Thursday, August 13, 2009

Woodstock: What Could Have Been a Major Fiasco Became Three Days of Magic Anyway

For the 400,000 Blissed-Out 'Flower Children' Who Braved Three Days of Rain and Mud on Max Yasgur's Farm in Bethel, N.Y. (and the Millions Who Wished They Were There), What Was Officially Billed As the 'Aquarian Exposition' 40 Years Ago This Weekend Was a Truly Unique Experience That Will Likely Never Be Repeated

Woodstock 1969 Pictures, Images and Photos

Sheer ecstasy: The Woodstock Festival at Bethel New York marked the zenith of the 1960s counterculture. The festival's promoters expected 250,000 people to show up -- but more than 400,000 arrived instead, overwhelming the town of Bethel and costing the promoters more than $2 million. Yes depite the massive traffic jams, torrential rains and huge quagmires of mud, what could have a major disaster instead turned into a weekend of magic -- and a culture touchstone for an entire generation. (Photo courtesy Rolling Stone)

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EDT Thursday, August 13, 2009)

NOTE TO READERS:This is the final part of a three-part monthly series commemorating the 40th anniversary of the most momentous events of the summer of 1969.


Max Yasgur's dairy farm in Bethel, New York is gone now. Only a small sliver of land remains owned by the family of the farmer who 40 years ago consented to the use of his alfalfa field by a group of rock music concert promoters led by Michael Lang, John Roberts, Joel Rosenman and Artie Kornfeld.

Little did Yasgur -- or anyone else -- realize it at the time that he and his farm would become legendary in the annals of rock and roll history.

A permanent amphitheater now sits where 40 years ago this weekend, some 400,000 mostly long-haired, blue-jeaned and tie-dyed young people gathered for three days of love, peace and music amid massive traffic jams, torrential rainfall and huge quagmires of mud.

Last of a Three-Part Monthly Series

If you're just under 40 years of age and reading this, it might blow your mind to know -- unless they've told you otherwise -- that your parents might have conceived you while cavorting among the multitude of blissed-out "flower children" at what was officially billed as the "Aquarian Music Festival" -- but the world will forever remember by a single word that, to this day, evokes wistful memories: Woodstock.

In many ways, Woodstock was the perfect counterpoint to the seething anger that was roiling the nation over the Vietnam War and the rise of "Black Power" militancy in the African-American community following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 16 months earlier.


For Lang and his partners, three-day festival almost didn't happen: The town of Woodstock, New York was deemed by the promoters to be too small to accommodate the expected crowds and the authorities in the nearby towns of Saugerties and Walkill firmly said "no."

The promoters, operating under the name Woodstock Ventures, originally envisioned the event -- formally titled "An Aquarian Exposition" -- to take place an industrial park in Walkill, which they already had leased for $100,000. The company made assurances to Walkill officials to limit the expected crowd to 50,000 people -- roughly equivalent to a sold-out New York Mets baseball game at Shea Stadium.

But the proposed concert drew immediate opposition from local residents, alarmed by the prospect of 50,000 young people descending upon their town -- prompting the town council to pass an ordinance requiring Woodstock Ventures to obtain a permit for any gathering of more than 5,000 people. Ultimately, the planned event was banned by the town's zoning board, on the grounds of public health; officials insisted that the portable toilets that Woodstock Ventures had rented for the concert did not comply with the town's health ordinance.

But the real reason for the ban had more to do with clashing cultural values than anything else.

In his 1994 book Taking Woodstock -- extended excerpts of which were published in the Hudson Valley Times Herald-Record to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Woodstock Festival -- Elliot Tiber, whose family owned a resort in the nearby town of Bethel, recalled that the residents of Wallkill "had heard of hippies, drugs and rock concerts . . . [and] Woodstock Venture's employees sure looked like hippies," with their now-iconic long hair and scruffy, hand-me-down clothing.

[Tiber's book became the basis for the new motion picture of the same name, directed by Ang Lee ("Brokeback Mountain") and scheduled to be released to theaters on August 28.]

As far as the mostly conservative townsfolk were concerned, Tiber wrote, "Long hair and shabby clothes were associated with left-wing politics and drug use. The [hippies'] new ideas about re-ordering society were threatening to many people" -- especially in the wake of the violent clashes between police and the mostly young anti-Vietnam War protesters at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago the previous summer.

