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Bethel Woods opens at original Woodstock Site in Bethel, New York

Woodstock Museum, opening in 2007
The Woodstock Museum at Bethel Woods, opening 2007

It was a glorious night for the premiere of the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts on Saturday evening, July 1st – not too hot, not too cool, and without humidity. This night marked the opening of the venue, which is in the heart of Sullivan County in New York, on the original site of the 1969 Woodstock Festival. The stage takes full advantage of the natural shape of the lawn to provide excellent visibility, with seats under the pavilion built right into the slope of the hill and fabulous acoustics carrying the music out to the seats on the lawn. It features two screens to provide a closer look at the performers, and space for vendors and refreshments. All types of music will be represented this season, from Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young to Jazz and Pop. The founding and funding of the site was organized by cable television magnet Alan Gerry.

Audra McDonald, Soprano, singing with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra
The New York Philharmonic Orchestra with Audra McDonald

The New York Philharmonic Orchestra opened the inaugural Season, with special guests Audra McDonald, soprano, and Alexander Kobrin, pianist. Set lists included selections from Gershwin, Rachmaninoff, and Sondheim, among others. The concert closed with Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, which the conductor, Bramwell Tovey introduced with humorous opening remarks about his own British heritage. Cannons were fired during the emotional height of the song, capturing July 4th’s feeling of nationalism, (although the song was originally written for Russia).


Fireworks at Bethel Woods

The show ended with a fireworks show in honor of Independence Day – but also alluding to the grandeur of the site and its importance to Sullivan County, both financially and artistically; it was one of the most impressive fireworks displays I have ever seen. I realize that Bethel Woods is a hike for Philadelphians, but I recommend checking this place out, and believe that it holds a lot of promise for the years to come. I had a great time and, despite the fact that the place holds 17,000 people, it was relaxing and easy to get in and out of the venue and the surrounding parking facilities. Perhaps the spirit of peace, love and happiness of the 1969 Woodstock Festival is born again in this $70 million-dollar project, although the opening night deviates from its Hendrix-inspired roots in its classical presentation.

-Caitlin is the artblog intern