Fall Getaways 2008
From the Berkshires to the Adirondacks to famous old Bethel, NY: You can admire the fall foliage — and learn something new at a world-class museum — on each of these exciting excursions
Magic bus: One of the featured exhibits inside the Museum at Bethel Woods
Photograph courtesy of Bethel Woods Center for the Arts
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Autumn is often the best time to take a road trip. The crowds are gone, the air is crisp, and in the Northeast we have that world-famous fall foliage to appreciate. And — an added bonus — the cultural season is also now in full swing. So we’ve chosen four special getaways — all within three hours of Poughkeepsie — that center around visiting top-notch museums. You can relive Woodstock, tap into Native American or mountain culture, or get up close and personal with Norman Rockwell. And we’ve given you dozens of other things to do (and places to eat) along the way. So pack your bags, plug in the GPS, and get moving!
Relive the 1960s at this brand-new museum
By Polly Sparling
Technically, I’m too young to be considered a flower child — I was in elementary school throughout the 1960s. But thanks to my older sister Meg, a teenager at the time, I got to experience some of the cultural nuances associated with being a hippie (at least as they were practiced by kids in Westchester County). I remember using a steam iron to press my sister’s waist-length hair before her dates with Steve (her bearded, motorcycle-riding boyfriend); I think we both suffered permanent hearing loss from screaming at the Beatles when they appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. And I vividly recall the pang of jealousy I felt when Meg and her friends piled in a car and headed for the 1969 Woodstock Festival (although I’m still unsure if they ever made it off the New York State Thruway).
So it was with some hesitation that I approached my visit to the Museum at Bethel Woods, the brand-new facility located on Yasgur’s farm, the site of the Woodstock festival in Sullivan County. A whole museum, dedicated to a rock concert? I envisioned a room full of video footage of performers; tired audio clips of Richie Havens, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix et. al.; and photos of kids rolling around in the mud — but not much more. What else is there to say about Woodstock — or the ’60s, for that matter?
As it turns out — plenty.
I’m happy to report that these reservations were completely unfounded. Exploring the Museum at Bethel Woods was one of the most stimulating, thought-provoking, educational, and — yes — groovy experiences I’ve had in many a moon. And even more telling: Hilary, my 18-year-old daughter — whose only knowledge of this time period comes from textbooks and her mom’s old LPs — was just as enthralled as I was.
Although the concert itself is the museum’s focal point, the site’s creators have taken great care (and used much of their exhibition space) to place the “three days of peace and love” in the proper historical context. Before the word “Woodstock” is even mentioned, visitors get a detailed look at all aspects of American life during the ’60s — from Vietnam, racial tensions, and moon shots to bell bottoms, TV sitcoms, and transistor radios.
The newly constructed building, which opened last July, sits on a hillside above the site’s outdoor concert theater. The entrance area — all glass, gleaming wood, and slate floors — feels deliberately muted and sedate. It’s a perfect foil to the exhibit hall — a giant room awash in color, light, and sound. At the entrance, you immediately catch sight of an illuminated peace sign projected on the floor, while clips of ’60s hits play in the background. In an interesting architectural touch, curvilinear walls (their forms called to mind the psychedelic lettering used on old “flower power” posters) separate different subject areas throughout the hall; each wall features a collage of relevant photos, newspaper headlines, quotations, and other bits of historical ephemera.
The museum bills itself as being hands-on, but that description doesn’t really do it justice; one feels immersed in the sights, sounds, and — significantly — politics of the era. Small kiosks, outfitted with benches and a video screen, offer a menu of short films on a particular topic, all of which use period footage and are both entertaining and informative. At other stations, you can grab a pair of headphones and hear tunes — pop, rock, country, gospel, and R&B — from a particular year in the 1960s; the console provides a written anecdote about the artist to savor while you listen.
Once you’re properly imbued with ’60s culture, the exhibit sets out to tell the complete story of Woodstock (or the “Aquarian Festival,” as it was originally called). Again, the museum’s creative team has done a masterful job of combining what most people already know about the event (the massive crowd, the groundbreaking musical performances, the thunderstorms, Wavy Gravy in the acid tent, etc.) with the nuts-and-bolts facts of how the concert was conceived, publicized, and carried out. From a video look at the Hog Farm Commune’s cross-county bus trip (which is screened inside a psychedelically painted bus) to a memo outlining the event’s security plan, it’s all here. And lest you get the impression that the exhibit gives short shrift to music, rest assured: Not one, but two longer films showcase actual performances from the festival interspersed with first-person accounts by concertgoers, critics, and the artists themselves.
In the museum’s final display, a variety of notable people — from Oprah Winfrey to Edwin Meese — comment on whether or not Woodstock has had a lasting effect on the nation. Doors guitarist Ray Manzarek sums it up neatly: Woodstock was “the defining moment for an entire generation of people.” If you consider yourself part of that generation, you’ll enjoy a trip to Bethel (whether it’s for the first, or the second, time).
Other Activities: While the Museum at Bethel Woods is the newest (and splashiest) sight to see in Sullivan County, there are plenty of other activities to keep weekend visitors happily occupied. Besides the museum, the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts hosts concerts by top-flight musicians (David Bromberg and Richie Havens are two) into the early fall. And the region’s popular Harvest Festival — a local tradition for the past eight years — is held at the center every Sunday through Columbus Day weekend. Located a stone’s throw east of Bethel, the Monticello Raceway has harness racing year-round, as well as 1,500 video gaming machines (for a little touch of Vegas in the Catskills). There’s live entertainment on weekends, too. Through September, outdoor enthusiasts can swim, fish, and take a boat ride at Lake Superior State Park, located just south of Bethel.
Accommodations: Less than three miles from the Bethel Woods complex, the Bradstan Country Hotel in White Lake is a former rooming house converted into a Victorian-style B&B by owners Edward Dudek and Scott Samuelson. The five spacious guest areas — two large rooms and three suites — each have a private bath and a mixture of “vintage, antique, and contemporary furnishings,” says Dudek. The expanded Continental breakfast includes homemade baked goods and one or two hot dishes — “very European,” according to Dudek. On Sunday evenings through October, cabaret performances by well-known Manhattan chanteuses like Jeanne MacDonald and KT Sullivan are held in their living room. Room rates range from $135-$200. 1561 Rte. 17B, White Lake. 845-583-4114 or www.bradstancountryhotel.com
Where to eat: There are several nearby eateries worth checking out. Dine on brick-oven pizza at Benji & Jake’s (845-583-4031), or on rainbow trout at the Fat Lady Café (845-583-7133), both of which overlook Kauneonga Lake. The Front Porch Café (Rte. 17B, White Lake; 845-583-4838) offers contemporary fusion cuisine and a special Sunday brunch with homemade baked goodies.
The Museum at Bethel Woods
Bethel. Closed early January-March. $13, $11 seniors, $9 youth 8-17, $4 children. Advanced tickets required. 845-454-3388 or www.bethelwoodscenter.org
FALL FOLIAGE ALERT
To get a truly spectacular look at the foliage, drive north into the Catskill Park. A combination of private and publicly owned property, the 700,000-acre park includes a number of exceptional hiking trails around Big Indian, as well as the Beaverkill and Willowemac, two of the world’s most famous trout fishing streams.