Tiber, meanwhile, had received a Bethel town permit to run a music festival at his resort. "I think it cost $12 or $8 or something like that," he wrote. "It was very vague. It just said I had permission to run an arts and music festival. That's it." After learning that Walkill had rejected Woodstock Ventures' request to hold their concert there, Tiber contacted Lang and his partners.

It quickly became clear that Taber's 15-acre resort was much too small for what Woodstock Ventures needed. But Taber had a friend who owned much more acreage.


Enter Max Yasgur, who owned a 600-acre dairy farm in Bethel, located about 40 miles southeast of the original site that would eventually give the three-day festival its name. Or, more accurately, Yasgur's young son, Sam. The younger Yasgur told the Sullivan County Democrat that the Yasgur farm was struggling amid one of the rainiest summers in Sullivan County's history.

“It was so rainy that summer, we couldn’t get the crops in,” Sam Yasgur told the newspaper. And having been denied permission to hold the festival in Walkill, Lang and his partners were scrambling to find another site. Besides, Sam loved rock and roll. And so Sam lobbied his father to rent their alfalfa field for the concert. Max Yasgur ultimately agreed, seeing an opportunity to tide the farm over financially.

The Yasgurs expected a small concert, attracting 10,000 people at best. Little did they realize that they would end up hosting a multitude of more than 400,000; from August 15 to August 17, the tiny hamlet of Bethel became the Empire State's third largest city. All roads leading to Bethel were solidly gridlocked -- which, if Arlo Guthrie was being accurate when he announced it to the rain-soaked, mud-caked crowd after he was helicoptered in -- led to the closure of the New York State Thruway.

And the rains kept coming -- turning the site literally into Mudville.


Lang and his partners were expecting up to 250,000 people to show up. The actual turnout of nearly twice that many took them -- and everyone else -- totally by surprise, so much so that, to avoid the event becoming a total disaster, the promoters decided to make the festival "a free concert."

Lang was quoted in Taber's 1994 article as saying that he never precisely made the decision that Woodstock would become a free show. But he did decide to make the announcement from the stage -- which was captured in the documentary film that was released a year later. " It was kind of like stating the obvious," he said.

The promoters really had no choice. They couldn't have stopped the thousands of gate-crashers even if they wanted to. "How can you to tell 200,000 to 400,000 people, 'Go home, it's over?'" Lang said. "It would have been the riot of the century."

But something remarkable happened: Instead of crying foul, the thousands who paid their way in didn't complain. It seemed that nothing -- not the rain, not the mud, not the massive traffic jams, not the overrunning of nearby stores -- could dissuade the multitude of music lovers and blissed-out hippies from taking in and enjoying the scene. The music was what mattered.

And what a lineup: Country Joe McDonald, John Sebastian, Santana, Richie Havens, Sly & The Family Stone, Ten Years After, The Who and many, many more. The Grateful Dead's performance, however, was deleted from the film (Jerry Garcia admitted it was one of the worst performances of their career, quality-wise). and, at the band's request, it was deleted from the film),


As the only reporter at Woodstock for the first 36 hours of the festival, Barnard Collier of The New York Times was almost continually pressed by his editors in New York to make the story about the immense traffic jams, the less-than-sanitary conditions, the rampant drug use, the lack of "proper policing" and the presumed dangerousness of so many young people congregating there.

In remarks posted on Wikipedia, Collier recalls: "Every major Times editor up to and including executive editor James Reston insisted that the tenor of the story must be a social catastrophe in the making. It was difficult to persuade them that the relative lack of serious mischief and the fascinating cooperation, caring and politeness among so many people was the significant point.

"I had to resort to refusing to write the story unless it reflected to a great extent my on-the-scene conviction that 'peace' and 'love' was the actual emphasis, not the preconceived opinions of Manhattan-bound editors," Collier continued. "After many acrimonious telephone exchanges, the editors agreed to publish the story as I saw it, and although the nuts-and-bolts matters of gridlock and minor lawbreaking were put close to the lead of the stories, the real flavor of the gathering was permitted to get across."

Collier concluded that after the first day's Times story appeared on the newspaper's front page, "the event was widely recognized for the amazing and beautiful accident it was."

Remarkably, there were only a few arrests, mostly for drug possession. There were, however, two deaths -- one festival-goer was killed when a tractor ran over the sleeping bag he was sleeping in, and the other died from a heroin overdose. But those two deaths were offset by two pregnant women giving birth at the site.


