John Milward, Special to The Times
BETHEL, N.Y. - "It's all so different now, isn't it?" said Pete Townshend on Saturday from a stage in the same alfalfa field where, 29 years ago, the Who gave a career-making performance at 1969's Woodstock Music & Arts Fair.
Indeed, those differences were seen throughout the first two days of a three-day series of daytime concerts marketed under the name "A Day in the Garden."
The original Woodstock festival, which drew more than 400,000 mostly nonpaying rock fans to this small rural town, is celebrated for the fact that a weekend that became a dangerous--and muddy--logistical mess turned not into a drug-addled disaster but the defining event of the late-'60s counterculture. Woodstock also defined the potential for huge profits to those who could successfully tap into the quickly maturing rock culture.
The "Day in the Garden" concerts were the first events approved by the local community to be held at a site that had become something of a holy shrine to latter-day hippies, and the scene of impromptu annual fests. In 1994, the community declined to host the 25th-anniversary event that Woodstock Ventures, promoters of the original event and owners of the "Woodstock" trademark, subsequently staged in Saugerties, N.Y. (A 30th-anniversary festival is already being planned for south of Vienna, Austria, with a companion festival likely to occur in New York state.)
What changed? The involvement of Alan Gerry, an influential Sullivan County native who'd made a fortune in the cable business, and who quietly bought 2,000 adjoining acres that include the fabled field of dreams. "This is the only thing this area has that ranks as a world-class attraction," says Gerry. "So instead of chasing people away, we've decided to make a business out of it, and to create a catalyst for growth in this county."
Toward that end, the "Garden" concerts were designed to attract a well-heeled older demographic that would leave at dusk to fill local hotels and restaurants. There would be no camping, no refreshments brought onto the site, and no more than 30,000 tickets sold for each day.
The acts were booked accordingly. Friday featured Stevie Nicks, Don Henley, Ten Years After and Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers. Saturday's bill included Townshend, Joni Mitchell, Lou Reed, Richie Havens, Donovan and Melanie. Only Sunday's lineup, advertised as "not your father's rock festival," and presenting Third Eye Blind, the Goo Goo Dolls, Marcy Playground, Joan Osborne and Dishwalla, came close to selling out.
Promoters say they took a financial bath on the festival, whose budget was modestly pinned at $5 million (Townshend alone was rumored to be receiving around $500,000). But Gerry has very deep pockets, and during the weekend he declared the event a successful trial run for a proposed schedule of a dozen events each year featuring a variety of musical styles.
His associate Michael DiTullo, noting that the total site was larger than Disneyland, talked of creating a musical theme park. He pointed across the field to where he imagined such facilities as a Four Seasons Hotel and a Hard Rock Cafe.
"I want to dedicate this song to Max Yasgur," said Don Henley, scanning a field covered with older rock fans who'd come equipped with blankets and beach chairs. "He had a nice farm. I understand it's not going to be that way much longer. This is for Max," he concluded, as his band struck the opening chords of "The End of the Innocence."
Henley and Friday's other attractions all offered their standard concert sets, and the result was akin to a daylong event at a summertime shed. Woodstock nostalgists were treated to a rainstorm during the closing set by Nicks, who told the crowd that ever since seeing the movie "Woodstock," she has dreamed of arriving at Yasgur's farm in a helicopter.
Saturday's bill included artists who were profoundly touched by their original appearances at the Woodstock festival. Melanie, who has sung at the site on every festival anniversary but one, opened the day with her two daughters singing backup and her son playing a second guitar. But Havens is the bohemian folkie most defined by his Woodstock performance, and his set underscored the enduring appeal of his hard-strumming approach to interpretive singing.
When Lou Reed's quartet opened its set with a symphony of feedback followed by the chunky chords of "Sweet Jane," the uninitiated learned that his world is not defined by peace and love. The tedious, two-hour set that followed also suggested that Reed's live performances are not concerned with pacing or pleasing the crowd; absent from the set list were such Reed standards as "Walk on the Wild Side" and "Rock and Roll."
Mitchell saved the inevitable "Woodstock" for her encore, but aside from a handful of old chestnuts (including "Coyote" and "Just Like This Train") led her excellent quartet through a jazz-inflected set that showcased songs from her upcoming album, "Taming the Tiger," before concluding with a fine version of Marvin Gaye's "Trouble Man."
Townshend had enlisted five players for this performance, including a harmonica player and a percussionist but, pointedly, not a standard drummer. Musically, the tack worked perfectly, for removed from the quartet format of the Who, Townshend was given license to be playful, and to rock not like a kid but like an adult.
He opened with a surprise--a wonderful version of the Canned Heat tune "On the Road Again," and those other Woodstock veterans were recalled later in the set when Townshend was joined by Taj Mahal on guitar for an equally fetching version of "Going Up the Country."
He dedicated "Behind Blue Eyes" to the late political activist Abbie Hoffman, whom Townshend had booted off the stage at Woodstock during the Who's set. Calling Hoffman a "Chicago revolutionist who could go off a little--like me," Townshend looked back on both himself and Hoffman as angry young men who just happened to meet on the same stage.
But it was with a pair of dramatically rearranged Who songs--"Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere" and "The Kids Are Alright"--that Townshend essentially bridged the past to the present. Paced by a synthetic bass drum that should have been sacrilegious but instead sounded like a sincere statement that Who drummer Keith Moon could never be replaced, Townshend imbued these tunes of his youth not just with musical passion but with hard-won wisdom. Where Townshend might have been expected to simply punch the clock at "A Day in the Garden," his performance evolved into a kind of personal catharsis.
"This feels kind of like the end of a chapter," he said at one point. "It's been really cool to be here. This one's 'Won't Get Fooled Again.' " And when his arm cocked up for the inevitable windmill sweep across the strings of his Stratocaster, more than a few old hippies dropped tears into the earth of Max Yasgur's farm.