Thursday, May 7, 2009

Jump On '69

The following opinion piece appeared in the April 30 edition of the Townsman.

No, I didn’t go to the Woodstock Festival. I was tending bar and couldn’t get the weekend off. It makes me one of the three people in America to admit he wasn’t there. I probably should have gone, anyway. The town was empty that weekend. Empty. Vacant. Bare. Get the idea? The guy who owned the Corner Cupboard in those days bought a truckload of beer with the false notion the town would be packed. Ha! Everybody went to Woodstock™ instead of Woodstock. Beer sat there until Labor Day.

Anyway, after decades of shame my absence from the Festival finally turned up heads, yes, has given me a glimmer of fame and celebrity, and I guess I’m going to have to go out and buy new hats.

A young man, Apostolos, who works for a film production company in Athens, yes, that’s Athens Greece, home to Socrates and Plato contacted me. He and his cameraman were in the area shooting a documentary about the 40th anniversary of the Festival. He interviewed Michael Lang and Ike Phillips, went to Bethel and got footage there, and now he wanted to interview me, The Man Who Didn’t Go.

This would be like interviewing the sole survivor of Custer’s cavalry – had there been one – but in reverse. I was the only person in the world, with the three exceptions – all Samoan’s, incidentally – who didn’t go!

Oh gosh, but it made me think back over the years that once seemed like tiny cracks in the sidewalk and are now wide as the Grand Canyon.

The actual town whose name would be co-opted (unintentionally) to initiate my generation to Totalitarian Consumerism, the era which ended just recently not in a bang but a Madoff, in the ‘60s domiciled about 4200 people, 3800 of them since God created the valley and the rest of us because of those strange accidents life just can’t stop itself from repeating. The town was cheap to live in. The same $1000 that today will buy you a soy gelato could almost buy a shack, and certainly pay a year’s rent for a shack with indoor plumbing. 3800 natives still shot deer from their kitchen windows back then; the rest of us couldn’t shoot a cap gun. We were tainted by New York City blood, the kind that said, “Let’s abandon the great novel, the great painting, the great sculpture, and the great bars and get out of this Lower East Side dump and go raise our little buggers in a WHOLESOME environment.” And, without cutting up our feet too badly, we grew up among those shards of responsible planning.

By ’63 Woodstock already had a beatnik bar, the Café Espresso, and yes, during the halcyon days prior the Gulf of Tonkin incident you saw Dylan and Baez and Tom Paxton and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot and Phil Ochs and other folkies strumming and humming the time away. It all seemed very innocuous at the time. Who knew?

The town had manifested, but by the early ’60s was dissipating its first incarnation as an art colony. But the rent stayed cheap and sometime after ’64 or so the electric musicians began to arrive, perhaps lured by visions of Dylan, et al. With them came “pot.” In those days it was just pot. No Pana-manian Red, no Colombian, no indicus, no Michoacán – just pot. There were nineteen other townships in the county, but we were the only one with pot. Sometimes somebody would get arrested for pot. The local newspapers and radio stations screamed like we had boiled babies. The times were that innocent. If you’d said something like “hydroponic,” people would have thought it had something to do with dual-carburetors.

The last time I saw Dylan he was drinking a beer in the Sled Hill Café, and these two girls walked in (the northern New Jersey tainted type) and started screaming and he split and the next thing I heard he was in Malibu or a Christian. I could tell you that he had a lasting, good influence on our local music or songwriting. What did endure is that back-of-the-throat way Dylan has of speaking. It affected everybody he hung with, and until Reagan’s second election we still had guys around here that couldn’t get a spoken word cleanly over their tongue because their girlfriends had picked up the affectation of gagging syllables from hanging around, or on, one of Dylan’s two hundred bass players and passed it on to their partners like an STD. Everybody’s got a theory about Dylan, and here’s mine: he’s a deep-well pump. If you ain’t sitting on something really good and deep, don’t waste your time. I know I wouldn’t.

Some of this was interesting to Apostolos; I have no idea how much or even if any of the footage will survive the final cut.

My main point to him was, Woodstock is still beautiful. Tell your friends in Athens to Google Earth it or fly to New York and take the bus. It ain’t Ulan Bator, gosh, it’s a lousy one hundred miles north of Washington Square. The mountains are round, the valleys and seeps are lush, there are “tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones and good in everything.”

Anyway, as soon as the documentary is released I’m flying to Athens to be a big star, The Man Who Didn’t Go.

Happy Anniversary, Woodstock Festival, it was truly an historic event and I have yet to meet one person who regretted going, and only two others who admit they weren’t there.

Comeau Easement Update

This article appeared in the Townsman, April 28 edition

Pressure, but not necessarily prudence seems to be guiding a split Woodstock Town Board through the final processes required to execute the Comeau Easement (the “Easement”), the document that restricts the Comeau property to specific uses and regulates potential development for governmental purposes, with the Woodstock Land Conservancy (WLC) designated as the Easement enforcer,

Woodstock voters in 2003 overwhelmingly supported the Easement, but it has been tied up in court, and eventually decided once and for all by the New York State Court of Appeals late last year. Even without an executed document the Town Board has been careful to abide by its provisions scrupulously, even spending $10,000 last summer for a legal opinion to settle Councilman Chris Collins’ qualms before proceeding with a project to expand the Comeau upper parking lot to accommodate the traffic and safety concerns of soccer parents. (Red tape is now holding up that improvement.)

