By Larissa Lytwyn
“Most people are prisoners, thinking only about the future or living in the past,” Carlos Santana famously stated. “They are not in the present, and the present is where everything begins.” Forty-one years after his Woodstock debut, Santana returned to the Bethel, NY site July 17, sharing his moment as a bonafide rock legend. The original Woodstock site is now home to a booming cultural center, including the Bethel Woods Museum and an annual summer concert series.
Santana took the stage to the opening chords of “Soul Sacrifice,” his career-launching tribute to Afro-Latino spirit. A montage of images from his Woodstock ’69 performance flashed behind him. Although Santana played the festival’s 25th anniversary in Saugerties, NY, this summer marked his official homecoming to the grounds that made him a music icon.
“It’s nice to meet again,” he murmured into his microphone.
Bodies jumping like flames, someone punched a beach ball overhead. It was Woodstock all over again: defiantly carefree. Santana opened his two-and-a-half-hour set with “Maria, Maria,” his 1999 number one hit from his smash album Supernatural.
The artist’s endurance is a testament to his spiritual philosophy. “We all have lights within us,” Santana remarked halfway through the show. These lights, he continued, feed God—and each other. “If it sounds like I am preaching,” he said dryly, “it is because I am.”
The guitarist’s inspiration from other performers is evident in his 2000 Grammy for Record of the Year for “Smooth,” featuring Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty. Santana’s magic also scored Billboard-toppers for Chad Kroeger of Nickelback (“Why Don’t You and I”) and Michelle Branch (“The Game of Love”). He has also collaborated with Shakira, Jennifer Lopez, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, Sean Paul and Joss Stone.
Next, he wants to work on an album with 2010 tour mate Steve Winwood, a renowned fixture in the music industry for the last five decades. While Winwood’s solo hits include “Higher Love,” the Englishman also thrives on the power of artistic partnership. A highlight of his opening set July 17 was a soul-chilling rendition of “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” his hit with 1970s group Traffic.
In contrast to Winwood’s at times melancholy “blue-eyed soul,” Santana was a Latino dance party. Bodies throbbed under pulsating red, gold and purple lights to timeless hits including “Black Magic Woman,” “Oye Como Va” and “Evil Ways.” Santana also paid homage to classic rock groups with stirring renditions of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” and the Doors’ “Riders on the Storm.”
Santana’s ten-piece band stayed firmly in the spotlight, including lengthy solos from drummer Dennis Chambers and guitarist Tommy Anthony. Vocalists Andy Vargas and Tony Lindsay slipped easily from African rhythms into rock n’ roll grit. In the end, “love, peace and freedom” were still the answer, Santana said. These values were the Holy Trinity of contentment in a world marred by the same social uncertainties of 1969: war, political divisiveness and economic struggle.
Part of the proceeds of the July 17 concert benefited The Milagro Foundation, Santana’s charity organization supporting underprivileged children worldwide. Since its inception in 1998, the Foundation has facilitated educational, social and medical support for youth in Africa, Haiti and the Americas. Milagro means “miracle” in Spanish. It was also the title of Santana’s sixteenth album in 1992.
Bethel Woods Center for the Arts
Since opening in June 2008, the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts has formed a bridge between the past and the present. Its annual summer concert series has featured other Woodstock ‘69 performers including Crosby, Stills and Nash. The exhibit is a walking narrative through the timeline of the 1960s. Set under a kaleidoscope of lights, the museum features multimedia presentations, including documentaries and original festival footage. Relaxing in a colorful school bus, visitors can listen to the Who’s “Magic Bus” while watching Woodstock Ventures’ Michael Lang discuss how a small-town rock show became a revolutionary moment in American history.
Another unique museum feature is its legacy booth. Woodstock ’69 attendees can record their memories and listen to the accounts of others. Guests can also peruse artifacts including milk bottles from Max Yasgur’s farm, ticket stubs and 1960s-era clothing. The museum also presents generation-linking events ranging from lectures by Vietnam veterans to autumn harvest festivals.
On the day of the Santana concert, the museum hosted a book signing for Barry Z. Levine, author of The Woodstock Story Book. The book is a 300-piece compilation of Levine’s photographs for Woodstock, the 1970 Academy-Award winning documentary. The former Columbia Records producer recounted “sipping champagne and eating strawberries” backstage with Janis Joplin and Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick. “When I was approached by Woodstock producers about taking still shots, I said yes,” Levine remembered with a shrug.
After the documentary, many of the original photographs, candid shots of musicians, attendees and the upstate New York landscape, lay untouched for decades. A few years ago, Levine’s wife, Linanne, discovered the pictures in a drawer. Published in time for Woodstock’s fortieth anniversary last year, the book features Linanne’s Dr. Seuss-style prose. The book raised Levine’s visibility in the public eye. Last August, he was the “Celebrated Artist” of Italy’s 2009 Biografilm celebration in Rome, Milan and Bologna. Both Levine and his wife agreed they were bigger hippies now than in 1969.
“Back then, everyone had long hair,” Levine said. “Everyone looked the part.” Being a true hippie, however, is the core of self-acceptance. If love is your religion, you automatically remove yourself from the fray of keeping up with the Joneses.
“Keep the [hippie] spirit,” Linanne said. “It keeps you young.”
On July 29, the museum opened Collecting Woodstock: Recent Museum Acquisitions, a special exhibit running through January 2, 2011. The exhibit includes festival photographs by Doug Lenier and Richard Gordon, artists’ journals and a tribute to The Hog Farm, a New Mexico commune hired by Woodstock promoters to assist in public safety. Other volunteers joined. By the time the event opened, more than 100 “Hog Farmers” were on hand setting up campgrounds and kitchens to provide shelter and food for the half-million crowd.
As Santana notably said, “The most valuable possession you can own is an open heart. The most powerful weapon you can be is an instrument of peace.”
The museum features a café, restroom facilities and a gift shop. Concert prices for the 1,000-seat pavilion and lawn generally range from $36 to $100 before tax. There is no parking admission. Museum tickets are $13 for adults; $11 for seniors; $9 for youths age 8-17 and $4 for children age 3-7. Children under 2 are free with an adult. Please allow a minimum of two hours to enjoy the exhibits. Hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week through September 6.
To learn more about the Bethel Woods museum, visit www.bethelwoodscenter.org. To learn about artifact submission to the museum, contact Shannon McSweeney at (845) 295-2420 or by email at smcsweeney@BethelWoodsCenter.org. To learn more about Barry Z. Levine, visit www.woodstockwitness.com.
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