In Sullivan County, New York, about two hours from New York City in the Catskill Mountains, there’s a musical sanctuary like no other. Located at the former site of the 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Fair, the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts carries on a legacy of creativity and engagement in the arts through concerts, events, and exhibits
The Museum at Bethel Woods recounts the history of the 1960s, and the political, cultural, and musical transformations that took place. Through artifacts and ephemera, the museum tells the story of how the Woodstock Festival was put together, as well as how it ended up in Bethel, and not Woodstock, located more than 70 miles away.
The museum’s main exhibit is an immersive, multimedia forum that lets you experience “three days of peace and music.” The voices of organizers, musicians and attendees tell the story. Once the historic and cultural stage is set, visitors can take a virtual ride on a psychedelic bus as if they are arriving at the festival.
Following the bus ride, you enter a dome-shaped room where you are invited to recline on beanbag chairs and time travel through the entire weekend of August 15-17, 1969. The experience, complete with thunderstorms, includes a screen with bigger than life crowd shots, performances from the actual festival, and oral histories from musicians and festival-goers. The museum hosts a regular rotation of temporary and traveling special exhibits as well.
The Bethel Woods Center’s Event Gallery is the site of numerous intimate concerts, arts films, and speakers throughout the year. The center is actively involved in the community and holds a wide variety of educational programs for adults and children.
In 2014, Bethel Woods Center for the Arts hosted a Mysteryland festival for the first time in the US. This electronic music, culture, and art festival has been held internationally—in Chile and The Netherlands—since 1993. The goal of Mysteryland is to create a diverse, global community of creative, free-spirited fans to explore electronic music culture. Over this Memorial Day weekend, Bethel Woods will host the festival again.
Surrounded by rolling hills and forest, Bethel Woods Center for the Arts is an idyllic location for a stroll. Walking paths lead to the Peace and Music Woodstock monument that marks the location of the 1969 stage.
Bethel Center’s Main Stage Pavilion has been ranked number 22 among Pollstar Magazine’s top amphitheaters in the world. Numerous diverse concerts, held throughout the warmer months, include acts ranging from Train with The Fray and Matt Nathanson to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga. The venue hosted more than 210,000 guests last year alone.
Woodstock, New York
If you are in the area, it’s worth the drive to visit the artsy little town of Woodstock, about an hour and a half from Bethel Woods. Though it’s associated with the 1969 festival in name only, it has long been a place where musicians and artists congregate. That’s why the organizers of the Woodstock Festival originally wanted to hold it there. Today you will find numerous shops selling arts, crafts, and antiques.
Its Byrdcliffe Art Colony, established in 1903, is one of the oldest Arts & Crafts colonies in the US. Later, in 1916, Utopian Philosopher Hervey White built a “music chapel” in the woods, which became home to the Maverick Chamber Music Festival. During the 1960s Woodstock became home to Bob Dylan, The Band, and others. A series of Woodstock Sound-Outs were staged on the outskirts of the village from 1967 to 1970, featuring folk and rock acts like Richie Havens, Paul Butterfield, Dave van Ronk, and Van Morrison.
The list of artists and musicians who spent time in Woodstock is long, and some of them never left. Because of this, another cool place to visit is the Artists’ Cemetery. Levon Helm and longtime bandmate Rick Danko are buried across the street in the Woodstock Cemetery.
The Barn, Helm’s former home and recording studio in Woodstock, still holds Midnight Ramble jam sessions in his honor. These family-friendly gatherings have included hundreds of well-known musicians over the years. Visitors can reserve spots months ahead of time at www.levonhelm.com. Everyone is invited to bring a dish to share on a community table.