Woodstock sees profits blowin' in the wind

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The Independent Online
PEACE, love and freedom is supposed to be blowing in the wind at this fabled artists' colony in upstate New York, but such niceties are rare these days. Twenty five years on and quaint little Woodstock, symbol of counterculture for a generation, is a village under siege. 'Free Woodstock' cry the bumper stickers and black T-shirts with white barbed wire printed on them.

With a week to go, efforts to re-create the Age of Aquarius lovefest of 1969 have run into unwanted troubles. They have cancelled the 'family event' on the original site 25 miles away at Bethel. It was there on Max Yasgur's farm that the hippies and the beaded love-children gathered for the three-day happening a quarter of a century ago. Fans from that era, however, may be too old and grey to revive a happening, and only 1,650 of the 50,000 tickets had been sold. So they dropped the idea this week.

Nine miles from here at Winston's Farm, a much grander event is also undersubscribed. Tents and 10-foot high fences are being erected and legions of security men are being recruited. A list of bands mixes the new music with the old - Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Metallica with Santana and Crosby, Stills and Nash. But this week, for the second time, the organisers had to extend the deadline for buying tickets because only 150,000 of the 250,000 had been sold. And there is little harmony between Woodstock and the organisers.

Festival food vendors are angry because the concert organisers want too much of their profits. The village elders cannot seem to agree with the organisers on how much the concert funds will contribute for extra police and for cleaning up the inevitable mess. At the fire department, the cover of the pamphlet outlining the contingency plan for the concert weekend has a computer-generated detonating atom bomb. And then the T-shirt war broke out.

This year's concert will cost dollars 30m (pounds 19.6m) as opposed to dollars 3m for the original one. In this era of corporate downsizing and profit margins, with big backers like Pepsi-Cola and Haagen-Dazs ice cream, the concert's logo 'Woodstock 94' is a marketable item. The organisers took the 1969 emblem of a dove sitting on the fret of a guitar and declared it their own, if the two numbers 94 were put alongside.

The T-shirt makers of Woodstock took no notice and went on producing their wares as disrespectful of corporate law as they were a quarter a century ago. One of their T-shirts proclaims 'Woodstock '94, Three Days of Peace and Profit'. People like the bearded, disabled Vietnam veteran, Bill 'The Weid' Weidenbacher, set up his mobile store at the car park and declared no knowledge of the concert taking shape down the road. 'I know a lot of people around here, but I don't know anyone who's going,' he said.

One day last week, as the village's winding, hilly streets filled with summer tourists, the organisers struck. Hand over your illegal T-shirts to the company - Woodstock Ventures - the astonished artists were told in a letter. 'If you continue to sell unauthorised goods, we will have no alternative but to exercise all available remedies,' the letter advised. 'I'm not moving or doing anything new,' said The Weid who knows about wars - a Viet Cong bullet dotted the 'i' of his name on his helmet.

How will it all end? Probably as it usually does in Woodstock. The artists will ignore the corporate raiders and take a walk up Overlook Mountain, meditate at the tiny church of Christ-on-the-Mount or the Buddhist retreat, or just take a book about Shamanism, or Tarot-cards, up to the Magic Meadow and hang out until the aggravation passes. Times they ain't really a-changing.

(Photograph omitted)