By the time he got to Woodstock: Whately photographer visits site of famous music fest on its 50th anniversary

  • A couple who attended Woodstock in 1969 pose with a shot from the concert, in which they were able to identify themselves. Photo copyrighted by Doug Potoksky

  • The field at Yasgur’s Farm where Woodstock attendees took in the music. The stage was down at the base of the hill. Photo copyrighted by Doug Potoksky

  • Arlo Guthrie, a Woodstock performer, came back to play at the concerts staged two weeks ago at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts to commemorate the festival’s 50th anniversary. Photo copyrighted by Doug Potoksky

  • Peace and love were still on display two weeks ago at the site of the 1969 Woodstock Festival, says Doug Potoksky. Photo copyrighted by Doug Potoksky

  • Channeling the spirit of 1969 at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. Photo copyrighted by Doug Potoksky

  • Peace was still a reigning message at Yasgur’s Farm in upstate New York two weeks ago, says Potoksky. Photo copyrighted by Doug Potoksky

  • A message board at Yasgur’s Farm, where many returning attendees from Woodstock shared their thoughts. Photo copyrighted by Doug Potoksky

  • Valley percussionist Tony Vacca does his thing at Bethel, N.Y. two weeks ago to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. Photo copyrighted by Doug Potoksky

Staff Writer
Thursday, August 29, 2019

Fifty years ago, Doug Potoksky wanted to go to Woodstock, but real life — attending college — got in the way.

So when the 50th anniversary of the fabled music festival rolled around a couple weeks ago, he made sure he went out to the small towns of Bethel and Woodstock, New York, right by Yasgur’s Farm, the site of the festival during Aug. 15-18, 1969. A series of concerts, at the nearby Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, was staged to recall the spirit of the original one.

“I went this time because I had to go — I wanted to go,” said Potoksky, of Whately. “I just felt this sense of energy, like something pulling me there.”

Potoksky, who once lived in Boston and worked as a musician, is also a longtime photographer who has published two books of photography: one of memorials to victims of 9/11 in New York, and another of the memorials to victims of the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013.

An image from the latter book ended up in a documentary about the history of the Patriots Day Marathon, while 28 photos from the 9/11 book are now in the permanent archives at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. Potoksky has also photographed musicians such as Robert Plant, Jerry Garcia and Willie Nelson for various publications, including Rolling Stone.

So when he headed to Bethel two weeks ago, Potoksky made sure he had his camera. He was hoping to get a few pictures of some of the performers — among the musicians there were Arlo Guthrie, Ringo Starr, Santana, Edgar Winter (brother of Johnny) — but more important was to see the original concert site and some returning Woodstock attendees from 1969.

“I wanted to see people, I wanted to talk to them,” he said.

Among the pictures he snapped was that of a couple who, in a gift shop at the site, found a framed photo of a shot of the 1969 concert in which they were able to identify themselves. “They’d been looking for a photo of themselves for 50 years,” said Potoksky. As well, there’s a picture of the field where the crowd sat to hear the original concert, and a message board where concert returnees left their thoughts.

Potoksky also got a good shot of Arlo Guthrie, one of Woodstock’s original performers — “He was so down home, so Arlo,” said Potoksky — and another of Valley percussionist Tony Vacca, who played at the Bethel Center with a jazz-flavored band.

But Potoksky was mostly struck that weekend by the good vibe and optimism of the crowd. “Don’t think it’s all over, folks — there’s a whole new energy out there,” he said. “Be positive.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.