Music Under the Moon

January 29th, 2018

Road to the old farmstead, site of many Woodstock festivals

No one had ever seen so many cars inching their way along the normally quiet country roads. Certainly not the deputy sent out by the county sheriff to impose some order on the tangled traffic. Everyone seemed to be heading in the same direction, descending upon an old farmstead where the sounds of music and high spirits were already echoing across the meadows. It was apparent that a major event was in progress, though the real significance of this joyous gathering in the boondocks of rural New York State would not be clear until much later. . . .

If this description conjures up images of “Woodstock, 1969,” you’re on the right track. Woodstock it was, but the actual year was 1938 and the epic musicale generating all the excitement was a fundraiser to benefit the Woodstock Art Gallery. At the center of this late afternoon costume party, that lasted until the full moon set just before dawn the next morning, were two of Woodstock’s most loveable eccentrics, Wilna Hervey and Nan Mason. Actresses, artists, erstwhile farmers, and life partners, Wilna and Nan were also among the Woodstock community’s best-known and most exuberant party hostesses. While this early September costume “picnic” was the largest and most ambitious soiree they’d ever thrown, it was far from their first. And it certainly wouldn’t be their last. Wilna and Nan’s first Full Moon party would, in fact, become an annual event for more than two decades and enter into Woodstock legend.

Wilna (far right) and Nan (second right) at the Maverick Festival, 1924

Staging big fundraising bashes under a full moon, with lots of music and rivers of free-flowing liquor, was already a well-established Woodstock tradition when Wilna and Nan embraced it as their own in 1938. As far back as 1915, Woodstock’s fabled series of annual Maverick Festivals had begun when Hervey White, the “first hippie” and one of the art colony’s founders, hosted the first such event to raise money to dig a well. White’s colorful costumed Maverick Festivals continued every year until 1931, by which time they had grown in size and popularity (and notoriety) to such an extent that the local authorities deemed it prudent to shut them down. None were more crestfallen to see their beloved Maverick Festivals come to an end than Wilna Hervey and Nan Mason, who had attended their first festival as a couple in 1924, wearing their signature clown costumes, and never missed any of the subsequent events. So, when the two women decided to entertain their friends and neighbors with a large open-air costume party on the grounds of their farm in late summer 1938, they did so as much with the intention of reviving a popular Woodstock institution as raising money for the local art gallery. The large and enthusiastic turnout they got that summer not only showed they were not alone in missing the old Maverick Festivals but guaranteed that the Full Moon Party would be back for an encore, again and again. Read the rest of this entry »

James Taylor, Larry Coryell and the Woodstock Sound-Outs

June 24th, 2010

Ad in the Woodstock Aquarian for an August 8, 1970 Sound-Out

In 1970, due to the impact of the 1969 Woodstock Festival, smaller events like the Woodstock Sound-Outs were increasingly shut down by New York State municipalities. The Town of Saugerties, in whose jurisdiction the Sound-Outs fell, put on its books a law preventing mass gatherings of 200 persons or more without a permit.

After Cyril Caster left in 1969, Ian Hain stepped up to co-promote the Sound-Outs with Pan Copeland. Hain made a number of improvements to the site, including the construction of a band shell. He was able to pull off several festivals in 1970 without a permit, before the  local authorities caught up with him. But at the July 25, 1970 concert, a couple of sheriff’s deputies were stationed by the festival entrance gate, taking a careful count of those admitted. As soon as the tally went over 200, Hain—who still hadn’t managed to secure a permit—was arrested. The town lawyers kept his case in and out of the courts for the rest of the summer, and no other concerts were successfully staged. In September all charges against the promoter were finally dropped, but the season was over.

It was a great pity, for the headliners that summer would have included such icons as James Taylor and Larry Coryell. They are featured in the ad above, for an August 8, 1970 Sound-Out that had to be cancelled due to Hain’s legal difficulties.