Random Rambles, USA
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Woodstock: Journey’s End

Time is a jet plane, it moves too fast
Oh, but what a shame if all we’ve shared can’t last ~ Bob Dylan, “You’re a Big Girl Now”

Time passes slowly up here in the mountains
We sit beside bridges and walk beside fountains ~ Bob Dylan, “Time Passes Slowly”

Well, which is it, Bob?

That first lyric came to me right away as I was starting this; the second followed soon after. There’s a line from Bob for most of the interesting stages, stops and detours on life’s ever-winding highway — more than a few for the inevitable breakdowns and collisions as well.

Overall, thinking back on that last American trip, I’m going to have to lean to the former; even the walking beside fountains (See what I mean?) was conducted with an eye on the calendar and that rapidly diminishing eight days of pleasure.

So there we were, Kate and I, 24-odd hours from my return to JFK, and the unimaginable horror of the return flight, via Beijing, to you-know-where.

Suddenly my bags were in the driveway…

Good colour coordination is crucial when I travel

Good colour coordination is crucial when travelling

..Kate was climbing into the driver’s seat, I was drinking in one last long look at her place, and we were driving south…


..for a last taste of rural New York:


View from a Gas Station

So, the plan was simple: we’d done our little Winter pilgrimage to Woodstock last time; now we’d see it basking in sunshine, warm and unmarred by snow. We’d drive out to Bethel, see the festival site at the Center for the Arts, spend the night in woodsy Woodstock Town, and slump forlornly towards the airport the next day.

It was a relaxing drive, and we never got lost once — but it all started to come apart as we entered the Jewish communities of the Catskills, where we were repeatedly hobbled by the Sunday traffic squeezed into each town. Our long drive was getting intolerably and perplexingly longer.


Flower Power at the Gypsy Wolf

And those towns: I’d heard a few Catskills/Jewish jokes in sitcoms over the years, but never imagined the Hasidic presence in the small towns around Bethel. Block after block of classic American storefronts and small businesses sporting, without exception, Jewish surnames, and kosher bakeries and delis in abundance. Sidewalks were jammed too, with hundreds of black-and-white-clad locals in beards, black hats or long black dresses — a Sunday afternoon of fun in the not-so-big city. Everyone seemed as cheerful and relaxed as it’s possible to look sporting 19th-century threads and a significantly older mindset.

At last we caught on that all of this traffic was getting worse — and getting worse in the same direction we were going, which seemed neither fair nor plausible. Then I started noticing the vehicles: 4 x 4s (expensive ones) and trucks (ditto) with country-music stickers and big hats poking up over driver’s seats.

Gol-darn it, I said to Kate. I got me a bad feelin’ there’s a shindig on tonight in Woodstock — or not really Woodstock, since that’s 60 miles from Bethel, but anyway in the same village where Jimi, Janice, The Band and Sha-Na-Na warped the minds of a generation.

“Want me to turn around?”

“Hell, yes.” We only do one kind of pilgrimage: the private kind. Never got to do it on that trip.

We aimed at Woodstock proper, still hitting those jams in every beard-infested town — in one we were stalled in traffic when a guy called out from a pizza joint (I swear this happened), “TWO FOR FINKLESTEIN!” — but eventually we left the 19th Century behind and pulled with some relief into a parking lot in the late-20th, where the rules of Sunday-night social interaction were rather more relaxed:


More Our Scene

Beer and Mexican followed. Then we hit town and strolled ourselves silly…


..did our best to get into character…


Channelling Van Gogh

..and saw a cop making a driver attempt to walk in a straight line (in Woodstock?!) — another beautifully balmy evening.

Woodstock, plainly, is a town that thrives on its associations with its mythic past; these days it’s boutiquey and well-kept and sedate, at least on its main drags, but still seemed welcoming and relaxed on our two visits.


All the signs pointed to CHANGE

We stayed in a box-shaped mega-hotel near the highway at Saugerties — as far from hippy cool as you could imagine, but we both have an aversion to B & Bs. While there I checked online and had my suspicions confirmed: some Nashville country (I mean that in the worst possible way) star called Blake Shelton (seriously) was doing a sold-out show at the Arts Center. I’d link to a clip (check out Honey Bee for pure corn syrup-coated bull-dust) but he doesn’t need any help from me.

Had to chuckle, though, contrasting the mythic traffic jams of social outcasts and peaceniks and long-haired neer’ do wells flooding the roads to Woodstock in ’69 with the orderly columns of well-heeled, slick-wheeled MOR country fans of the afternoon…

The dream was over.

Next morning, ours was too. Almost. We headed back into Woodstock for another great breakfast at Bread Alone. French toast, good coffee, nice big framed prints of Dylan (the cover of Nashville Skyline, taken in town) and The Band when they were among the famed residents.

Then a last amble…




Notice how Kate LEAPS into the background in every shot?

..and we got back in the car, most reluctantly, for our rendezvous with the inevitable.

BUT…the Americana wasn’t over yet, and it’s a rare post from that trip that doesn’t include some DEAD PEOPLE, so here they are. We were well out of town when I saw something enticing in the roadside trees. Kate pulled over…


..and without too much begging I talked her into one last cemetery walk.

Can’t tell you its name — unnamed and unfenced —  or even the village, but this place was ancient, the simple, well-eroded stones close to slipping back into the earth:









A beautiful spot, but we didn’t linger long. We still had a long and sombre drive, to somewhere far less tranquil, and there’d be plenty of graveyards to share not too far down the line…



~ And that’s all the Goat wrote



  1. I’m always told by people that they hate country music, but they think country music is bootscootin’, big hats and crap like Garth Brooks! If only they listened to the alt-country scene they might feel a bit different. I don’t know what a Blake Shelton is, but I’m taking a punt he’s dead-set nasty. These chumps are the ones giving country a bad rap!

    You do have the eye for a good tombstone. Man, you’ve been killing me with these photogenic cemeteries. If only the long gone dead realised what they’re providing for the roving photographer!

    Did you really say ‘gol-darn it’? Did you have a piece of grass in your mouth as you did so…?!

    • Heheh, yeah, I’ve been practising a bit of the lingo!

      A Blake Shelton is square-jawed, stubbly and is always found in tight designer jeans and expensive boots. Also kinda dead-eyed, good-lookin’ the way a real country star should never be. Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard — whatever happened to the mean-lookin’ hombres slingin’ a guitar?

      I think this post concludes my run of grave-trottin’. For now…

  2. The only Woodstock I have been to is the one in Vermont. A sleepy little town most definitely not to be confused with the famous one, although I bet a lot of folk do.

    • I read on the BBC about a British lady getting on a flight to Grenada and ending up in Granada (or vice-versa).

      That sleepy Vermont version sounds pretty good to me too…

      • I suspect it was the vice versa option. Granada is the sort of place British ladies go to. (Indeed, this Brit (but not ‘lady’ ‘cos that makes me feel old), has been there. It’s cool, BTW.) Depending on when, I should think Grenada could be pretty hairy!

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