When the original Woodstock happened way back in August of 1969, I had just graduated from high school (yes, that makes me about 56 years old!) and my soon-to-be husband was about to enter the Vietnam-era military. Peace symbols were everywhere, the mini-skirt was in, and free-love was abound along with drugs and alcohol, long haired hippies, and tie-dyed tee shirts. At least that’s how I remember that point in time.
Going to Bethel to see Taylor Hicks open for Earth, Wind & Fire was for me, a walk back in time to see what Woodstock was all about. The venue sat on rolling ground, covering a vast area of gravel, grass, pavement and concrete, not to mention all the wood paneled buildings that house a theatre, restrooms, eating facilities and the huge covered amphitheatre with large screens and a grass sitting area for those who want the cheap seats. What once was a farm, has now become a start-of-the-art arts center, Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. And yes, there was even an area with a large number of porta-potties just waiting to be used!
I hadn’t originally thought about going to Bethel, but when some friends said they were going, I decided to join in the fun. I knew the name, Earth, Wind & Fire, but their hit songs weren’t really coming to me, I must confess. But if Taylor Hicks was going to open for them, then I needed to go.
So on Friday morning, with bags packed and loaded in my car, I left for work. As a corporate tax accountant and the return filing deadline just days away, I knew I had to make sure everything was covered or completed before I left for the day. The minutes ticked away slowly, and finally the last number came in just a couple of few hours before my flight was to take off. With only minutes to spare, my part was completed and I could leave for New York City.
With a late evening flight, I knew I wouldn’t get to NYC until late and to my hotel even later. Normally when I go to NYC, I stay somewhere in Manhattan and near Times Square. A friend had selected the hotel, so I booked a room there for myself as well. This was an old hotel with very small rooms, and some rooms didn’t even have a private bathroom! My room had two twin beds and a bathroom about half the size of the sleeping area! Long and narrow was the layout. Reminded me of what I thought a youth hostel in Europe might look like, or some maybe even some of the older college dorm rooms!
When I checked in, my room was hot. With the flip of a switch, the air conditioner came on, but it would take at least an hour or more before my room would get cool enough. I considered opening the window until I opened the curtain to see the fire escape right outside! Open window, walk into room; I don’t think so! I decided to suffer the heat and stuffiness until the A/C could take control.
We planned to sleep in late on Saturday which was just fine with me! I’d had some late nights at work, and catching up on my sleep was a good idea. Besides, we didn’t know how late it would be before we returned to the hotel after the Bethel concert.
Early afternoon found us taking a town car to the car rental place to pick up our van. A soccer-mom type of van as our driver called it. How much better we would have all looked if we had rented an Escalade! Price, dear, price! That’s what it all boiled down to! We loaded up the van, set Madge (yes, she was going to tag along on this trip), consulted our print outs from MapQuest and Yahoo! maps, and off we went!
The big debate was the distance – Madge was sure it was over 100 miles while everything else was showing around 70 miles. In case you’re interested, Madge was closer to right!
The drive was beautiful! Lots of rolling hills and mountains, a few lakes and waterways, and even a castle on top of a hill! The castle was just outside the town of Sleepy Hollow. We tried to get some pictures as we drove but it’s hard to focus and shoot when you are traveling in a speeding bullet. Not that our driver was speeding, but like Taylor Hicks has been quoted saying, she was driving the speed limit! Yeah, right! A couple of times I had to say watch out on the right – and thank goodness it went after the vehicle in front of us! Otherwise, we might have missed the concert!
As we got closer to the Bethel, we decided to go check out the venue and then go find some place for dinner. Good move. Parking was going to be fun – there were several parking lots, each of which required some hiking to get to the amphitheatre. Only the handicapped parking area was paved and offered shuttles to the venue gates, unless security took pity on you and gave you a ride.
We drove back to White Lake, which was only a few miles back down the road. The Lighthouse looked like a promising place until we checked out the menu. Pretty prices if you have a high credit card limit! Appetizers started around $12 or $15 for something really simple. Anyway, we left and decided to try Bubba’s BBQ which was a rustic looking place with an outdoor patio overlooking the lake.
Dinner was an exciting story! We were seated first, and then two more large parties were seated. Our orders were taken, first or second, and then we went to fix our salads. Table 3 got their food, then table 2, and we were still sitting there. Small parties came and went. It was getting close to time for the venue doors to open, and still no dinner! We paid for our salads and drinks, explained the situation to the manager (who was less than understanding) and left. I’m not one to do this, but on occasion, leaving is the best thing to do. Our waitress must have been new because she had no clue about what to do.
We drove back to the venue and found a place to park. I could tell by where we parked we were going to have a long hike. Security, fortunately, gave me a lift to the handicapped entrance and I was spared the usual back pain from the walk. After checking out the ladies’ room, I started towards the amphitheatre to find my seat. On the way down to the seating area, I ran into Stephen, the merchandise guy. We exchanged hugs and greetings and I moved on. Had I know this was the next to the last show of the tour, I would have stayed and chatted longer!
After sitting down, I looked back behind the amphitheatre and saw black ominous clouds forming. Before time for Taylor Hicks to take the stage, the skies opened and anyone not under the amphitheatre roof got drenched! The lightning lit up the dark sky as the wind helped drive the rain and cool the air. By 8:00, show time, the rains stopped and the skies cleared. A slight rain delay would take place, but that was fine by me.
