Catskill's Cradle: Phoenicia, Mount Tremper, Woodstock | Woodstock | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
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Catskill's Cradle: Phoenicia, Mount Tremper, Woodstock 

Last Updated: 07/23/2021 3:08 pm
Camper on Esopus creek in Mount Tremper.
  • Roy Gumpel
  • Camper on Esopus creek in Mount Tremper.

Looking northwest from Kingston, the Catskills resemble an impossibly beautiful painted backdrop, rolling off into the distance, cradling sunset after beautiful sunset as they have for millennia.

Head up Route 28 and before you know it that painting has swallowed you up. And just at the point where the four-lane becomes a two-lane, you can turn right and in a scant few minutes be in the bosom of a true Catskills legend. Woodstock may not be where the legendary festival happened, but so much else does that getting your mind around it all can challenge even the folks at the epicenter.

"A number of the nonprofits got together and approached the town a few years back about how to promote Woodstock as an arts destination," says Ariel Shanberg, director of the Woodstock Center for Photography and co-creator of the brand new Arts in Woodstock website ( "Rather than go through an advertising firm, it was suggested that the arts organizations themselves might have the talent and knowledge base already in place."

Formed in 2006, the Woodstock Arts Consortium "felt like just one more organization at first, which was the last thing we wanted," says Shanberg. "But now we've got it together—a website clearinghouse that organizes and centralizes everything that's going on, very simple yet very sophisticated. It's searchable in a lot of different ways, and the vision is that not just the day trippers and weekenders but longtime locals as well will find it exciting and useful. You can be sitting at Oriole 9 scrolling through it on your smartphone and go to one site to find out what's going on next door and all over town, at that moment or next week."

What's going on is a lot. You might need that smartphone and website just to get a handle on the second annual Byrdcliffe Festival of the Arts, happening June 14-16. Byrdcliffe, an iconic piece of Woodstock's past, present, and future as an arts colony, is where 13 lively arts organizations will be celebrating the indescribably diverse range of things they do so well. The world premiere of "Hitler's Therapist," a performance piece inspired by a Robert Frost poem, a cutting-edge equality play by Academy Award winner Dustin Lance Black, and the exuberance of the young students from Paul Green's Rock Academy diving into a concert setting of the Rocky Horror Picture Show are just a few of the offerings. What more could one ask? Well, a mentalist performing modern mystery feats? A storyteller? Lucas Handwerker and Gioia Timpanelli will be there.

Also in June, Catskill Mountainkeeper is bringing its fifth annual summer celebration to Woodstock's Andy Lee Field and adjoining Colony Cafe and Photosensualis, Celebrity hosts Chevy and Jayni Chase will be honored for environmental good works alongside Happy Traum and family, Catherine Sebastian, and a number of Levon Helm's close crew. Helm is being posthumously honored, not for the first time; Woodstock will never tire of doing this, because the music magnetized in his memory is just so astoundingly outstanding. Bestselling authors, film, and (yet again) the Rock Academy kids, accompanied by far too much to list.

Mount Tremper
But if your ventures out Rt. 28 stop at Woodstock, you're missing a lot. Stay on the highway fro a few more miles (enjoy the scenery!) and you'll come to Mount Tremper, a hamlet of the town of Shandaken that has its own quirk quotient and this month will celebrate with its own fifth annual contemporary art performance festival ( Attendees will enjoy performance pieces like "Distance Measures" ("Performed in darkness, lit only by moving LED candles...borrows elements from mathematical models of chaotic systems") and Adult Party Games from the Leisure Planet, a work considered by its late creator Art Jarvinen to be "unperformable." Was he right? Come to Mt. Tremper and watch composer-performer collective Varispeed try it out.

Mount Tremper is also the home of the Zen Mountain Monastery, and of the World's Largest Kaleidoscope, in case you were wondering where that was. In other words, you have entered into the Catskills here. Anything can happen. Expect no less.

In the tiny hamlets on the winding back roads, in farmhouses and cabins and campsites, amazing things happen out this way. Mor Pipman and her husband, looking for more space to grow their young family, ended up in Glenford almost by accident. "We didn't really know what we were coming to," she says. "We had a five-year-old and one in diapers. We saw this old church and just—I'm still not sure why."

That's an easy one, Ms. Pipman. Mountain magnetism. Pipman had "done the whole New York City artist thing" for years, studying under a master, teaching at CUNY, and helping to run the city's oldest community garden. Still, she says, Glenford satisfies. "Struggling in New York City doesn't lead to much social life. I have more of a social life now, because I have friends who don't need to schedule every second. And in the city it was easier for my husband to get into Columbia school of nursing than to get our kids into a snide preschool that wasn't the kind of education I wanted for them anyway."

click to enlarge Signage at Timbuktu in Woodstock.
  • Roy Gumpel
  • Signage at Timbuktu in Woodstock.

