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That Was Then This Is Now : Some folks believe their Woodstock memories are sacred. But is the new festival sacrilege? Whose party is it, anyway?

August 02, 1994|JOSH GETLIN | Times Staff Writer

SAUGERTIES, N.Y. — "It used to be us versus them. Then, we became them and the kids became us. Except, we're also still us . . . aren't we?" --Hector Lizzardi, site manager for Woodstock '94.

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On a steamy summer morning, Woodstock II is busy being born.

With a roar, Hector Lizzardi's Jeep bounces to the top of a grassy ridge and shudders to a halt. Behind the wheel, the ponytailed man with a '60s heart and a '90s bankroll points proudly to the green meadow below.

"This," he says with only a hint of irony, "is where it's at."

In the distance, construction crews build water fountains and lay wooden foundations for an immense concert stage. Others string lines for 1,000 telephones. Within a week, 3,200 portable toilets will ring the site.

And it's like, wow: a gorgeous pasture bursting with wildflowers in Upstate New York, covering 840 acres. Just the place for Generation Xers to collide with Tie-Died Geezers in the latest chapter of American anniversary hell.

Got your calendars out? We've just relived the 25th anniversary of the first U.S. moon landing and the 30th anniversary of Mississippi's Freedom Summer. Next year, we'll kick off similar reruns for the killings at Kent State and Earth Day. You could spend a lifetime looking back.

But the biggest hoo-hah of all is less than two weeks away. On Aug. 12, the bucolic site surrounding Lizzardi will be transformed into Woodstock '94--a three-day rock 'n' roll extravaganza for 250,000 that's trying to rekindle the magic of the original music festival on its 25th anniversary.

Never mind that this year's Woodstock is in Saugerties, 60 miles from the original site at Max Yasgur's farm in Bethel. Or that old-timers dismiss the new festival as a corporate con job--a slick package deal that lacks the innocence and spontaneity of the original event.

Woodstock '94 backers insist that they're the real thing. And they abhor any comparisons to the mud-soaked music and arts event that became a defining moment for the 1960s counterculture, warts and all.

"This is 1994," says Michael Lang, who brainstormed the original festival and is organizing the Saugerties event. "There's a new generation involved and you can't just cling to what happened before. You have to turn the page."

Yet it's hard to ignore the past, especially for an event as historically charged as Woodstock. To some, the original rock festival has become an embarrassing '60s cliche. Just one more bad memory from the generation that brought us peace, love and other slogans best forgotten.

Others view the 1969 gathering as a holy moment. Even if they never attended, millions of baby boomers keep Woodstock close to their hearts and they resent anyone hijacking the memory. Time may blur their recollections and harsh facts can get in the way. But the urge to go back is irresistible.

"You could never duplicate the first event and you shouldn't try," says Rufus Friedman, who helped construct the original site and is now an art designer in Venice, Calif. "For better or worse, it was from another time."

Indeed, there's a possessiveness about Woodstock that can get nasty. Just whose party is this anyway? And what do these kids today want?

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If you've got big bucks on the line, the answer is obvious.

"To me, the first Woodstock festival was a large happening that got out of control and, by the grace of God, no one got badly hurt," Lizzardi says. "At Woodstock '94, we're geared up for a whole new generation, and we're not going to make the same mistakes. We have a few resources to help these kids along."

Thirty million dollars, to be exact, much of it shelled out by corporate sponsors such as Pepsi and Haagen-Dazs. It's a staggering amount contrasted with the $3 million it cost to stage the 1969 festival.

But that was then and this is now. Get with the new program--every micro-planned minute of it.

Tickets to the 1994 event cost $135 for three days of music and other entertainment. Organizers want a tightly controlled festival, where concert-goers are forbidden to bring their own food or drink alcohol. Little has been left to chance, and Polygram Diversified Ventures, the entertainment conglomerate organizing the program, is determined to run a trauma-free event.

"We're going to learn from mistakes made last time," Lang says. "I still have my loyalties to the '60s, but you have to live in the real world."

Twenty-five years ago, Lang crisscrossed Yasgur's farm on a motorbike, barking orders and confounding reporters with cryptic hippie wisdom. He still has long curly hair and talks like Mr. Goodvibes. But he's playing with the big boys now.

Many ticket buyers will be under 25, Lang notes, so members of Generation X will be encouraged to speak out on social issues at the festival in various public forums and dispel the image that they're a lazy, cynical bunch. Promoters want them to be creative, he adds, sounding like a parent eager for children to have a good time at camp.

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