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Thousands flock to Bethel for Woodstock anniversary

A reveler looks on as the 40th anniversary

A reveler looks on as the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock music festival approaches in Bethel. (Aug. 14, 2009) Photo Credit: Getty Images

BETHEL - Woodstock veteran Rich Walka of Bayville ushered his 5-year-old son to the monument commemorating the 1969 Woodstock music festival and tried - in vain - to explain why the event was so special.

"You know what brought us up here?" asked Walka, 58, who was making his third visit to Max Yasgur's former farm since attending the original gathering 40 years ago. "Peace and music. There was a good vibe."

Richie Jr., who said he liked rock music, was more interested in filling a discarded soda bottle with blades of grass he plucked from the ground.

But thousands of others who flocked to the site Saturday were consumed with interest in the famous concert, whether they were here for the original or not. There was a line of people waiting to be photographed at the monument. While they waited, they were entertained by three guitarists from New Jersey singing 1960s rock music as others sat in the shade and traded anecdotes and shared photos and memorabilia.

Others filled the Woodstock museum at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts at the top of the natural amphitheater while waiting for a 5 p.m. concert with remnants of some of the original acts including Country Joe McDonald and Mountain, whose leader, Leslie West, was married on stage during his set. All 15,000 seats were sold before the weekend.

Lorraine Lapinski, 55, of New Hyde Park, came back for her third time since 1969. "It looks very different," she said, because while the original bowl stayed the same, having the museum and related buildings on the hilltop changed the look and feel of the site.

Richard Younger from Sunnyside, Queens, walked 10 miles to get to the Woodstock Music and Art Fair in 1969. He decided to repeat that walk yesterday despite the hot weather to raise money for cancer research after three friends died from the disease. "It wasn't too bad," he said after arriving at the monument before 1 p.m. And he collected more than $4,000 in donations.

The celebration this weekend drew 150 media outlets from around the world. Carolina Stapleton from the Brazilian Public TV Network, Cultura, said she came to cover the anniversary because "Brazil, like everywhere else, had the '60s. They really appreciate those dinosaurs from Woodstock like Jimi Hendrix."

Bethel residents mingled with Woodstock veterans at a Friday night reception at the town historical museum, a small temporary facility featuring Woodstock memorabilia, such as an original security jacket. Rich Klein, 48, a former Massapequa Park resident who became a permanent Bethel resident three years ago, said he was attending summer camp here in 1969 when the sounds of the festival a mile away filled the mountain air.

"I thought the music was coming from heaven when I heard Joan Baez at 8 years old," he said.

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