Lizzie Vann, current owner of the Bearsville Theater complex, had hoped that by August she'd be welcoming audiences back after 10 months of renovations. Vann fell in love with rock `n' roll at 14, growing up in the UK's industrial Midlands, when a borrowed copy of Janis Joplin's Pearl "kinda blew my head off." She went on to study biology and nutrition, founding the Organix line of baby food in 1992, which she later sold in 2008, and has fallen deeply in love with Woodstock's legacy.
"When we walked in last September, there was water coming through the ceiling and down the walls," says Vann. "We had to tear everything completely apart and deep clean." The rebuilt ceiling is "tight as a drum," she says, for superior acoustics. "I wanted a total focus on the sound and on the experience for musicians. And I love vintage British theaters, so we have black velvet drapes and a peacock teal drape with gold fringe. There are four chandeliers that can change color and uplights that can be programmed to change color with the music. Our theater manager, Robert Frazza, installed a Danley sound system. I think we're going to have the best sounding room north of Manhattan."
For now, she's working on video streaming platforms. "I'm working with Mike Amari from BSP Studios to get some indie rock going, because we have amazing musicians who want to reach the world. I hope to have the Bear Cafe open by November. Eventually I want this to be the place where visitors can get an up-close, in-depth sense of the history here: the Sound Outs in the `60s, the story of The Band and the Basement Tapes, Happy and Artie Traum, Todd Rundgren's mirror, Maria and Geoff Muldaur. There's just so much."
Other plans include education and performance space for the new generation in Rundgren's onetime soundstage, songwriting workshops, and weekend festivals. "It feels like a huge obligation to get the dancing going," says Vann. "Health and safety first, but I'm eager to offer this as a hub and a hearth."
Maverick Concerts has been drawing crowds to its historic concert hall, built by Byrdcliffe Colony cofounder Hervey White, since 1916. While Maverick canceled its summer season this year, the chamber music festival is drawing on its extensive catalog to stream a series of Maverick Hours, broadcast WHMT-FM 89.1 or 88.7 and streamed on the radio station's website each Sunday at 5pm.
"It's the closest we can get to having a concert right now, and we've been getting rave reviews," says Music Director Alexander Platt. "Sit back with a glass of wine and look forward to gathering in person. We're scraping our pennies together and missing each other." Also at Maverick in cyberspace: a rendition of "Sleeping Beauty" featuring award-winning storyteller David Gonzalez. In development and coming soon are Indian ragas with Woodstock legend Steve Gorn and live streamed Bach, Hayden, and jazz.
The rich culture that makes this town tick may be somewhat subdued this pandemic summer, but it's far from absent. Bird-on-a-Cliff Theater Company is presenting "William Shakespeare's Long Lost First Play" at the Comeau property every weekend from August 7 through September 6. "We picked a play with three people in it, doing the best we can with the circumstances, and there's plenty of room for the audience to spread out," says Elli Michaels, who with husband David Aston-Reese has been organizing a Shakespeare festival for a quarter century now. (The two met in a 13th Street production of "Taming of the Shrew" and have been married 39 years. "He was Petruchio and I was Kate, and he's been trying to tame me ever since," says Michaels.)
"People don't want 'Hamlet' or 'King Lear' in the summer," says Aston-Reese, "so we were thinking 'Comedy of Errors,' but it turned out we shouldn't get 11, 12 actors together. But this is a hilarious piece, a total, loving goof on Shakespeare."
Literati from around the region have enjoyed the careful reopening of the Golden Notebook, where proprietor James Conrad has been doing local delivery, curbside service, and a little in-store shopping (two families at a time.) "I noticed back in March that Woodstock seemed to be ahead of the curve with masks and social distancing," he says. "I'd like to think that caring is the Woodstock way. I do the Chamber newsletter, and obviously we've all had to scale back our planned events, but in some ways it feels like we're stronger than ever."
Online author events at the Notebook this month include an August 3 conversation with former Chronogram books editor Nina Shengold, who recently published Reservoir Year: A Walker's Book of Days (which is excerpted on page 46).
Pulling Together"It's the no-end-in-sight part that's hard," says Craig Leonard, one of the partners behind Silvia, a Mill Hill Road eatery known for its wood-fired, grill-centric cuisine that has reopened for outdoor dining by reservation. "We've just gone to seven days a week, and we're booked full almost every night. People are so happy to be out somewhere safe and comfy. It feels like we're back to running a restaurant again—all the staff are back—and we're just hoping the numbers stay good and people stay smart."
That hope is fervently shared by Town of Woodstock Supervisor Bill McKenna. "We're starting to see more weekend visitors, and people are still concerned, but our businesses need to survive in this unique, challenging moment," he says. "So yes, please come, but do wear a mask and social distance. Take care of us and we'll take care of you. We've been working hard and doing a good job at every level; you're very welcome here, just be aware of your fellow humans."
McKenna and his board did some emergency suspending of zoning regulations to expand outdoor dining space at Mill Hill Road, now in use not just by Silvia but by Oriole 9, A&P Bar, Cucina, and Dixon Roadside. "Houst and Son Hardware let us use some of their parking," says McKenna. "Collaborations have been emerging every which way." The Woodstock Farm Festival farmers' market is up and running at its new Maple Lane location, and is partnering with the Colony Woodstock on socially distanced food and music offerings.
Woodstock celebrated Independence Day with a "Wake Up! What's Next!" Black Lives Matter rally at Andy Lee Field. "We had some really good dialog with the [police] chief and the officers, and one of the organizers said he felt lucky to have grown up here," says McKenna. "I grew up with most of our police. Now we have new residents and new young officers and everyone needs to get easy and comfortable together. We had one wonderful dialog, we want more. We want to double down and work harder; we'll be having more outdoor meetings. I wish we could export the way we do it here, just share it everywhere."
Playing It Safe"Most of the state's opening up, but we're going to stay very strict to keep both our staff and the community safe," says Kam DelMonte of Sunflower Natural Foods. The recently expanded and remodeled market offers curbside pickup and delivery; those who enter are required to wear masks, as are all staff, who also take regular temp checks, wear gloves, and face shields, and practice a rigorous daily cleaning routine. "At the same time, we're trying to keep some of the feeling—we still do gift baskets and raffles, we try to give customers some fun to look forward to. Ultimately, we are just so thankful to continue to provide for our community when we need each other the most."