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 »


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