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Original photography by Author Lada Ray

In my life I had been to just about 30 countries, including some of the most picturesque, famous, as well as exotic and rarely visited locales. Some I remember with warmth, in others I’ll always I feel at home, even after years of absence, and there are a few I wouldn’t necessarily want to go back to. I am planning a series of posts about my various travels, with lots of pics (of course) and a fresh look at destinations both well-known and rarely traversed.

But for now… I’d lived in the USA for years. So, why not do a series on something closer to my present home: the genuinely cool places of America?

Today’s destination is the town of WOODSTOCK, NY, located not too far from my home in the Catskills. 

Woodstock, NY has forever been etched in the Americans’ genetic memory due to a certain event in 1969, which signaled a massive change in the mentality of this country towards the Vietnam War and which is widely regarded as a pivotal moment in popular music history.

500,000 music fans gathered between August 15 and August 18, 1969 on Max Yasgurs dairy farm for a weekend billed as “An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music.” Families came with children and often slept straight on the grass during this rainy and muddy weekend. There were food shortages and sanitation problems. But in 3 days, 32 acts were performed, making many participating musicians famous overnight. Artists included Joan Baez, Santana, Janis JoplinGrateful Dead and The Who, to name a few. Music performances alternated with anti-war discussions and meditations, as well as yoga, breathing and healthy living classes. Both the participants and attendees felt remarkably peaceful and inspired.

Initially, no more than 50,000 people were expected and the festival was supposed to happen on Woodstock property, not far from the town itself. Hence the name: Woodstock Festival. But after the locals rebelled against the “invasion” of the “Hippies” and when it became clear that the festival attendance would break all records, the venue was hastily moved to the extensive dairy farm owned by Max Yasgur, some 60 miles (100 kilometers) away.

New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller called festival organizer John Roberts and told him he was thinking of ordering 10,000 New York State National Guard troops to the festival. Roberts was successful in persuading Rockefeller not to do this. Meanwhile, New York’s Sullivan County declared a state of emergency.

I daresay all these authorities, who wouldn’t see the great thing if it hit them over the head, were worrying about the wrong people. Unfortunately, in this regard not much has changed since then.

The town has long been a mecca for artists, musicians (like Bob Dylan), and writers, even before the music festival made the name “Woodstock” famous. The town has a separate Artists’ Cemetery. Film, and art festivals attract big names, and hundreds of musicians have come here to record. In April 2012, Woodstock hosted the Woodstock Writers Festival. Speakers inlcuded some of the notable names in literature: Ann Hood, Augusten Burroughs, Shalom Auslander, Kurt Anderson and Ned Leavitt.

The town is also home to the new Tibetan Buddhist Monastery.

Located between the foothills of the Catskills and Hudson River, Woodstock today blends music and the arts with robust holistic and spiritual communities. And yeah, Hippies are always welcome!




Read Part 2:  Cool America: Woodstock Tibetan Buddhist Monastery