Bethel Before Woodstock

By Scarlet Disko

There was much confusion among many of the half million hippies who were finding their way to Woodstock the week leading up to Aug. 15th, 1969. Due to the name of the festival and original advertisements many believed that they’d be enjoying some of history’s greatest rock and roll under the sun in Woodstock, NY. However the festival was moved to Bethel, NY, when a law requiring a permit for gatherings of more than 5,000 was formed in early July by Woodstock town board.

Bruce Whistance was 19 and working at Burton Deitv’s Gas Station in the summer of Woodstock 1969. The station was located between the New York State thruway and the road to Woodstock, also known as the Levon Helm Blvd. Burton who owned the station had two locations and both were flooded by a variety of VW vans and hippie kids during the days leading up to the festival. “There was a constant stream of cars flowing into the station asking where the festival was,” shared Whistance. “I spent all day the day before the festival giving directions to head south about 45 minutes to the town of Bethel. By the end of the day I’d lost my voice from talking to so many people.”

Whistance had been attending the Woodstock soundouts which were mini outdoor concerts that Michael Lang held in previous summers leading up to the festival. He understood that Woodstock was going to be a huge deal and was planning to go to the festival. However when he saw the chaos and large amount of people rolling through Woodstock he decided to go to Canada on vacation with his friends instead. “I love music, but I’m not sure I would of enjoyed the large crowd,” said Whistance.

After hearing rumors of how rowdy the crowd was, Whistance decided to photograph the town of Woodstock while it was still peaceful. “I stood in the town green where I rotated 360 degrees taking several pictures,” he said. Later at home, he stitched the pictures together forming a full 360 degree panoramic picture of Woodstock, NY. He was inspired to do this by a panoramic movie showing scenes of New York at the world’s fair in 1965. Once stitched together, he attached the photo to a cardboard cylinder which he could put on his shoulders for friends to look at.

The picture was forgotten about until 25 years later when Whistance and a friend decided to make copies and sell them at the Woodstock 25th anniversary. However due to chaos at the festival, there was little business. Calling the photograph “View from the Green,” Whistance shared it at a town board meeting to see if they had any use for it. The council put it in the courthouse where it hung above the mantle for nearly 30 years. The image remains on display in the town of Woodstock as a donation by Bruce Whistance. Its a historic snapshot recording a time in history of peace, love, and rock and roll.