Bethel Woods Beckons Campers Back to the Garden

Concertgoers enjoy camping on the historic grounds of the 1969 Woodstock festival. Image courtesy of Bethel Woods Center for the Arts

The crowd at Woodstock had to contend with rain and mud, but now you can experience the sights and sounds of the 1969 festival from the comfort of your own safari tent. 

The Bethel Center for the Arts’ 2024 season is debuting new facilities so campers can “sleep among the stars” while attending concerts by legendary performers and emerging artists from May to October.  

Camping options on concert and festival days range from basic amenities for the bring-your-own-tent crowd and RV owners, to glamping for those who’d prefer more luxurious accommodations.  

Besides the chance to avoid the traffic and the convenience of walking from your tent to the show, campers can join in activities like morning yoga, evening drum circles and campfire hootenannies.  

Bethel’s June 7 opening show in the 16,000-seat pavilion is the Warren Haynes Band & The Dreams and Songs Symphonic Experience, which covers all aspects of the versatile jam-band guitarist and Bedford resident’s career. 

An aerial view of Bethel Woods during a summer concert. Photo by Nate Seitelman. Image courtesy of Bethel Woods Center for the Arts

Phish, Santana, Alanis Morissette, Hozier, Jason Mraz, Luke Bryan, and the Outlaw Festival starring Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan are among the headliners on the diverse schedule.  

The 1,000-acre campus at the National Register Historic Site of the Woodstock festival in Sullivan County is also home to the intimate indoor Event Gallery, a museum dedicated to the 1969 festival, and the Horizon Stage for up-and-coming performers. 

The new campsite is intended to broaden the center’s audience, said Susan Russ, Bethel’s head of marketing and communications. 

“I think we’re going to see some people who come for shows and love the fact that they can stay here, and it’s super convenient and you don’t even have to leave,” Russ said. “But I also think we’re going to find people who are campers and find that they want to come and camp at Woodstock and they’ll see a show because they’re here.” 

If it’s food that feeds your soul, take note: The Catskill Cuisine weekend returns this year from May 10-12, featuring celebrity chefs including Alton Brown, Scott Conant, Alex Guarnaschelli and Marcus Samuelsson. 

Monument commemorating the 1969 Woodstock Music & Art Fair, overlooking the historic festival field. Image courtesy of Bethel Woods Center for the Arts

“Every spring we eagerly anticipate the new season, but this year the excitement in the air is palpable,” said Bethel CEO Eric Frances. “From a robust musical lineup to Catskill Cuisine and the opening of the Bethel Woods campsite, this is sure to be one of the most memorable years yet on our historic grounds,” 

Also new this spring are the Studios at Bethel Woods, comprising a recording studio and garage band practice space.  

‘A lofty vision’ 

Bethel Woods draws upon the Woodstock festival’s ethos for a purpose that goes beyond presenting headline entertainers.  

A mission statement, titled “Peace, Love and so Much More,” outlines the center’s commitment to building on the site’s history “by providing extraordinary experiences and access to the arts.”  

This includes hosting educational and arts programs for youths, supporting the next generation of artists, making free tickets available for people who might not otherwise be able to afford them, and a Hello Inclusion festival showcasing musicians with disabilities. 

“We have a lofty vision of creating a better world through music and peace,” Russ said. 

Unlike other concert venues, Bethel Woods operates as a nonprofit that relies on membership to help fund its programs, and offers members perks that include discounted museum admission on concert days and access to exclusive lounges. 

“We just want people to understand that we’re a nonprofit, so their ticket sales, which feel like a for-profit transaction, are actually helping to fund our nonprofit,” Russ said. “We’re really about building a community and sharing experiences.” 

Grazing in the Grass  

Bethel Woods’ appeal extends beyond the Boomers who flock to the site to experience, or relive, the Psychedelic 60s.  

Acts like the Jonas Brothers and Selena Gomez draw a younger crowd, including Deija Davis-Montes, the center’s marketing coordinator. 

The site’s pastoral grounds set it apart from other performance spaces, she said. 

“Personally, I think that what stands out is our property,” Davis-Montes said. “I’ve seen a lot of other places, and I feel like our lawn is beautiful, the pavilion stage is very beautiful. I think that our space is what does it.” 

Although its audience has been growing since its 2006 opening, luring some visitors to the Catskills from Westchester and beyond takes more than a concert ticket.  

The idea is for fans to make a day of it, touring the grounds, visiting the museum, dining in one of the cafes, checking out the Horizon Stage, and of course, making a pilgrimage to the nearby Woodstock monument overlooking the festival site. 

“It’s getting people to not be afraid of the drive,” Russ said. “Once we get people here once, it’s a lot easier for them to come back. And they go, ‘Wow, the drive wasn’t bad. it was actually quite beautiful.’ “ 

Bethel Woods Center for the Arts
200 Hurd Rd Bethel, NY 12720

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About the Author: Robert Brum