The Navel Gazer

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The Gay Man Who Saved Woodstock

If not for me, there would have been no Woodstock.

I am the gay man who saved the Woodstock Festival. I am also a humorist, playwright, filmmaker, and a university lecturer.

My name is Elliot Tiber. I come from a dysfunctional family who tried to kill me off in Bensonhurst Brooklyn, New York  My book and now the Ang Lee movie, Taking Woodstock, is not about the concert. It is about my life.  

How Did I Save Woodstock?

I was an interior designer and college teacher in Manhattan from 1958 to 1969.

I was earning good money and like a misfit fool, dumped my income into a broken down resort, El Monaco, in the dying/dead Borcht Belt aka the Catskills Mountains. Namely, White Lake in Bethel New York (two hours north of civilization). I was trying to save my aged parents from losing their life savings in what we dreamed would be an international resort and cultural center. The dilapidated summer cottages and the slanted motel additons were minus 25 stars on a carless highway. But, there was a huge barn.

My wet dream was to have a summer theater where I could put on plays and shows, but mostly, write comedy, which I would perform (sans having to audition).  

I was president of the Bethel Chamber of Commerce even though there was no commerce. I issued myself a music and arts festival permit for each of those ten years. I held music festivals using records since I had no money for bands. Nobody came to the theater productions even though we presented Shakespeare and Beckett in the nude. Nudity was not the plan. The actors had a goat for a mascot. Clotilda, the goat, ate all the costumes. 

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Nobody came to the shows. Nobody came to the music festivals, except for my milkman, Max Yasgur. He donated milk and cheese to our starving actors.

The Woodstock Festival was building its structures in the ugly town of Walkill New York, 25 miles south. The wise town fathers cancelled their permit at the last minute. They said they didn't want their town overrun with hippies, drug addicts, and homosexuals raping their cows on main street.

Aha! I called the producer, Mike Lang, and said the three magic words: "I have permit." And I have 15 acres and a barn and 72 rooms for your staff.

In 15 minutes, Lang and his associates arrived on my muddy lawn in a helicoptor. I sold them the permit for $1, which is what i paid. But when I took them to my 15 acres, they and the copter sunk into my swamp. 

They were about to leave when I shouted that my milkman, Yasgur, had 700 acres of grass fields. We met with Max. We made a deal. Within hours, my empty El Monaco, now the headquarters for Woodstock, was overflowing with thousands of staffers.

Within days, about 50,000 young people arrived with tents and turtles and great weed and acid.

When the town fathers threatened to cancel the festival, I went on network radio and introduced myself. This was Tuesday, three days before the opening day. I told the michrophone (since I didn't know if anyone was listening) the situation and asked if they wanted three days of peace and music, they should come out now. I added: If you don't have tickets, no problem. The concert is FREE."

By 3AM that Wednesday, there were half a million people arriving at the farm. Another half a million was on the thruway. Governor Rockefeller declared a state of emergency, closed the thruway since traffic was backed up 100 miles to NYC.

Me and my big mouth SAVED Woodstock.

Now, 40 years later, the entire world, (except Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Taliban countries) are celebrating.

My book is in 14 countries. The movie is playing everywhere. My entire life has been turned upside down and inside out.

I will be writing weekly blogs for The Naval Gazer. I hope you will laugh out loud and join my overloaded mind down paths you never knew existed.


Elliot Tiber is the author of the book Taking Woodstock, which was made into a major motion film by Ang Lee.

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