
“Freedom” is a song that was invented on the spot for hundreds of thousands of people.
“What did that sound like? What did that feel like?” Sandy Kenyon asked.
“That was a big hum from the mother ship let me tell you!” said Richie Havens, musician.
Havens died in 2013. Festival organizer Michael Lang passed away last year. Bobbi Ercoline lost her life in March. She hugged a guy on the cover of the “Woodstock” album and stayed married to him for more than 50 years. All of which makes the stories of those who survive even more important:
“Because young people and especially young people now are not infused with the kind of hope and belief that we were. They don’t have the sense that anything is possible. This was about possibility, and we manage to do it against all odds,” Elliot said.
I’ve been to Bethel Woods several times and each of those visits, for the 40th, 45th, and 50th anniversaries was meaningful. I have often pondered exactly why. Perhaps it’s because Woodstock is proof, as Rona Elliot says, that people can extend their heart and love the people next to them.” This place is worth the drive!
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