This Time They Weren't Stoned and They Wore Real Clothes: Crowds Flock to Opening of Bethel Woods Center for the Arts

Classic Arts News   This Time They Weren't Stoned and They Wore Real Clothes: Crowds Flock to Opening of Bethel Woods Center for the Arts
A wildly enthusiastic and upmarket audience was on hand July 1 to celebrate the opening of the long-awaited Bethel Woods Center for the Arts in upstate New York, famously located on the site of the 1969 Woodstock Festival.

The muddy anarchy of rock 'n' roll legend was replaced by a string quartet serenading patrons as they strolled along immaculately landscaped stone paths, surrounded by elegant greenery and polite reminders about site rules.

The 4,800-seat summer pavilion and 12,000-capacity lawn were packed for the inaugural concert by the New York Philharmonic, which started with "The Star-Spangled Banner" and a few words by cable television entrepreneur Alan Gerry, the force behind Bethel Woods. Gerry, who lives in the area, bought the Woodstock site in the 1990s and his nonprofit Gerry Foundation will operate the complex, which cost an estimated $70 million.

"Hopefully this is a turning point in our community," he said. Motioning to the Philharmonic players, he added, "Give these guys a round of applause, because we want them to come back!"

Whether or not the Philharmonic will decide to make regular treks to Bethel Woods remains to be seen, but given the beauty of the surroundings they could certainly do worse.

Patrons, many of whom said they regularly attended Philharmonic concerts, seemed unanimously excited by the venue. A Mr. Lindeman from Fresh Meadows, Queens, said he was "tremendously impressed. It's well organized, the beautiful buildings fit in with the surroundings, the vista is incredible and you get a sense of the enormity of the land."

Maxine (no last name given) from Manhattan was impressed with the acoustics and the location, saying "The sound quality is certainly more than I expected and the setting is stunning."

Robbie Schecter, from Bayside in Queens, summers in the area. She attended the original Woodstock Festival and laughed, "It's much drier. And I'm not stoned and I'm dressed this time!" She added, "We've been waiting for a long time for this. It's a dream come true and I'm thrilled to be here."

A beaming Dan Berkowicz, who lives near Bethel Woods, said, "Look at this — and it's all in Sullivan County! It defies description and it's the essence of what we've been waiting for. I'm proud to be a part of this."

While patrons seemed unanimously thrilled with the venue and the music, the overpriced greasy fries and ballgame menu won no fans. Brenda from Queens said, "The only negative is the food. They say no food allowed, which is silly, as this place lends itself to picnicking. The food should be more sophisticated, like this crowd," she said, motioning to the sea of Ralph Lauren blanketing the lawn.

And oh yes, the music. The opening night concert, conducted by a jovial Bramwell Tovey, included the orchestral version of Gershwin's Strike Up the Band, the Polovtsian Dances from Borodin's Prince Igor and Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini was performed by the young Russian pianist Alexander Kobrin, gold medalist at last year's Van Cliburn Piano Competition. He replaced an indisposed Lang Lang, who was originally scheduled to headline the event. Audra McDonald sang songs by Gershwin and Bernstein, and a spectacular fireworks display ended the event.

The Philharmonic concert is the only classical event scheduled in this summer's lineup, which includes the Goo Goo Dolls, Counting Crows and the baby-boomer-friendly Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Perhaps some fading tie-dye will be dug up for the two-day Woodstock anniversary concert the weekend of August 12-13.

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