Four decades later, Woodstock remains a cultural touchstone for millions of Americans of the Baby Boomer generation, thanks in large measure to the 1970 documentary film. By now, it's cliche to say, "If you remember Woodstock, you weren't really there." There is some ring of truth to that, as there as many different stories about Woodstock told by the 400,000-plus who were there.

In 1997, the site of the concert and 1,400 acres surrounding it were purchased by Alan Gerry for the purpose of creating the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. The center opened on July 1, 2006 with a performance of a most un-Woodstock-like group: The New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Just over a month later -- 37 years almost to the day after their historic performance at Woodstock. Crosby Stills Nash & Young performed to 16,000 fans at the new amphitheater.

A visitor to the concert site today will find a plaque commemorating the festival. The field and the stage area remain preserved in their rural setting. On the field are the remnants of a neon flower and bass from the original concert. In the middle of the field, there is a totem pole with wood carvings of Jimi Hendrix in the middle, Janis Joplin on top, and Jerry Garcia on the bottom.

A year ago, a museum opened containing films and interactive displays, text panels, and artifacts -- including a replica of Ken Kesey's psychedelically-painted bus, "Furthur" -- which explore the unique experience of the Woodstock festival, its significance as the culminating event of a decade of radical cultural transformation, and the legacy of the '60s. Although officially named The Museum at Bethel Woods, it will likely be forever known as the Woodstock Museum.


With the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock Festival this weekend, Bethel is already overrun with visitors -- including a flood of media people from around the world -- many who attended the festival and wanting to take in memories of that magical weekend and many others -- too young to have been there -- wanting to catch at least a glimpse of place that, for some, is hallowed ground.

And the visitors are likely to run into a portly man with a shoulder-length white hair and an equally long white beard. No, it's not Santa Claus, but rather Duke Devlin. He's one of a handful of Woodstock festival-goers who never left town. Devin, now 66, owns Duke's farm Market in nearby Jeffersonville with his wife. But he's better known today for his other gig: "site interpreter" for the Bethel Woods Arts Center -- and the unofficial curator of the Woodstock museum.

“Woodstock planted seeds that are still growing now,” he said in a recent interview with the Daily Express of London. “It might not have been the birthplace of the green movement but it began to open everybody’s eyes to the environment. At the bottom of the flyer someone gave me in Texas it said: ‘Breathe air that has never been breathed before.’”

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Volume IV, Number 60
Copyright 2009, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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Monday, August 10, 2009

Kenya Says Anti-Obama 'Birthers' Crazy, U.S. President a Descendant, Not a Native

Kenyan Embassy in D.C. Dismisses As 'Madness' Claims That Obama Was Born in the African Country; Even Pro-'Birther' Web Site Now Admits Alleged Kenyan Birth Certificate of President Is 'Not Authentic;" Poll Finds That Disbelief in Obama's American Citizenship Is Largely Confined to GOP's Base of Conservative White Southerners

Orly Taitz during an appearance on MSNBC on Monday (YouTube)

Dr. Orly Taitz, who has become the public face of the so-called "Birther Movement" that insists that President Obana is not a native-born U.S. citizen, may have destroyed the movement's credibility last Monday in a highly combative interview with MSNBC. Taitz, among other things, accused Obama's late mother, Ann Dunham, of "fraudulently" claiming that her son was born in Hawaii -- despite the fact that announcements of Obama's birth in a Honolulu hospital on August 4, 1961 were published a few days later in both of the city's major newspapers. Meanwhile, the Kenyan Embassy in Washington weighed in, dismissing claims that Obama is a native Kenyan as "madness." (Photo courtesy

COMING THURSDAY -- Remembering the Summer of 1969, Part III: The Woodstock Festival

REVEALED! Esquire Magazine: Orly Taitz Is Much More 'Out There' Than You Think -- CLICK HERE

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EDT Monday, August 10, 2009)


If the so-called "Birther Movement" was a navy, its flagship battle vessels were sunk last week by torpedoes fired by its own submarines -- and by the government of Kenya.

With one highly combative appearance on national television, California attorney Orly Taitz -- who became the public face of the conspiracy theorists adamantly insisting that President Obama is not a U.S. citizen and is holding the office illegally -- may have destroyed whatever credibility the movement had.

Meanwhile, an official at the Kenyan Embassy in Washington dismissed as "madness" claims by the "Birthers" that Obama was born in his country and called an alleged Kenyan birth certificate of the president -- which was quickly exposed as a forgery -- "a red herring."

