Simon Felice is invoking our surroundings: the foothills of Overlook Mountain, a place sacred to Algonquins centuries before it became a destination and settlement for artists and craftspeople and bohemians of the early twentieth century. He is also a child of Woodstock’s musical history, the thirty-seven-year-old son of a carpenter who came to the Catskills for the 1969 Woodstock Music & Art Fair and never left.

As he switches from strummed acoustic to a very unfancy drum kit, the handsome man with the Terence Stamp eyes morphs for a minute into the Band’s late drummer Levon Helm, with the same sparse beard and curling hair, the same shapes thrown on the drum stools. “This is a song,” he announces, “about falling madly in love with a hooker on heroin.” And thus, in an instant, do we get the dark flipside to Woodstock’s bucolic rock idyll. For as Felice also knows, this small town, housing as it did so many maverick talents, fostered a scene of damage and dysfunction that endures to this day. It pulled in all manner of wannabes and hangers-on, alcoholic philanderers, dealers in heroin and cocaine, and left at least one generation of messed up children with no direction home.

– from the prologue to Small Town Talk: Bob Dylan, The Band, Van Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix & Friends in the Wild Years of Woodstock by Barney Hoskyns

I’m still in the openings to this book. An incredible history that goes back to the 18th century when Woodstock – the town – was formed. Inhabited mostly by Dutch settlers, and struggling after the close of the revolutionary war, it grew around farming, hunting, lumbering, apple orchards and cider mills. Then in the mid-19th century, it’s growth as a destination for artists and writers, and the establishment of it’s first art colony known as Byrdcliffe that still continues to foster the development of writers, composers, and artists.

On our trips up to Troy NY to visit family, the Brunette and I have recently been stopping in at both Woodstock and Saugerties, a smaller and quieter town to the east filled more with antique shops than tourists. But getting off the thruway and driving down the two lane road that connects both towns, you can only agree with the rock icon photographer Elliot Landy who said, “When you come up Route 375 and you see these mountains, something changes in you.”

Worth reading and worth visiting…

cafe espressoMason Hoffenberg, John Sebastian, Bob Dylan
at Cafe Espresso, Woodstock, NY
photo © Douglas R. Gilbert

Additional Gilbert photos here