Summer of ‘69 and the stage from Woodstock
In this year of 50th anniversaries – astronauts walking on the moon, “Sesame Street” premiering on television and the New York Mets winning their first World Series, to name only three – Steve Gold has what he says is the biggest souvenir from one of the biggest happenings of all: the stage from Woodstock.
“It was the focal point,” said Gold, who was 15 when more than 350,000 people descended on a field in Bethel, New York, about 15 miles from where he grew up.
It was, after all, where the Who, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Sly and the Family Stone, Janis Joplin and Richie Havens performed.
Gold was in the crowd. As a local, he was not stuck in traffic on the New York State Thruway, as so many were. “I went back and forth every day because I knew the back roads,” he said. “Not that many people knew the back roads, but I was able to go in and out as I pleased.”
After Jimi Hendrix delivered his electrifying performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the crowd left, Woodstock became history. Now there is a museum at the site with psychedelic-looking exhibits. There is a stone marker. Last year, when archaeologists combed the field for five days – one day longer than the festival itself – Spin magazine mused: “Perhaps they would find an old peace symbol? Or a strand of hippie beads? Or Jimi Hendrix’s guitar pick?”
Gold had no such thoughts when he went home from Woodstock in 1969. He figured what he had witnessed was just another rock concert. “For Sullivan County, it was a big to-do,” Gold said, “but it didn’t seem like this worldwide big to-do.”
The big to-do for him was a girl named Robin, whose parents owned cottages they rented out during the summer.
“My girlfriend’s father was building a little sports area, like basketball hoops and a paddleball court.”
One day, Gold went by to watch. “I want to be nice to the father because I’m dating his daughter,” he said, retelling the story. “He asks if I would help him unload wood from his pickup truck. I say OK. They’re these plywood panels. He says, ‘I bought these panels at Yasgur’s farm because they were selling everything from the concert, and this was the stage. I was like, so what, I’m here because of your daughter, whatever.”
He did not imagine that the moment would replay itself someday, but a couple of years ago, it did, in one of those middle-of-the night moments when things come to mind out of nowhere. He was lying in bed. “I didn’t tell my wife I was thinking about my first love,” he said. “But I thought, ‘I remember Robin’s dad telling me he was building the paddleball court with wood from the stage.’”
Soon Gold, who lives in New City, made the drive to Woodbourne, where Robin’s father’s bungalows had been, and he and a friend went looking for the paddleball court and found it in the woods.
He could not be sure it was the court he had watched Robin’s father put together with the boards from Woodstock.
Without explaining why, he asked the owners – Robin’s parents had long since sold the place – if he could pull off a couple of the wooden panels. He said they thought it was a strange request, but they agreed.
“I saw a lot of the markings that you see in the Woodstock movie and photos,” he said. There were logos for Weyerhauser, the lumber manufacturer that had made the boards. “They’re very prominent,” he said, “and some panels had different color paint.”
He remembered seeing photographs of the stage with paint like that. “So I was 99 percent sure this was the stage,” he said.
He hired an independent consulting firm, which concurred after testing the wood and checking the Weyerhauser markings and the paint. “It appears that the plywood in your possession is authentic and from the Woodstock Festival,” the consultant concluded.
Gold did one other thing. He called Robin.
As he tells it, he got right to the point. “I said, ‘Robin, the reason I’m calling is the paddleball court,’” he said. “Her first words were, ‘Did you know the paddleball court was built from the Woodstock stage?’
She sent him a notarized letter to that effect.
Now Gold is cutting the wood into small pieces and selling them online. He even plans to save the sawdust, and sell that.
He sells circles (for pendants with peace symbols, $99 apiece), small pieces mounted in a frame ($299) or slightly larger squares ($499, complete with a glass cover). He said he had sold 500 pendants, 200 frames and about 50 of the $99 items since they went on sale on March 19.