Among the first requirements was for the Town Board to make an environmental determination with regard to the Easement, which it did at its April 21 meeting with the votes of Councilpersons Collins, Liz Simonson and Jay Wenk by passing a resolution that declared the Easement would not have an adverse impact on the environment (a so-called “neg-dec”) Neither Supervisor Jeff Moran nor Councilwoman Terrie Rosenblum supported the resolution, each claiming the action to be “premature.”

Their position seemed to reflect the contents of a letter sent the Town Board members that same day from Kevin Smith, the WLC Director, which read in part with regard to the environmental determination; “If it is to review and discuss potential future decisions & schedule for an EAF process, declaring lead agency status, etc., on a potential Comeau conservation easement, WLC certainly supports such preparations by the Town Board.

“However,” Mr. Smith’s letter continued, “if the Board is considering making decisions or taking actions that would link to a specific conservation easement document, this would be premature in our opinion... We hope this facilitates constructive preparations on the Town’s part and helps avoid the inadvertent creation of obstacles in this complex process.”

Apparently the train began to leave the station as early as April 6, when Collins wrote to Smith, “The Comeau Easement is a significant issue that the town board has to address. It has been a couple of weeks since you and I last spoke and I would like to know when you plan on meeting with us. Jay mentioned a date of May 15th but I would like to set up a meeting sooner. Our last town board meeting for April is on the 21st. Can you meet with us by then? While I understand the preparation work you are doing is important we must address this as soon as possible. “

Smith wrote back to Collins the same day, “The WLC has a board meeting tonight. Comeau is on the agenda. I will forward your request to our board as part of those discussions. I anticipate sending a response the town board in the next day or two so everyone receives the same information from WLC.”

The issue next arose, according to FOILed documents, on April 16 when Collins wrote to Supervisor Moran and Cced the Town Board, asking that the Comeau Easement “PH [public hearing] & Neg Dec” be placed on the April 21 meeting’s agenda.

Later that day Councilwoman Rosenblum e-mailed the board and Supervisor, "Please wait until we heard from the [WLC] before putting anything on the agenda. I have expressed my concerns about this many times at our meetings and I see no reason why Chris’s concerns should take precedent over mine. I don not think that any action, prior to having the final document, is prudent”

Councilman Wenk’s weighed in shortly after with a message to the Board and Moran, “I will continue to support my reasons for this issue to be on the agenda now. It seems Terrie’s concern is outweighed.”

This was followed by a message from Simonson, “I would like to review the SEQR on the easement on Tuesday [April 21]. It would be out next step after declaring lead agency. Again, this is simply making a determination on environmental impact, not implementation. Just to set the record, the easement is the final document, it was approved by the voters and upheld in the courts.”

The following day, April 17, Moran wrote a message to the Board that agreed in part with Simonson’s e-mail from the day before, saying, “The easement is indeed the final document approved by the voters and upheld by the courts. The opening paragraph reads, ‘THIS DEED OF CONSERVATION EASEMENT… between the Town of Woodstock…and the Woodstock Land Conservancy, Inc…’”Moran went on to note, “If the WLC bails we have an invalid document. I don’t know that they will or won’t, which is why I believe it is only prudent to wait until we hear from them after May 15.”

Simonson disagreed, writing back, “I do not believe that the validity of the document is dependent on the grantee’s designation. But we need to ask a lawyer for an opinion.. From my conversations with the WLC any hesitation on their part comes from the potential to have to devote extra time to management of the property and overseeing any long drawn out legal challenges. I assume we can get legal advice on how to deal with this.” She added, “Perhaps it is time to hire Steve Barshov to act as our counsel on this project.”

Barshov, the New York City attorney, had provided the $10,000 legal opinion referred to above. It is not known what expenses might be incurred from his further involvement. Rod Futerfas, the attorney for the Town, has recused himself from any legal work on the Easement since his law partner Jerry Wapner provides counsel for the WLC.

The WLC had planned by May 15 to “be prepared to begin an informed dialogue with town board members regarding the conservation easement on Comeau,” wrote Smith in his April 21 letter to the Board. “We hope this facilitates constructive preparations on the Town’s part and helps avoid the inadvertent creation of obstacles in this complex process,” he added in reference to the proposed Town Board action to neg-dec the easement.

On Monday, April 27 Smith wrote to Collins, “Thanks for responding to our letter of Tuesday. I'm sorry it arrived just before your meeting and, unfortunately, apparently not in time to forestall [Town Board] action. We did the best we could, in our previous communications, to advise you and fellow board members of WLC's timeline and request patience prior to our joint discussions.

“Unfortunately,” Smith’s letter continued, “there hasn't been a clear, agreed upon means of communication between the two boards.”

Collins responded, “… I have been very tied up with issues, and personal work. I think the best way to handle things at this point is to bring everything to the table when both groups meet on the 15th [of May].”

Smith replied, “We will of course incorporate the TB's actions into our deliberations and preparation. Kindly forward any documents pertaining to formal TB actions to WLC (John Winter and myself) to assist us in this regard… And do advise us when the TB has retained Mr. Barshov's (or another attorney's) services. This would be very helpful for our attorneys, at this point.”

Smith’s message continued, “At some point in the next couple of weeks we'd like to discuss the appropriate meeting forum for our discussions with the Town Board... You may forward this email to your fellow board members. I did not cc them as you had not done so in your message.”

May 15 is a Friday, presumably the next step in the Easement process will be discussed at the Town Boards May 19 business meeting.