And a new opinion poll released last week finds that the belief that the president is not a native-born U.S. citizen is largely confined to conservative whites -- the Republican Party's core voter base -- and most heavily concentrated in the South.



St. Petersburg Times

BROOKSVILLE, Florida — The U.S. Secret Service has opened an investigation into a local radio talk-show host following a number of complaints about his Friday morning broadcast.

Bob Haa, conservative host of the "Haa Wire" show on WWJB in Brooksville, became the subject of an investigation after authorities were alerted to complaints that incendiary comments were made on the show.

Talk about the investigation started Friday, when Hernando County administration staffer JoJo DiViccaro started receiving calls about 10:15 a.m. complaining that Haa was making threats and racist comments about President Obama.

"We're looking into what was allegedly said," said John Joyce, special agent in charge of the Secret Service's field office in Tampa. "We have yet to determine what was actually said that day."

Joyce said he couldn't go into any further detail about the investigation.



In a live interview on MSNBC from Israel, Taitz was confronted by anchor David Shuster's pointing out that announcements of Obama's birth at a Honolulu hospital on August 4, 1961 were published a week later by both of the city's two major newspapers, the Advertiser and the Star-Bulletin.

Shuster than asked Taitz, "How could these newspapers fabricate those announcements" almost a half-century ago, before anybody would know that Obama would grow up to be elected president?

Taitz refused to answer Shuster's question and instead accused Obama's late mother, Ann Dunham, of fraudulently claiming that her son was born in Hawaii. "If Obama was born in Kenya and his mother wanted to lie -- she didn’t want to go through immigration, she didn’t want to pay an immigration attorney -- she would fill out the form and say ‘my son was born in Honolulu’ and mail it to the [Hawaii] Health Department . . ."

Shuster was incredulous. "Just to be clear, your allegation here is that Barack Obama’s mother was somehow motivated to lie -- "

Taitz cut him off. "Let me finish!"

That led to a back-and-forth between Taitz and Shuster that was punctuated by Taitz accusing Shuster of being "one of Obama’s Brownshirts in the media!"

Taitz's use of "Brownshirts," a reference to the Nazi stormtoopers who helped Hitler's rise to power in Germany in the early 1930s, deeply offended Shuster, who is Jewish and who had relatives who died in the Nazi Holocaust.

The interview quickly degenerated into a shouting match between Taitz and both Shuster and co-anchor Tamron Hall and ended with MSNBC producers cutting Taitz off the air.


In Washington, Jon Chessoni, administration secretary of the Kenyan Embassy, told the online journal The Washington Independent that his office has received many questions about the president's alleged birth in Kenya, which he called "baseless."

"It’s madness," said Chessoni, pointing out that the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr., was out of the country in 1961, when his son was born. "When this matter first came up, the Kenyan government did its research and confirmed that these are all baseless claims," he said.

The embassy official's statement backs up a finding in a 'Skeeter Bites Report editorial posted last Monday that Dunham, who died in 1995, never set foot on Kenyan soil. Tribal warfare that was raging in Kenya in the aftermath of the Mau Mau uprising against British colonial rule would have made it extremely unsafe for the white, Kansas-born Dunham and her unborn son to be there.

Chessoni branded the fake Kenyan birth certificate "a red herring" and considered it as only the latest in a series of forgeries being passed off as official government documents from his country.

While Kenyans are deeply proud that America's first black president is of Kenyan descent, Chessoni said, he was at a loss to understand what Taitz was trying to prove.


Taitz, as part of a lawsuit she filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, submitted a purported "certified copy" of a birth certificate belonging to Obama. "I’m forcing the issue, where Obama will have to respond," Taitz told the far-right Web site "I am asking the judge to give me the power to subpoena the documents from the Kenyan Embassy."

Taitz said the alleged document came from "an anonymous source" who doesn't want his name known because "he's afraid for his life."

On Friday, the judge threw out the purported certificate on procedural grounds just days after the document was exposed as a forgery.

Taitz's request to subpoena the Kenyan Embassy was also rejected, because under international law, embassies are sovereign territories of the countries they represent and cannot be subpoenaed by a U.S. court.

Even WorldNetDaily, which has been vigorously challenging the validity of Obama's U.S. citizenship (and therefore his presidency) for months, was forced to concede that the alleged Kenyan birth certificate was fraudulent.

