Journey to the Holy Land

and by “Holy Land”, I mean Bethel, NY.

This past Memorial Day weekend, I traveled to Bethel, NY to see Phish play three nights at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. Bethel Woods is located on the property that was once part of Max Yasgur’s farm, the piece of property where the Woodstock Music and Art Fair was held in 1969. Visiting Bethel was like a pilgrimage for me, having been quite interested in Woodstock and the 60’s hippie culture since I was about 10 or 11. This post is mainly about my visit to the area, along with some pictures, and what it was like being there, and my thoughts on the venue. I will cover the three Phish shows in another post that will follow.

The Venue

I’ll start with the venue because it’s the easiest part of this. Bethel Woods is sits on a huge piece of property where the Woodstock festival was held. The property includes the amphitheatre, where Phish played, the museum, and the huge piece of land that was the main location for Woodstock. There is a flat dirt spot where the Woodstock stage stood in 1969. There’s also a monument commemorating the event at the corner of the property.

Once you enter the gates, the place is pretty expansive. The amphitheatre is nothing like the standard outdoor music venue. There is no fence in the back of the lawn like most venues. You can just walk around up and down the lawn all you want. In fact, you don’t even have to go into the venue to hear the music. You can just hang out inside the gates. It’s extremely relaxed. The inside is open air with no sides. The sound from everywhere is pristine. I sat in the lawn, in the back of the pavilion, and in the lower section of the pavilion. While the sound obviously got louder as I got closer, it was still crystal clear out on the lawn. The views of the stage are also great from everywhere inside, including the lawn. There are no big screens on the outside of the pavilion, just one on either side of the stage. There are trees on the property that line the back of the venue, but they are also spread around the rest of the property. The vending areas are clean and neat and there was even a stream and pond with a fountain in one area. The bathrooms are clean, and, apparently, the women’s room is staffed.

The parking lots are grass, gravel, and pavement. The lots were nice and had both trash and recycling barrels spread throughout. They were setup perfect for the style that the Phish followers use with vending and tailgating.

The staff at the venue, including venue security, was super pleasant. You felt like a customer, not an annoying concertgoer. They were all friendly and helpful, unlike anything I have ever seen.

Needless to say, I will be returning to Bethel Woods. It was the perfect concert experience from the arrival to the exit and everything in between.

The Museum

The museum at Bethel Woods is a great interactive gallery of 60’s memorabilia, quotes, information, and videos that explain the world and local events leading up to the Woodstock festival. It gives a great history of the times and the culture. Most of the museum is dedicated to, obviously, the Woodstock festival, but there was a good amount leading up to it that explained where the world was headed and why Woodstock was so important. The information about the festival itself was so in depth from the original schedule (that they didn’t stick to) to the interactive aerial map of the site detailing where everything was and what happened in various places. It was definitely worth our while to visit the museum. I thought the $15 was a bit pricey, but felt it was worth it afterward.

The Area

Finally… the area, including the town of Bethel. We stayed in Lackawaxen, PA. It was about 20-30 minutes from Bethel Woods. This area of New York and Pennsylvania is very rural and hilly. It sits in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains (or, more specifically, the Catskills and the Poconos). It’s mostly farmland with some great rivers and lakes. We were right on the Delaware River where there are a lot of tourist activities. The town was extremely conservative, and very gun friendly. It was almost amusing. We had fun, though. The people that worked at our hotel, which also was one of the only restaurants and bars in town, were very friendly and helpful. I’d probably stay there again.

Overall Thoughts

All in all, this was one of the best concert experiences I’ve ever had. The venue was great. The area was beautiful. The people were fantastic. As for the shows? They were pretty awesome, too, especially for tour openers. If Phish ever plays Bethel again, I’ll be there. Heck, I might even consider that part of New York for a vacation someday. It’s just beautiful peaceful country out there… and so close.

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