- The Washington Times - Friday, May 31, 2002

The site where Jimi Hendrix once psychedelicized a nation soon will be an institution that is decidedly less cool: the Bethel Performing Arts Center.

Woodstock, home to the 1969 music festival that gave the 1960s its final, peace-loving glow, appears to be falling to the thunder of progress over the protests of purists who are few in number but strong in sentiment.

The Woodstock Preservation Alliance, with a membership of around 200 people, wants the original 38 acres to remain an untarnished landmark. The site is cordoned off with a spilt-rail wooden fence, with a small monument where the makeshift stage once sat.

But it appears that come autumn, the field once ignited by the fury of the Who and the revolutionary twang of Credence Clearwater Revival will be home to more contemporary cultural markers: the commercialized tribute and the gentrified amphitheater.

Local leaders this summer are expected to approve a plan to build the center.

"Something fantastic happened in 1969," said Glenn Pontier, a spokesman for Gerry Foundation, which owns 1,400 acres on and around the Woodstock site. "And we're going to commemorate Woodstock."

The foundation is the operation of Alan Gerry, a cable television magnate who bought the land in 1997. His plan always has been to promote music on the site.

"If we were going to put in a shopping center, I'd be with the preservation alliance," Mr. Pontier said. "But we're going to celebrate music."

It appears that the Establishment, that pervading enemy of youth, is prevailing likely because it is composed of yesterday's rebels.

The new Woodstock will have concerts and culture, albeit with a less-hip tilt. Look for pop concerts along the easy-listening, radio-friendly line, such as Stevie Nicks or Don Henley.

The New York Philharmonic has been secured to play at the first concert, sometime in 2004.

Peggy Beischer, a member of the Woodstock Preservation Alliance, trots out a well-worn, 1960s-style assessment of the situation: "They are paving paradise and putting up a parking lot."

She and her colleagues are primarily opposed to the placement of buildings on a corner of the site, in particular several concession and souvenir stores, as well as a small museum. But they are also against the gentrification of the entire 638 acres, which is now an open field.

"They told us initially that there would be no buildings on the field," said Marcy Hill, another preservationist. "Then they come out with a plan that does put buildings on the field. And all of it will be surrounded by a security fence."

So far, the opposition has been small, garnering around 300 signatures to an online petition of protest of the buildings. Protesters have taken out notices in the local papers of Sullivan County, where Bethel is located but have only 30 letters supporting their effort.

The ads implored locals to speak out against the buildings, reasoning that if the site were to become a park, "visitors would have a place to enjoy the natural beauty of the land."

The effort failed.

"It's going in," said Marion Vassmer, town historian and relative of the fabled Art Vassmer, who welcomed the 400,000 hippies who converged on Max Yasgur's farm for the three-day festival 33 years ago. "And most people are pretty happy."

The arts center indeed is well-received by most locals in the upstate New York hamlet of 4,000 people, which has endured dire economic straits for some time. The center will include a 17,500-capacity pavilion that includes lawn seating, a museum and several smaller performance halls.

It is "a welcome changing of the guard," said Allan Scott, town supervisor in Bethel. "We are taking into consideration all of the concerns. But [the Woodstock Preservation Alliance] is contesting an area that will have structures on it, the same area that had structures in 1969."

The project has received $15 million in state funding, with the rest coming from Mr. Gerry, who lives in nearby Liberty.

"This is something that we really need here," Mr. Scott added. Unemployment in the county is around 8 percent, "and it's already improving with just the promise of this performing arts center."

Mr. Pontier characterized the demise of the open field that once held an aural rebellion as a quintessential dilemma for many middle-aged Americans: "You have figure out what to do with this thing the '60s."


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