The Hudson Valley Sudbury School, right down the road, turned out to be a much better fit—and the connection led to the Pipmans opening the community hall of their renovated church to fundraisers for the school each month. Pipman has taken the advice of "everyone" who tasted her baked goods and began marketing Much Mor Bread to her mountain neighbors—as we speak, she is creating a Pink Floyd cake for the Rock Academy kids. "I've found freedom and a home," says Pipman, who has lived all over the world, "It was great to be a young artist in Manhattan, but this allows the kids to flourish without crazy pressure. And my neighbors! Even just in this tiny little hamlet, we have amazing documentarians, musicians, artists, craftsmen all around. I'm surrounded by people that are so interesting here, I don't have to go far at all."

Truly an understatement. In researching this write-up, it was impossible to speak with all of the fascinating people who volunteered: a world-class animal communicator, a teacher of co-ed Pilates, a Feng Shui decorator/yogi/healer, a self described "pre-iconic" team of jewelry maker and photographer, a sophisticated realtor by day who becomes a one-woman fountain of insane comedic antics by night. But it hasn't even been mentioned that the Woodstock Library is opening a brand-new LEED-certified annex. And there's hardly even time to discuss Phoenicia.

On your way farther up 28, you'll see the newly reopened Phoenicia Diner, which has regained its hub-of-important-doings status and is a great place to grab a bite. Dipping down off the highway into Phoenicia proper, one comes upon a whole other enchanted hamlet. Cultural doings swirl around Mama's Boy Café, where you can get a great cup of coffee, an ice cream cone, and a cell signal—not easy up here. Mama's Boy proprietor Michael is also a leading light in the Shandaken Theater Society, which is staging "Grease" this month.

In August, world-class opera will rock the tiny town as the Phoenicia Festival of the Voice echoes through the tiny town's streets and echoes off the hillsides—opera as it was meant to be enjoyed, out under the stars with a bottle of good wine and a friend or three. There will be gospel worth shouting about, and this year the festival celebrates the bicentennials of both Verdi and Wagner, so expect high notes and high spirits abounding.

click to enlarge Robert Jacobson at his studio in Mount Tremper.
  • Roy Gumpel
  • Robert Jacobson at his studio in Mount Tremper.

But don't wait for the Festival of the Voice to discover how much you will love Phoenicia. There's the Empire State Railway Museum (yes, you can take a ride), a Main Street full of eating choices, the chance to rent tubes and float down the Esopus. And there is truly weird and delightful retail—from the classic stateliness of the Phoenicia Pharmacy, where one walks in and into another era, to the well-chosen array of goodies at the Phoenicia Country Store: moccasins and PJs, games and toys by Melissa and Doug, camping gear and garden tools, locally authored books and guidebooks.

Then there is Homer and Langley's Mystery Spot, which must be experienced to be fully believed, let alone understood. Vintage vinyl music, all manner of vintage duds from jeans to hippie skirts to formalwear, and odds and ends—all spilling out onto the porch of a deliciously meandering building. The Mystery Spot is the creation of rock photographer and artist Laura Levine, and is also the only known place where one can enjoy not only the Creepy Doll Exhibit but Petey the Petrified Piranha and Desdemona, the Devil Girl of Phoenicia.

Clearly there is more than a little bit of inspiration in the air up in these here hills, where H. P. Lovecraft and Carole Goodman alike have found inspiration, where any given weekend offers too many good times to fit all of them in and nearly everyone's crazy or creative, with most folks proud to be both. I haven't even mentioned the new ownership at the Woodstock Framing Gallery, or the amazing yoga teacher who commutes back and forth to Rwanda...Oh well. Having seen the tip of the iceberg, hopefully you'll go get you some Catskill cool all your own. It's all here.

Amma Sri Karunamayi Bird-On-A-Cliff
Flowing Spirit Healing
Jane’s Ice Cream
Kir Noel Medical Intuitive
Landmark Grille
Menla Mountain Retreat
Mirabai of Woodstock
Moose Crossing
Namaste Sacred Healing Center The Nest Egg
Pondicherry Yoga Arts
Psychic Readings by Rose
Shandaken Theatrical Society
Sunflower Natural Foods
Town Tinker Tube Rental
Woodstock Concerts on the Green

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