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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Peter Blum and the Sound-Outs

November 15th, 2010

Peter Blum circa 1969

Peter Blum is a long-time resident of the Woodstock area. His shamanic sound healing practice is widely recognized and supported by the community. In 2009 he was honored with an award from the National Guild of Hypnotists for “a lifetime of outstanding achievement, dedication and service.” I spoke to him recently by phone to learn about his connection to the Sound-Outs.

Peter started his journey as a folk singer in the Bronx. During the early 1960s he traveled down to Greenwich Village to see such fellow folkie acts as Happy and Artie Traum perform in Washington Square Park. From 1962 he took in performances of Bob Dylan, John Sebastian, Richie Havens and Jimi Hendrix around the Village at venues like the Night Owl Café and the Café Au Go-Go. But soon all his idols were hanging out and performing in Woodstock. In 1965 he became a counselor at the Boys Club of America’s Camp Harriman in East Jewett, NY. One day he heard that John Hammond, Jr. was performing at the Café Espresso. Blum decided to hitchhike to Woodstock to catch the show. Unfortunately he couldn’t get a lift from Mt. Tremper to Woodstock, and missed Hammond’s performance. By 1969 he met Jan Zeitz in Greenwich Village and learned about the Sound-Outs. Zeitz was living with her then boyfriend, Cyril Caster, in a school bus on Pan Copeland’s farm. Caster later booked Blum for a gig at the Sound-Outs. Read the rest of this entry »