BETHEL — The Beatles were not here 50 years ago when more than 400,000 people crowded shoulder-to-shoulder over acres of farm land to listen to rock ’n’ roll music and define a cultural happening known as Woodstock.
But Ringo Starr, then the Beatles' lead drummer, got a second chance at history Friday night as the lead superstar musician at the Golden Anniversary celebration of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair. The rerun began Thursday and ran through Saturday.
The event organizers, on the basis of advance ticket sales, expected 100,000 fans, many of them who were at the original “Peace and Love” music festival in 1969. There were no hippiedom war protesters, free pot or naked concertgoers visible this time around.
But spirits were high as festival-goers dressed in '60s garb flocked to what once was Max Yasgur’s dairy farm, the site of the original festival. The same sacred ground now showcases the 1969 concert at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts.
The Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” echoed from a 1969 Ford Econoline in the anniversary parking area, as people sat outside their vehicles enjoying food and friendship, anticipating Starr and his All Star Band.
Arlo Guthrie was up next and over the weekend there will be performances by the Edgar Winter Band and Blood, Sweat & Tears as well as Santana with the Doobie Brothers, and John Fogerty with the Tedeschi Trucks Band and Grace Potter.
“Ringo Starr is the main reason we are here,” said northern Pennsylvania resident John Johnson. “When the original Woodstock was here, I was serving in Vietnam. If I would have been in the country, I would have been here.”
Johnson’s wife Maggie said she was dying to go 50 years ago, but it was not to be.
“I was 16 at the time, so my mother was not going to allow me to go to the concert back then,” she said. “Getting to be here has been incredible. I’ve had so many cool moments already. I’m celebrating my birthday, and this is a birthday I will never forget.”
While the original festival will never be duplicated, Marianne Trovato, who attended it, said she can still feel the enthusiasm she experienced 50 years ago.
“Somehow, when I pulled into the parking lot, I felt energized,” said Trovato. “I felt like I was back again and felt like I was 22. I felt young again, and it just put me in that spirit where you feel happy to be alive.”
Trovato, a Philadelphia native, attended the original Woodstock with a group of her friends after graduating from college a few months earlier. She said the group’s expectations did not come close to its reality.
“We drove up from Philadelphia,” she said, “and left the car on the (New York) Thruway” because the road into the concert field was blocked by abandoned cars. “We walked about five or six miles to actually make it the rest of the way. It sounds like a lot, but it’s easy to walk that much when you are 22. We were laughing and carrying on as we made our way to the concert.”
Trovato and her friends persevered through wet, steamy and rainy days as well as cold, dreary nights during their time at Woodstock 1969, but she said that didn’t ruin the experience.
"Because of how much fun I had then, I did want to come back here for the 50th anniversary,” said Trovato. “I knew it would make me feel young again for a day or two.”
Trovato’s husband Joe did not attend Woodstock but said he was happy to be with his wife to relive history.
“We had planned this since last year,” he said. “We lined up a place to stay as soon as we heard this event was going to be held. The atmosphere here is incredible. Hopefully, this creates a memory we will cherish forever.”