I often joke that there exists a network of Woodstocks in these United States. These Woodstocks serve as havens and safe houses for those among us who do not march on the same step, were tuned out, turned out, and dropped away from society. These are not subcultures, but actual wounded birds hit by the windscreen of life that nest together for succor and sustenance. All Woodstocks have a few elements that come standard and one or more of the following:
1. Rich people who just had enough and took their money and retired early
2. Creative people who believe an art gallery can be deep in the woods the same as it could be in Chelsea
3. Musicians who play the accordion, kazoo, ukulele or all three and/or all at once
4. Drum circle or at least one White Person With Dreads (WPWD) who “discovered” the African drum
5. Rich people who sip white wine and wear black but still work at least two days a week (usually somewhere else) and support 90% of the economy by eating out all the time, buying coffee from the local roaster, and supporting the local arts
6. Townies who hate Hippies/Are Hippies
d. All of the Above
For those of you who don’t know, there is only one Woodstock. The original Woodstock, that is. Actually, the original actually did not have the concert of the same name. That occurred close to a hundred miles from the actual town of Woodstock, New York. Nevertheless, Three Days or Three More Days of concert matters not, the town was already famous, already had a name for itself and plenty of wealthy artists and those rubbing two sticks together too. The Village itself had for a century been an artist enclave and served generations of New Yorkers for their mid-life crisis and nervous breakdowns where the stock broker became an herbalist or the society dame left Park Avenue and moved to a cabin in the woods and now talks to crystals bloviates about wise women to anyone who will listen. There is always a supply of artists. And herbalism. There is always herbalism and alternative medicine in these places. Any counter culture worth its salt will talk about the magnetic energy in minerals. By minerals, this is of course Dead Sea salts infused with organic hemp oil or zinc or radio active tungsten. The Village of Woodstock has a school of art a playhouse and a few camps of theatrical societies, some of these artistic enclaves dating back to the days of Slabsides and the self sufficient idealists and transcendentalists who turned away from the cities and went deep into the wilds of the then-wild Catskills trying to form farms that imported nothing and exported Positivism and whose descendants are people who buy beans and rice in bulk and hide it in buried shipping containers… or something like that
The Village of Woodstock today is pleasant enough. A largely homogeneous population go about their business of selling crystals, posters, tea, and fresh bread to the many, many, many tourists and interested parties who fill the sidewalks each and every weekend. It is a great spot to brunch (there are three options, one really), shop for…. something…. and spend an enjoyable afternoon if one leaves before the weekly drum circle or does not mind the “Homeless Land Rights” dude protesting or the grandmothers who have been trying to stop The War since it started… which is a rather quaint sight since Father Time and the inescapable approach of the cold scythe has been heartlessly reducing the number of clever protest banners as the war rages on and on in some form or another. There are many things to do in this Woodstock. One can bathe in the mill stream on a hot day if one is not sensitive to any of the residual chemicals since those waters were used by the tanneries nor grossed out by the townies and their questionable habits of hygiene. Coffee from Bread Alone (or Sweet Sue), a drink at Landau (or Joshua’s), and pizza from the Village Pizza. A quiet hamlet where things remain caught in a pleasant time warp, perhaps the village itself has played hard with the elves of the mountains and fell asleep for the past thirty years leaving Mr. Van Winkle to age and move on.
I have been to a number of Woodstocks in the years. I myself, am somewhat a member of the Greater Woodstock Community, whether I wish to be or not it is something as a curse and gift visited upon those few and in a certain amount of time, we will find one another in these communities. The people of Woodstock relocate often, and frequently to the other Woodstocks. Burlington, Vermont with it’s socialist mayor. Battleboro, Vermont, a Green Mountain college town. Portland, where all things Woodstock come from and hence, in the great circle of life, return. New Orleans is a contender, however it has very rough murdery stabby pointy sides that keeps it, for this author, just outside the ven diagram attempting to be drawn, but otherwise there are very strong Woodstock elements and areas of the city. Ithaca, New York to Austin, Texas there appears to be at least one of these Woodstocks in each state in order to allow refuge to those in need of tarot readings, the healing power of crystal, and creative and intelligent conversation and thoughtful music of all generas punctuated by bad relationship choices, sexual peccadillos, and some awkward mornings. Except that I am hard pressed to know where North or South Dakota keep their Woodstock, so perhaps there remain states from which the creative or damaged, or broken-creative must flee for greener pastures.
No enumerations of Woodstocks would be complete nor any pilgrimage to the network of Keep [village or city] Weird a success without a stop at Asheville North Carolina.
Asheville is not just the city but an entire area that seems to vibe so that the West Village and some hilltop towns are just as much Asheville as the area of Greater Boston is from a distance just “Boston” to the many of us. Asheville appears a safe zone for those travelers who do not find those safe houses in the flatlands, coasts, or deeper parts of the Deep South as well as the Southern Mecca for buskers and musical-quality folk as well as a few gutter punk posers with their pit bull puppies and worn instruments they strum un-melodically. The city is much smaller than Portland but larger then Brattleboro. It is more pleasant in clime than Burlington and New Orleans. I did not pull any crime statistics but in just a casual visit it seems to be less stabby than the Big Easy and fewer homeless junkies than Portland.
The city itself takes about half a day to cover. There are indeed more stores and browsing that can be done, but to get a sense of the landscape of the downtown this is manageable by foot and even more rapid by private car. There is all manner of establishments and certainly enough venues to employ almost every musician since they seem to spill out of everywhere, be awake at all hours, and infest the streets like pleasant locust making everything from a funky din to a down home cookin’ soul sound. The Grove is a mall like none other, actually an old Arcade (see my previous work on Newark, OH) but ten times as wonderful. There are elements of modernity, the parking lots and parking lots, but these are full to capacity most of the day since it seems the city is a thriving destination to many. There are a few tall buildings of mid-century and one at least thrown up – and by that I mean vomited – in the sick-o 1970s, a brown monster dirty walls and sad glass that perhaps once was Ma Bell or the American branch of whomever made Cyclon B. This blogger had little time, but had heard tales of the city from a great many ex-and-then-returned-ex-and-then-returned Woodstockites. From these traveler stories I had heard only good things and I wished for a little more time to stay and that my simple lodgings were not a dorm bed in the West Village.
The West Village, I was told, has grown in the past years and seems to be experiencing a sort of Williamsburg Brooklyn syndrome in that it was the place people lived who could not afford to live downtown gathered but in time they all agreed that it was too much bother to truck their music and Friday night lives into the city and realized they’d save a bundle on taxi fare were they to just plunk down, turn out their music, and uncap a home-made bottle of beer or micro-brew pour right outside their door. It took me but a few minutes of conversation and several recommendations of local venues I could walk to in order for me to cancel my planned 45 minute bus trip and potential $30 cab ride home for a more leisurely night where travel but was five minutes by foot. The music was OK, the bar a bar, but it was as fun as it was disorientating since I could not tell were I in Portland, Burlington, Ithaca, Brattleboro, or another Woodstock but not in an unpleasant oh-shit-I-am-in-a-fucking-Dunkn-Doughnuts-and-this-could-be-anywhere kind of way.
However, it was unmistakably not New Orleans. For reasons of Raceclassgender your professor covered long, long, long ago in your poli-sci 101 class.
I am glad for these outposts. These oasis in the ocean of the geography of nowhere. For all the guff and rant I give on the political and financial contradictions, silly crystal worship energy talk, wealthy art poseurs passing themselves off as down-to-earth Volk, mediocre musicians, townies, lost souls, experimental community people, granola elderly hippies, I understand why people leave Woodstock, for other Woodstocks – and why they continue to return time and again.