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Missed Woodstock? Then buy the T-shirt

world Updated: Aug 09, 2009 10:55 IST
AFP
Missed Woodstock? Then buy the T-shirt

Welcome to Woodstock, declares a sign at the site of the legendary 1969 love, drugs and rock festival. Oh, and this is a "smoke free environment."

August 15 marks 40 years since up to half a million people camped for three days at Bethel, a village near New York City, to revel in marijuana, nudity, peace, mud and music.

But while the famous hill forming a natural amphitheater is unchanged, the welcome sign makes clear that the site -- like many former hippies -- has seriously grown up.

"No public intoxication, no tents, canopies or beach umbrellas, no camping," reads the sign. "No loud music."

Actually, there will be music August 15, but only with a handful of rather diminished survivors from the 1969 line-up playing to a modest-sized, carefully controlled crowd.

Other anniversary events include an Ang Lee feature film called "Taking Woodstock," due out this month, and a flurry of books and CDs.

What no one's attempting to repeat is the original event, the greatest rock concert in history and an extraordinary outpouring of hope and protest at the height of America's traumatic 1960s experience.

The idea has come up often, but the spirit of '69 is elusive.

The original organizers spent years bickering after the concert. They also failed to establish a working relationship with the current owners of the Bethel site and museum.

And while Michael Lang, one of the leaders, floated several possibilities to mark this anniversary, including a concert in New York City, none came off.

His last big bash -- a concert on the 30th anniversary in 1999 -- is best remembered for ending in a riot.

This leaves nostalgic hippies, or wannabes, little beyond the hallowed, if strangely antiseptic surroundings of the Bethel site.

From the huge car park, visitors cross mown grass and pass another sign -- this one setting size limits on picnics -- before paying 13 dollars to enter the museum.

Exhibits at the complex, which resembles a swish conference center, tell the story of the concert and the tumult of the period, from the assassination of Martin Luther King Junior to the Vietnam War and Moon landing.

While rock greats like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin sing their hearts out, visitors peruse interactive video screens. They crash out on bean bags and can even board the kind of psychedelic bus used to ferry thousands of flower children into Bethel four decades ago.

There's a distinct theme park feel, but museum director Wade Lawrence, 54, is not apologising.
"Modern museum goers expect a certain level of amenities, a comfort level," he said, explaining that the emphasis on interactive features is aimed at today's gadget-obsessed youth. "If we didn't have the interactive side, we'd lose them."

While real hippies are missing from the Woodstock museum, anyone with a credit card can at least get the look.

The tour leads to a gift shop where T-shirts emblazoned with the original dove-and-guitar logo sell for 24.95 dollars. Posters advertising the concert sell for 129.95 dollars and psychedelic tea mugs for 12.95 dollars.

There's even a "peace fingers sculpture," a life-sized model of a hand making a V sign, at 40 dollars plus tax.

Craig Wiseman, 49, visiting with two friends, shook his head in disbelief at the rules emblazoned at the edge of the concert field.

"This has become something it wasn't intended to be," he said.

"I was only nine back then, so I didn't go. If only I'd been born a decade earlier!"

And there won't be a second chance. "It only happened once," Wiseman said. "It can't happen again."