Estimated reading time 5 minutes 5 Min

Back to Woodstock, with Wi-Fi: Women return after 55 years to glamp and relive the famous festival

BETHEL, N.Y. (AP) - Beverly "Cookie" Grant hitchhiked to the Woodstock music festival in 1969 without a ticket and slept on straw. Ellen Shelburne arrived in a VW microbus and pitched a pup tent.

27 June 2024
27 June 2024

BETHEL, N.Y. (AP) - Beverly "Cookie" Grant hitchhiked to the Woodstock music festival in 1969 without a ticket and slept on straw. Ellen Shelburne arrived in a VW microbus and pitched a pup tent.

Fifty-five years later, the two longtime friends finally got back to the garden, but this time in high style.

The women, now 76, were recently treated to a two-bedroom glamping tent at the upstate New York site equipped with comfy beds, a shower, a coffee maker and Wi-Fi. No mud from drenching rains this time. They sat in pavilion seats to watch shows by Woodstock veterans John Fogerty and Roger Daltrey.

"We're like hippie queens!" Grant joked over breakfast during the trip earlier this month.

The Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, the not-for-profit organization that runs the site, rolled out the tie-dyed carpet for Grant and Shelburne to promote its new glamping facilities and to delve deeper into Shelburne's trove of photos from the generation-defining festival held Aug. 15-18, 1969.

The once-trampled hillside by the main stage is now a manicured green space near a Woodstock-and-'60s-themed museum and the concert pavilion. But the return visit still bought back a flood of memories. Shelburne was able to retrace the steps she took as a 21-year-old college student in the photos taken by her then-boyfriend, and future husband, David Shelburne.

"I'm looking at this person in the photograph, who is me, but a person just starting out in life at that age. And now I'm looking back at sort of bookends of my life,” Ellen Shelburne said. "All these decades later, I'm back at Woodstock and it just brings it all up in such a positive way."

Grant and Shelburne did not know each other in August 1969 and they attended the concert separately.

Shelburne came from Columbus, Ohio, with David Shelburne, his best friend and another woman. They purchased tickets, got there early and bought ponchos at a local store after rain was forecast. She slept in a pup tent.

"I was never cold, wet, hungry, muddy, dirty, uncomfortable or miserable,” she said. “It was the total opposite."

Grant went to Woodstock on a lark.

A long-haired surfer she knew named Ray came up to her and a friend on a beach in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and said, "There's this music festival happening in New York. You want to hitchhike up there with me?" Grant’s friend dropped out along the way, but she and the surfer made it to the town of Bethel. The last driver dropped them off at the edge of the epic traffic jam outside the festival and gave them a blanket.

Grant walked the last several miles to Woodstock barefoot.

Both women were wowed by Jimi Hendrix, The Who and other musical acts, but also by the good vibes from the 400,000 or more people who converged on Max Yasgur’s dairy farm some 80 miles (130 kilometers) northwest of New York City.

"If we needed food, someone gave us food. Someone gave us water. We needed nothing," Grant said.

The two women met months later in Columbus, where they each ran shops adjacent to Ohio State University with the men they went to Woodstock with. And they each married their concert companions, though Grant got a divorce several years later.

David and Ellen Shelburne ran a film and video production company together until he died four years ago. Grant moved to Florida and eventually became a chef on mega-yachts before starting her own business providing crews for those big boats.

Each woman kept a spark of the Woodstock spirit. Shelburne said she’s "stuck in the '60s and proud of it." They got the bug to return to the festival site last year after providing oral histories in Columbus to curators for the Museum at Bethel Woods.

Just like in 1969, the women were provided what they needed during their recent long weekend of peace, love and nostalgia - though this time it was a "Luxury 2 Bedroom Safari Tent" with a front deck and the shower in a bathroom. And when it rained this time, they were able to stay dry in the museum.

On a sunny Saturday, Bethel Woods senior curator Neal Hitch drove the women around in a golf cart to explore the spots where David Shelburne shot his festival photos. Unlike others who focused their cameras on the stage, he documented festivalgoers camping, swimming, selling goods, relaxing and having fun. Hitch noted that David Shelburne’s images also are valuable because they are in sequence, meaning they tell a story.

At one stop, Shelburne stood by a tree line as she held a photo of a field full of campers. She was standing on the spot where her late husband took the photograph and was looking at the same field, minus the campers, 55 years later. Visibly moved, she said "oh" a few times and let out a deep breath before exclaiming, "Wow!"

It broke her heart that her husband is not in the photographs, but she felt his presence that weekend.

The women ranged across the festival site over several days, from the stage area to the woods where vendors had set up stalls. Despite the changes - the luxury tents, the fences, the museum - the women said they recognized the same mellow, friendly vibes here that they experienced as 21-year-olds.

And they were thrilled to immerse themselves in it again decades later.

"It's very wonderful to see that it's in history forever," Grant said, "and we're a part of that."