Nina Yankowitz Recalls Woodstock’s Group 212

December 30th, 2010
Oh Say Can You See

A 1968 Draped Painting by Nina Yankowitz: "Oh Say Can you See?"

The Woodstock Festival of 1969 was officially named the Woodstock Music & Art Fair. According to Michael Lang in Roots of the 1969 Woodstock Festival, the inclusion of “art” in the festival name was a nod to Woodstock, NY’s status as an art colony—beginning in the early 1900s with Byrdcliffe and the Maverick Festivals, and later with organizations like Group 212.

Recently I spoke by phone with Nina Yankowitz of nyartprojects about her days at Group 212. A 1969 Fine Arts graduate of the School of Visual Arts, Yankowitz doesn’t recall where she first heard about the fusion collective, but she says that word about it was on the street in NYC’s Greenwich Village. Nina loved Group 212’s fearless collaborative spirit, and remembers that she first installed her draped paintings on the trees in the surrounding Group 212 landscape. She says that Group 212’s propulsive and adventurous style of mixing music, painting, sculpture, photography, electronic sounds, poetry, and performance art opened her up to embrace new technologies and emerging artistic disciplines. For example, she met Ken Werner, a musician, at 212 in the summer of 1968, and she recalls their collaboration. Werner made an audio rendition to realize Nina’s desire to include sound that would mimic the musical score, Oh Say Can You See, on her draped canvas. This embodied the concept of hearing and seeing sounds as they unfolded from her draped paintings. The installation was exhibited later that year at Kornblee Gallery in New York City.

Nina Yankowitz Dancing at Group 212

Nina Yankowitz (in Foreground) Dancing at Group 212

Yankowitz remembers running to catch the bus to Greenwich Village from South Orange Junior High School in New Jersey. She would sneak out of school to attend performances by Dylan and Hugh Romney at the Cafe Wha in the Village, returning without her delinquency having been discovered. Her later Woodstock experience put her in touch with many new and exciting musicians and artistic collaborators. She met people like Sunny Murray, Dave Burrell, and Chuck Santon—an artist who spent most of his time at Robert Wilson‘s Byrdcliffe, devoted to experimental workshops/productions. She also met musician Juma Sultan, and it was he who encouraged Nina and a friend to dance while Juma, Archie Shepp, Sunny Murray, and Dave Burrell were jamming. She remembers the music director wanting to “pull the cane around our necks!” Juma also took her to Byrdcliffe to meet Bob Dylan, and they, with others from the community, attended a Sound-Out at Pan Copeland’s farm. Yankowitz recalls people jumping through the fences, lying on the grass and watching acts like Tim Hardin and Ritchie Havens.

One detail eludes Nina about her time at Group 212. She remembers a friend there who created marvelous performances based upon the myth of Icarus. He also made beautiful photographs with his box camera, and she wonders what happened to the fellow who created and played this bird-man role. Can anyone help her out on that?

~Weston Blelock

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 »

Folk Songs of the Catskills—the Spirit of Camp Woodland

July 23rd, 2010

New Exhibit at the Historical Society of Woodstock Examines the Renaissance of Catskill Roots Music

Pete Seeger at Camp Woodland—near Phoenicia, NY—in the 1940s (Photo reproduced courtesy of the M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives, University at Albany Libraries.)

Woodstock, NY—On Saturday, July 31, 2010, a retrospective exhibit on Camp Woodland opens with a reception from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Eames House, 20 Comeau Drive in Woodstock. The Camp Woodland story, its influence and legacy, is told through film, music, artifacts, images and archives culled from the collections of former campers, the Norman Studer Papers (University at Albany), and from the Historical Society of Woodstock.

 Camp Woodland (1939–1962) was founded near Phoenicia, NY, by Norman Studer, a former Ph.D. student of John Dewey’s and an educator at the Elizabeth Irwin School in New York City. Studer sought to bring America’s democratic roots alive to his students. His vision embraced cultural diversity and a multidisciplinary approach. He brought city kids up to the country and put them in touch with old-time Catskill Mountain folks—like Aaron Van De Bogart from Woodstock. Not only did Woodland Campers hear stories from the hill people, but they were put to work collecting and preserving hundreds of folk songs for posterity.

 The camp was an annual destination for Pete and Toshi Seeger and they proved to be an incalculable influence. Pete performed for each division of campers, for the camp as a whole, and—when the campers had gone to bed—for the counselors. In 1954, a 15-year-old camper named John Herald saw Seeger sing and decided to become a musician. The camp’s multi-cultural population was a fertile incubating ground for Seeger. One counselor, Hector Angulo, introduced him to a Cuban song, “Guantanamera,” which became hit for Pete in 1961. Another time Pete wrote three verses based on a Russian folk tune and left it with counselor Joe Hickerson. Joe worked with a group of campers on the rhythm and personally wrote two more verses. This song, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” charted on Billboard for The Kingston Trio as a “B” side in 1961.

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.

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