Early Days at Family of Woodstock

November 15th, 2013
Gael Varsi at the Longyear Building

Gael Varsi at the Longyear Building

In 1971 the Woodstock Aquarian wrote, “Family is a crisis intervention service—a 24 hour hotline for major and minor crises. Family is communications—it is a gathering together of the community. It is a connecting service. Receptive in that it answers whatever need is shown. Family becomes a mirror of what is happening and what is lacking. It is open to whoever wants to work—straight, freak, in-between, whoever/whatever. Family becomes a learning process. What does it actually mean to be non-judgmental? It takes to feel out all that Family includes.” This was written by Gael Varsi, Family of Woodstock’s first employee.

Recently I spoke with Ms. Varsi by phone. She said she grew up in San Francisco, CA, and was working as a community organizer in Lloyd Park in 1970. On a trip east to Millbrook, NY, she heard about the job opening at Family. Alex Merson, proprietor of The Pants Shop and founder of Family, was looking to hire someone to run it. The modus operandi of the organization at that time was to help the many young people coming to town after the Festival of 1969. According to Gael, the (then) conservative Republican town had “no drinking fountains, public bathrooms or camping grounds.” She adds that she had to warn kids from California, who planned to camp out, about the “heavy Catskill Mountain downpours.”

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Woodstock Soundout @ Bearsville Theater

May 21st, 2013
Woodstock Soundout poster for May 26, 2013

Woodstock Soundout poster for May 26, 2013

On May 26, 2013, at the Bearsville Theater, Happy Traum will host Marco Benevento, Tracy Bonham, Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams, Jay Collins, Dave Dreiwitz Donald Fagan, Amy Helm, Connor Kennedy, Jerry Marotta, Tim Moore, A.C. Newman, Jane Scarpantoni, Jim Weider, Doug Yoel and Peter Dougan & The WDS Advance Ensemble, among others, singing songs from Bob Dylan’s catalog at the Woodstock Soundout. The doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the concert starts at 8 p.m.

The Woodstock Soundouts began in September 1967 as an outdoor folk/rock concert produced by Pan Copeland and Jocko Moffitt. Moffitt, a roofer and drummer from California, modeled them after festivals he had seen in his native state. Acts like Richie Havens, Billy Batson, Phil Ochs and Tim Hardin performed in 1967. The concerts occurred yearly until 1970. Due to mass gathering limits—on the Town of Saugerties books—of no more than 200 people allowed, the concert series became unprofitable and were discontinued. In 2008 they were resuscitated by the Woodstock Day School(WDS) as a fundraising event. The school is located across the road from the old site on lower Glasco Turnpike in West Saugerties. In 2009 Happy Traum, a Soundout Festival vet from the 1960s, co-founded the Bob Dylan birthday celebration at the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild with Lu Ann Bielawa. Last year the WDS Soundout series was merged with the annual Dylan birthday celebration.


Dayl Wise: A Vietnam Vet’s Journey

May 9th, 2013
Dayl Wise, at left, having tea with a monk near Hue, circa 1995

Dayl Wise, at left, having tea with a monk near Hue, circa 1995

Dayl Wise, co-founder of the Post Traumatic Press, grew up in White Plains, New York. He was Christian raised, and a respecter of the Ten Commandments—especially, “Thou Shalt Not Kill.” However, dyslexia made reading difficult so it was no surprise that he dropped out of college after his first semester in 1969. Shortly thereafter he was drafted and sent to Vietnam.

He says that he will never forget the wall of heat that met him upon arriving in Vietnam. “It literally took my breath away.” During his first week he was sent on practice maneuvers to a rubber plantation on the outskirts of the Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City).  Dayl found the organic smell of the place almost erotic. The lush green plant life, particularly the amazing ferns, the colorful birds, the rock apes and the high jungle canopies, lent an otherworldly dimension to his American-conditioned sensibility. Dayl’s in-country assignment began at Phuoc Vinh, a town 30 miles northwest of Saigon, at the U.S. Army fire base. The Army made him a recon leader of an eight-man squad attached to the 1st Air Cavalry Division. Many times his team walked point for an 80-man line company. Over the course of the next seven months he was sent on countless patrols throughout Vietnam—and also Cambodia.

Early one morning in late November 1970 small arms fire pinned Dayl’s team down. Immediately to his right the unit’s South Vietnamese scout was killed. Then Dayl was wounded in the left leg. He was rescued by helicopter and taken to hospital at Bien Hoa. From there he was flown to Japan and on to St. Albans, Queens. Dayl spent six months recuperating in the hospital. It took several surgeries of bone grafts and the insertion of a metal plate before he could be sent home in a wheel chair.

The Vietnam experience pushed Dayl towards the anti-war movement. As soon as he was ambulatory he threw out his uniform and his medals. Oddly, his service-to-country helped him overcome his former learning challenge. During stretches of prolonged boredom he turned to reading anything he could get his hands on, and gradually he overcame his dyslexia. This stood him in good stead when he returned to college, and he received a degree in engineering. He worked as a consulting engineer until the early 1990s. Around this time he was watching a CNN report on the first Gulf War and he suffered a flashback. In the news report he saw a helicopter being deployed and suddenly the memory of the sweet acrid smell of aviation fuel came flooding back. He visited a veteran’s hospital to see a psychiatrist. His healing took a unique turn when he was offered the chance to deliver hospital supplies to Vietnam. It was after this visit that Vietnam changed for him from being a war zone, to a country and a people. Read the rest of this entry »

Jerry Jeff Walker: Woodstock Bound?

February 5th, 2013
Jerry Jeff Walker

Jerry Jeff Walker in the late 1990s

I’ve been a Jerry Jeff Walker fan for since forever. Recently I heard about the Guy Clark tribute album, This One’s For Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark and bought it when I heard that Jerry Jeff was on it. It’s good thing I did. The two-CD album is a standout.

According to the liner notes the “artists brought two key instruments: a guitar and profound reverence” to the recording studio. And what a cast: they range from Lyle Lovett to Willie Nelson and from Steve Earle to Ramblin’ Jack Elliott with a whole lot of recording stars in between. There are 30 stellar cuts in all, but the best tune hands down is “My Favorite Picture of You” sung by Jerry Jeff Walker.

It is well known that Jerry Jeff was raised in Oneonta, NY. He broke free of his small-town upbringing and lit out for New Orleans. By 1967 he landed back in NYC’s Greenwich Village. “Mr. Bojangles,” his best song, was already in his play book. One night while on Bob Fass’s “Radio Unnameable” he played the song live. Bob was taping the show as Walker performed. Jerry Jeff writes in his autobiography, Gypsy Songman, that after a few seconds of silent air time Bob Fass said: “That’s a beautiful song. You wrote that?” Read the rest of this entry »

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