Thursday, August 13, 2009

50 Miles, 40 Years from Yasgur’s Farm

Michael Esposito, the guitarist for the Blues Magoos, stands sentry at his bike shop, the Old Spokes Home.

4 summers ago I took my bicycle to his shop, the only one closer (18.8 miles) to Chichester than Kingston (28.2 miles), to have the brakes fixed. The shop is behind the stores that line Tinker Street.

No, he said to me, the brake pads do not need replacing, but adjustment. Look closely, he added, and I'll teach you about it. He then showed me how to adjust the two screws on each side of the brakes, one to move the pad closer to the wheel itself.

When I offered him payment, he refused. When I offered to instead buy him a coffee as payment, he told me he did not drink coffee. I took my bike back to my car, and drove back home. As I passed by Tinker Street on my way out, I saw him emerging from the deli with a cup of coffee.

He had told me rehabilitated old bicycles and donated them to needy kids. I assumed his refusal of recompense was simply a donation of time and of a lesson to me.

Of Michael Esposito, who heals and sells old bikes out of an old cow barn called the Old Spokes Home, you can, for starters, say the following.

He was once the guitarist for the briefly famous ’60s rock group the Blues Magoos, dimly remembered for their one hit, “(We Ain’t Got) Nothin’ Yet,” for their breakthrough album, “Psychedelic Lollipop,” and for performing in black suits with Day-Glo piping and battery-powered psychedelic lights that gave them periodic shocks when inspiration met perspiration.

He came to Woodstock in 1967 at the age of 27 and was so taken with things he soon bought his burial plot in the Woodstock Artists Cemetery for $125.

He hasn’t driven a car since 1977, wakes up at night worrying about being six months behind on his house payments and is the son of a professor of military history at West Point with two brothers who graduated from there. Along with running the bike shop, he’s an aspiring painter and plays bass with young musicians in town and with the eclectic musician and songwriter Marc Black.

Of course, there are now videos of Woodstock the Concert on YouTube.

Woodstock is a little like the Middle East, one of those places where everyone has his own view of reality. (And for those unable to actually set foot here, there’s the social network.) But the anniversary of the concert, which ended up about 50 miles away at Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel, is prompting renewed appreciation for the way the town’s history and spirit produced the concert.

Quite a simile, equating Woodstock with the Middle East; a stretch.

A laid-back feel remains in Woodstock, the town where the fabled festival was originally planned to be held.

Laid back? Well, yes, but quite touristy, as well. Quite.

After all, long before the concert, hatched and originally planned to be held here, there were Woodstock’s two original attempts to get back to the garden. First was the Byrdcliffe art colony, founded in 1903 as a utopian, anti-industrial community of artists and artisans. Then, beginning in 1905 and peaking in the 1920s, came the Maverick community and festival in which hundreds of free spirits gathered each summer for music, art, theater and drunken orgies in the woods.

Byrdcliffe I knew about, but not Maverick. There is a medical group named Maverick that has two offices, one in Zena, another in Phoenicia.

Before Woodstock, from 1967 to 1969 there were small-scale, noncommercial musical festivals in the woods called Sound Outs that helped the promoter Michael Lang come up with the idea of the Woodstock Festival. (The main observances of the anniversary are in Bethel, but Woodstock’s version of Woodstock at 40 is a concert on Saturday billed as a celebration of the Sound Outs. Performers will even include Mr. Esposito and the reunited Blues Magoos.)

Every group from the 60s, it seems, is reuniting. Can't seem to let go, and, often, the money is too good.

One sign of that is Alchemy of Woodstock, billed as a combination coffeehouse, bookstore, music venue, art gallery and gathering space, and remarkably, one of the only places to hear live music in a town full of famous musicians. And, some say, one positive byproduct of the recession has been to drive down housing costs, keeping the town affordable to artsy types and pulling the plug on much of the boutique Hamptons North dynamic.

Yes, Hamptons dynamic: a good way to put it. I'll have to see just how many boutiques get shut down; they were sprouting as mushrooms do in the nearby woods.

But others say, creative or not, Woodstock remains doggedly stuck in time. There’s virtually no construction in the main part of town that wasn’t there in 1969, the Woodstock T-shirt/nostalgia industry is an economic staple and the economy is now dominated by the second-home owners.

Construction? Any time anyone moves too quickly, protests spring up, and environmental impact statements are demanded.

“For young people the only career paths are law enforcement or lawn care,” said Peter Cantine, an owner of the Bear Cafe, a popular restaurant.

There is also construction, repair, and so on; be or work for a contractor.

Still, you don’t get the feeling anyone’s too bummed by it. Even the young people hanging out downtown with skateboards and iPods and rap pouring out of car windows seem to think whatever Woodstock is, it’s just fine.

“It’s all New Age hippies now,” said Nicole Krieger, 20, who sells hemp jewelry in town. “It’s still really cool.”

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