The right-wing Web site itself got burned last October when it posted what it claimed was an e-mail between then-candidate Obama and Raila Odinga, the opposition candidate in Kenya's own presidential election in December 2007, whose hotly disputed defeat was followed by weeks of bloody clashes between his supporters and those of incumbent President Mwai Kibaki that killed over 800 people (In an effort to end the violence, Kibaki and Odinga agreed to form a national-unity goverment, with Kibaki as president and Odinga as prime minister).

Reportedly obtained by its senior staff writer, Jerome Corsi -- whose highly controversial anti-Obama book, The Obama Nation was widely denounced as being full of distortions and outright lies -- the purported e-mail between Obama and Odinga was quickly exposed as fraudulent, as the online addresses contained in the e-mail of both then-Senator Obama and Odinga turned out to be false and the brief message itself was so poorly written as to be totally uncharacteristic of the highly articulate Obama.


Within hours after the alleged Kenyan birth certificate was posted online and immediately picked apart as bogus, numerous "birther" activists expressed deep anger and frustration with Taitz -- some accusing her of inflicting irreparable damage to their credibility.

"I think it gives the non-birthers an argument to say, 'See, these people don’t know what they’re doing,'" Philip Berg, a Pennsylvania attorney who filed the first lawsuit challenging the legitimacy of Obama's presidency, told The Washington Independent.

Taitz also came under fire from Gary Kreep, executive director of the conservative United States Justice Foundation. "I’ve advised her in writing, along with several other attorneys, that if she has an original document that seems to bolster her case, it needs to be examined by a professional document examiner," Kreep said. "She jumped the gun on this one."

Kreep should know: He's vowed to file lawsuits challenging the legitimacy of everything the Obama administration does on the grounds that Obama's presidency is illegal because he's a foreigner. But he's been frustrated by a lack of any hard proof that the president isn't a native-born U.S. citizen, as the Constitution requires.

"I’ve gotten tips about birth certificates that are purported to be original, snuck out of Kenya, yadda yadda, he said. "Then, all of a sudden, the people offering these things disappear into the woodwork. Some people are definitely putting together hoaxes to damage our cause."


There may not, however, have been a need to sabotage the "Birther" movement: A new poll released last week shows that Americans who believe that the president is a foreigner appear to be largely confined to the Republican Party's base of conservative white voters -- with the highest concentration of "Birthers" located in the South.

The telephone survey of 2,400 adults, conducted July 27-30 by Research 2000 for the liberal Web site (which, in the interest of full disclosure, carries a diaried version of The 'Skeeter Bites Report), found that only 42 percent of Republicans believe that Obama is a native-born U.S. citizen. Forty-seven percent of Republicans believe Obama is a foreigner, while 29 percent said they weren't sure.

By contrast, an overwhelming 93 percent of Democrats and 83 percent of independents believe the president is a native-born American. Only four percent of Democrats and eight percent of independents say Obama is a foreigner, while three percent of Democrats and nine percent of independents were not sure.

When broken down by race, 97 percent of blacks, 87 percent of Latinos and 88 percent of Asians and Native Americans believe Obama is a citizen, but only 71 percent of whites do so. And while the percentage of blacks (one percent), Latinos (6 percent) and Asians/Native Americans (6 percent) who believe the president is a foreigner is in the single digits, 14 percent of whites believe so.

An even higher percentage of whites, 15 percent, are not sure about Obama's citizenship, compared to only two percent of blacks, seven percent of Latinos and six percent of Asians/Native Americans.

But it is in the geographic breakdown where the differences are most stark. Whereas overwhelming majorities of Northeasterners (93 percent), Midwesterners (90 percent) and Westerners (87 percent) believe that Obama is a native-born U.S. citizen, only 47 percent of Southerners do so.

And while doubts about the president's American birth are confined to the single digits among Northeasterners (four percent no, three percent unsure), Midwesterners (six percent no, four percent unsure), and Westerners (seven percent no, six percent unsure), Southerners stand out starkly (23 percent no, 30 percent unsure).

The fact that only a minority of Republicans believe that Obama is a native-born American and that the GOP doubters are most heavily concentrated in the South -- in an era when America's population is becoming more and more racially, ethnically and ideologically diverse -- could have fatal consequences for the party in the future.

The Republican Party can no longer claim to be a truly national party anymore. It has become in 2009 what the Democratic Party was for most of its history until the end of World War II: A conservative, Southern-dominated, nearly lily-white party -- one that's rapidly moving farther and farther away from the American political mainstream.

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Volume IV, Number 59
Copyright 2009, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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