Since Taylor Hicks was opening for Earth, Wind & Fire, there was none of the usual opening montage. The band took the stage and Taylor came out with his guitar already strapped on. “Gonna Move” was the opening number. A couple of non-Taylor fans were sitting behind me just talking up a storm. I wanted so bad to tell them to be quiet but I decided to suffer in silence. After all, as a devout Taylor Hicks fan, I wanted to be polite and show them that the Soul Patrol was out in force, and that we were respectful of others. What was I thinking – they were just plain rude until they finally decided to go grab another beer and left their seats.
Taylor quickly moved into “Give Me Tonight” which was followed by “Heart and Soul”. Between shout outs to Bethel and Woodstock, Taylor Hicks sang and danced his way across the stage. He announced the first single from his recent CD and began to sing “Just to Feel That Way”.
The audience, quite a large number, was very mixed age and gender-wise. There weren’t many children that I saw. We had one child in our party, and having her would come in later during the evening. Taylor-bait as we like to call her!
“Let’s get necked” let us know we were going to get “Naked in the Jungle”. A rather appropriate song considering all that went on during the original Woodstock so many years ago! And reminiscent of that event, it rained on us before Taylor Hicks took the stage. A bit of de ja vu, maybe!
The Soul Patrol was having a great time. Most of us were sitting to keep from blocking the view of others behind us. Would they continue to sit when the main act came on later?
With “The Maze”, Taylor tagged such songs as “Want Ads”, “Do You Believe”, and Van Morrison’s “Old, Old Woodstock”. What a tribute to the free-love concert of 1969, the original Woodstock Festival! “The Right Place” would take us to the final song of the forty or so minute set.
Before “The Runaround” with “Big Boss Man” and “Willie Brown Blues” was finished, I heard a couple of men exclaim how great Taylor Hicks performance was! And these guys were there to see Earth, Wind & Fire! What a great tribute to Taylor Hicks! When the harp was finished, Taylor waved good-bye, thanked us for coming and supporting him, and also thanked Earth, Wind & Fire for having him open for them! This was such an honor for Taylor, I’m sure!
An intermission followed as Taylor Hicks’ equipment was taken off the stage and moved out of the way. Soon Earth, Wind & Fire brought their big band sound on and gave us one heck of a great show! Everyone in the band was showcased one time or another. The one most fun to watch was Verdine White, a very tall, thin man with long hair that would be the envy of any woman! His constant moves rival Taylor Hicks in terms of style and energy!
When the show was over, we headed to the front to catch up with our party since we weren’t all sitting together. Someone from the band gave a set of drum sticks to our Taylor-bait. As we walked back up the sidewalk to leave, security came running after us with a couple of back stage passes for the bait and her mother! Since there were two more of us in the group, we got to go back as well! We were going to get to meet Earth, Wind & Fire, or at least a couple of them!
The guys that came out mingled amongst the crowd, allowing pictures to be taken with you and signing autographs. Even Verdine would give a quick peck on the lips to a few adoring fans that I’m sure he’d seen countless times over the years! And such a skinny man – a good wind would really blow him away if someone wasn’t right there to grab his legs!
After a bit, we decided to go check out Taylor’s buses, only to find they were already gone. One of the buses for the band looked like Taylor’s, but with Earth, Wind & Fire mounting the steps one by one, we quickly realized it wasn’t Taylor’s bus after all and that his bus had already left the venue!
We hitched a ride with the venue employees back to the handicap staging area and started walking towards our car. I should say hiking because that’s what it was. A nice security guy stopped and offered me a ride, and I didn’t want to be rude and refuse! He delivered me right next to the van and having done his good deed, drove off into the night to help other damsels in distress!
The drive back to NYC seemed shorter, maybe because we took a slightly different route back. Since no one had anything other than the salad bar from the slow-poke diner, we stopped at McDonald’s for a late night meal of burgers to go. We were getting tired, and our navigator was falling asleep. I was forcing my eyes to stay open, and I’m sure our driver was fighting fatigue as well! The most energetic member of the party was our Taylor-bait who was still wide awake and talking constantly – she was trying to keep herself awake as well!
Finally we were back at the hotel just before 3:00 am and we were able to find a parking place on the street. Not bad for free parking in the city that never sleeps. I guess it helped that we were situated on a side street rather than a main street. We said good-night and set our alarms for 7:00 am. We all had flights home in the morning, and a short nap was needed in order to function in a few short hours.
Once back home we soon discovered that Taylor Hicks’ summer tour was drawing to a close and we didn’t even realize it! With several shows remaining, we just assumed the tour was going on until then. But alas, Bethel was the next to last show of the tour. Our regret was not realizing it and making plans to attend the final show at Jones Beach near Wantagh, NY. Or in saying good-bye to the band members and other key people we’d come to recognize during the summer tour.
So if perchance one of you guys is reading this, please know I have enjoyed the summer tour a great deal and wish each of you the very best as you move on to your next gig. And Taylor, enjoy your time off! I’ll take some time to reflect and write some thoughts during the next several weeks. And even attend many of the fall shows wondering if we’ll get to hear the summer band again at those shows as I travel to those locations.
For now, I just look forward to attending the show in Newport Beach next week-end and seeing what comes next for both the Traveling Circus and Taylor Hicks. Until then…..
It really is all about the music – and the people I’ve met, and the places I’ve been, and the memories that will carry me forward until the next tour, and the friends I’ve come to love and cherish, and being part of the Soul Patrol with all of its quirks and personalities and funkiness! WHOOO! SOUL PATROL!
Pictures of Taylor Hicks at Bethel Woods, Bethel, NY