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Joy Hall: Woodstock Sonata: A concert overlooked

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Joy Moses-Hall


Sunday, July 21, 2019

Overlook Mountain may have had grandiose visions of overlooking history’s landmark music festival. Always an art and music colony, still an art and music colony, Woodstock, New York, has always dabbled in grandeur, nurturing Hudson River artists and Bob Dylan musicians and even Chevy Chase comedians over the years. But the festival tickets printed in 1969 cemented its hippie reputation. This music concert would be immersive and earthy and a cultural fest. And that quintessential hippie culture is looked over by Overlook.

As mountains go, it’s an ordinary Catskill, albeit with the town of Woodstock nestled in its nethers. All of the Catskills are leftovers from 350 million years ago, when tall mountains called the Acadians towered to the west. The Acadians were massive and jagged, edgy and steep, crushed and pressed upward from the limestones of a shallow sea. As they wore down, from wind and rain and ice, the highest craggy peaks washed away in rivers and landslides to a pile of battered rubble at the bottom of another shallow sea.

Slowly, steadily, the rubble was buried under more rubble, stressed and distressed, pressed and repressed, cooked and coalesced into new rock. Eventually, the rubble sea bottom had its own turn wedging upward, this time to become a dry plateau. Once hefted up and exposed to air, rivulets and rivers etched v-vallies into the flat and compressed bedrock. Millions of years later, glaciers carved u-valleys into the rest, whittling mountains into the plateau. In that sense, the Catskills are more like broken pavement than towering topography. Washington Irving, the author of Catskills fiction, might have described these mountains as Ripped and Van Winkled into the sleepy sweep of strata.

But the ancient rubble of Overlook overlooked the site of a concert that wasn’t there.

Mom and Dad were not at all inclined to look over the psychedelic, beady-dressed hippies that might converge on Woodstock-the-town instead of Woodstock-the-festival. We lived eight miles away from the town of Woodstock, on the far side of Little Tonche Mountain, south of Overlook. Woodstock-the-festival was held 43 miles away in Bethel, N.Y., but Mom and Dad feared the influence of spaced out and grooved in hippies who might not fully grasp the navigational location of the concert, strung out as they might be in their quest for rock ’n roll’s best, on their impressionable offspring.

Woodstock music was not their thing. They were partial to classical. They scoffed when I listened to contemporary artists and rolled their eyes when I called it music. The zenith of their melodic existence was early in their courtship when Mom sat down at a piano in Florida and spontaneously played Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. Dad was smitten.

Mom, who grew up in a Brooklyn neighborhood in New York City in a brownstone duplex with cousins downstairs and a warm concrete yard out back, was schooled in the genteel arts of music, chemistry and aquatics. Dad was a Renaissance man from the poor side of the Great Depression in Utica, New York, who had passed many youthful hours in the upholstery shop of an elderly neighbor, learning the tucks and tacks of canvas and carpet, and emerging with the skills of a mechanic and the musical tastes of a baroque prince. Together, they were east and west, trough and crest, right and left, and classical.

Janis Joplin might as well have been a cuss word.

Every Sunday on Little Tonche we had chicken for dinner and Tchaichovsky for dessert.

Snobby music was the glue of our family relationship.

So, as the days of Peace and Music loomed, we went to Canada.

And completely overlooked the Woodstock Festival.