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Woodstock Festival Remembered 40 Years Later

It is 40 years this weekend since almost half a million young Americans took over the small town of Bethel, New York to attend a three-day rock festival that became known as "Woodstock." Originally planned for Woodstock, New York - that's how the festival got its name - it was ultimately moved to the small town of Bethel, New York. Many expected violence with such huge numbers, but they were to be surprised.

To many, this place is considered sacred ground. It is the location of the famous Woodstock festival, which took place 40 years ago this weekend. The farmland was owned by Max Yasgur, a dairy farmer, who died years later. His son Sam says immediately after giving permission for the concert, opposition arose.

"Signs started going up 'Don't Buy Yasgur's Milk. Yasgur Loves Hippies.' And that made dad mad," Sam Yasgur recalled.

Duke Devlin, a self-described hippie, was hitchhiking in the area, and read about the upcoming festival.

"There was going to be an Indian Village and a Petting Zoo and Arts and Crafts," he said. "And on the bottom it said 'breathe air that's never been breathed' before so it was all this cool stuff."

Hundreds of thousands came. Every single road in this area was mobbed. Then on August 15, the concert that would define a generation began.  

Richie Havens, the first performer, took a helicopter in because of the crowds.

"When I looked down and I saw all the colors, I went 'oh-oh.' Every human being was represented," he noted. "If the newspapers get this shot, we've won."

Teenagers, like Zeke Boyle and Joe Dipone came because they felt alienated from their parent's generation.  

"When I went to Woodstock I saw all these kindred souls," he said. "It just made me feel like I wasn't alone in the wilderness out there. There was a credence to the movement. It empowered me and made me think "wow we are a force to be reckoned with."

Some came for other reasons.

"There was a lot of free love," said Jeff Corwin. "The pond is at the back of us and that is where they were all skinny dipping. Everybody was into everybody. It was a magical time for lack of a better term."

"It was all your Christmases, all your Chanukahs, all your birthdays in one weekend," Duke Devlin said. "If I found something to eat, I ate it. If I found something to smoke I smoked it. If I found a place to snooze a little, I did it."
 
As the crowds grew, people had nowhere to go.  

"You wouldn't be able to see the grass on these fields because of the bodies all over the ground," said Sam Yasgur. "Farmers couldn't get milk trucks in, so they had to throw the milk out, down the drain. What you had just dumped was your livelihood."

Yasgur says everyone expected violence. Instead the locals befriended the concertgoers.  

"Here you have invaders, people who were kind of strange and the people in this county said these are hungry kids and people all over rallied to bring them water and food," he added. "The people rallied to help these kids. We had all the ingredients of a perfect storm but instead it became an organic melding of calming and peace."  

Remarkably there was no serious violence at the site. In fact many of the kids stayed back to clean up. Some like Duke Devlin, the hippie who had been hitchhiking in the area, never left. Today he is a tour guide for the Bethel Center for the Arts.

"You know they asked me to do this," he said. "They actually pay me to do this, to be a 'Site Interpreter.' What they don't know is I would do it for a Twinkie and a Yoo-Hoo. I just love dealing with the people. I came here for three days and I got 40 years of a wonderful life here."

August 15 marks the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock festival. Duke Devlin will be out again talking about the place he loves.

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