fb-pixel Skip to main content

With an augmented reality tour, now you, too, can experience Woodstock

It’s your own trip, new millennium-style.

Inside a converted school bus in the Woodstock Museum at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts.James Sullivan

BETHEL, N.Y. — When the promoters of the original Woodstock festival cautioned the huge crowd about the dangers of the infamous brown acid that was going around, they declined to come down too hard.

Take the warning “with however many grains of salt you wish,” said the stage announcer. “Of course it’s your own trip, so be my guest.”

Since 2008, Bethel Woods Center for the Arts — on the site of the historic wingding that was the Woodstock Music & Art Fair — has been home to a multimedia museum and performing arts center. Now the trustees have unveiled a new component of the experience: an augmented reality tour of the vast concert site, a self-guided stroll across the pristine, hilly farmland that was covered in mud, filthy blankets, and discarded clothing for one weekend in August 1969.


The tour is enhanced by computer tablets loaded with archival footage, a virtual 3-D model of the stage, home movies, and testimonials from people who attended the festival, and more. It’s your own trip, new millennium-style.

“If you get lost, don’t worry,” say the nice older couple who appear on your tablet screen. “That’s part of the experience, too.”

The grounds at the Woodstock Museum at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts.James Sullivan

These folks are Bobbi and Nick Ercoline, a pair of grandparents approaching their 50th wedding anniversary. They’d be unremarkable if not for the bit of history that led the museum to invite them along: Bobbi and Nick were the young couple wrapped in a blanket in the photo that became the cover of the Woodstock soundtrack album.

The AR tour was designed by Antenna International, an interactive company that has customized visitor experiences for the Louvre, the Vatican, and the Smithsonian, to name a few. They say they conducted or consulted more than 3,000 interviews for the project.

Few events in the history of humankind have altered the course of reality in quite the way that the three-day Woodstock festival did. When Joni Mitchell wrote “We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden,” she would not have had a virtual reality tour in mind.


Hippie fashion in the "Lights, Color, Fashion” exhibit at the Woodstock Museum at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts.James Sullivan

But in an age when our drug of choice is the cellphone, it works. The museum itself has lots of photos and artifacts, sure, but it also features state-of-the-art exhibits such as a floor-to-ceiling contoured screen showing footage from the concert and a converted school bus that helps explain the various ways the half-million or so attendees made their way to Max Yasgur’s farm.

Yasgur, who died in 1973, considered himself a conservative. But when the Woodstock organizers found themselves scrambling for a venue, he agreed to let the festival take place on his land.

“I don’t particularly like the way they look, either,” he says of his hippie visitors in one clip. But their freedom to pursue their own version of happiness “is what the essence of the country is all about.”

Adjacent to the main hall are the Bindy Bazaar gift shop, named after the vendors who set up in the woods at Woodstock (tie dye onesie for your little peacenik, $29.95), and Yasgur’s Farm Cafe, where you can order a turkey sandwich called the Santana. One floor below, the basement level of the museum features a special exhibit that was originally scheduled to open in the summer of 2020. “Lights, Color, Fashion” features lots of groovy hippie garb and psychedelic concert posters from the collection of San Francisco Bay Area artist Gary Westford.


The hallways are lined with album covers and informative displays on every band that played the festival. Not just the big names, either — Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, Crosby, Stills & Nash — but the folk singer Bert Sommer, the Incredible String Band, and the Boston five-piece Quill, which played the first morning set on Saturday.

Rock cairns on the site of the Woodstock stage on the former Yasgur’s Farm in Bethel, N.Y. Note the peace sign mowed into the grass.James Sullivan

Arthur and Carolyn Calice are old enough to remember the breathless media coverage of the event when it happened. They were farm people who considered the Woodstock crowd “dirty druggers,” said Carolyn with a laugh. She’d just spent an early June day at the museum with her daughter and son-in-law and their two grown children.

Nicole and Jason Beaumont live in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. (Their town, Le Roy, is the birthplace of Jell-O, Jason noted.) They brought their 18-year-old daughter, Allie, and 22-year-old son, Connor. Connor’s girlfriend, Addy, also joined the group; as a self-declared Deadhead, she was especially eager to see the Woodstock site.

Everyone was impressed.

“I expected a shack, to be honest,” said Jason, who proudly unfurled his new “3 Days of Peace and Music” poster.

Arthur Calice was philosophical about the visit. He read all the plaques, he said.

“All the issues and traumas — you know what, we have the same things now. … It makes you wonder how progressive we’ve really become.”

He was surprised to find himself moved by the goodwill that made Woodstock work, despite the traffic jams, the rain, the lack of food, and, yes, the bad acid.


“You get a massive amount of people who don’t know each other,” he said, “and they can start to harmonize.”

James Sullivan can be reached at jamesgsullivan@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.