The unsung 90’s scene in Woodstock was the best in my opinion, but there’s always hope for the next generation, right?
REFLECTIONS AND INTERVIEWS ABOUT THE 90’s WOODSTOCK MUSIC SCENE
My O.G. Woodstock friend Oriana Fine texted me “Flower Punx Forever” the other day. It made me think of how the 90’s hippie, rap and punk kids in Woodstock were the children of hippies who stuck around and still believed, or from families with that 80’s cash who settled due to the beautiful properties, the Monastery, or because they wanted an arts community. Irony is, as property values (they want it quiet around town) and tourism increased, the local music scene has often been choked out.
Many came or remain here because it seems a more rational choice than much of America, but boy did some of their kids act “irrational” (even by 60’s standards). At the same time, the grunge movement in Seattle and Nirvana had taught me (a lifelong closeted bisexual/empath/manic depressive) that DIY and building our own scene was the way to go. Clubs were mainly showing reggae bands or WDST acoustic type acts, which was more than fine. There were some great acts in those scenes/genres, but we were all usually much louder. After all, the members of D.C./NYC hardcore and reggae legends Bad Brains settled in our backyard raising families, so we wanted that black dots punk rock with social messages at the forefront, not just reggae.
There was a thick blend of funk and prog mish mash in the rock of bands like Three, Oblivion Grin, Conehead Buddha, Blissfully Ignorant, or a bundle of ska mischief via Valley legends Perfect Thyroid (my first “local” band show ever). Dark psych rock and poetic vibes flowed into town from Palenville via Simone Felice’s many projects (grown more rustic-minded over time) or the untouchable shrooms-infused deep psych post-hardcore/alternative rock of Dripping Goss and Spin Cycle Lava. All of this made it a blender of possibility for anyone willing to get out there and put shows together, despite fliers always getting ripped down.
Bearsville Theater puts on great shows today, but it’s not the same as Joyous Lake, Tinker Street Cafe and the Youth Center shows I usually booked. It was an amazing time for bands from as far as NYC, Nyack, New Paltz or closer, like Kingston and Woodstock, all cross pollinating. No cell phones. Word of mouth and positive intent. It birthed bands like Three, Coheed & Cambria, and Pitchfork Militia (who, 20 years later, still gig constantly and deserve more respect). Nowadays you have a lot of well-meaning Brooklyn bands trying to sound like The Band, but us non-transplants still inhabit Levon’s real backyard.
It was a time when The Jesus Lizard, Public Enemy and Fugazi got as much headphones time as Neil Young, Wu Tang, Stevie Wonder, Pearl Jam, RHCP, The Smashing Pumpkins, Melvins, Stooges, Notorious B.I.G., Black Flag, Operation Ivy, Bikini Kill, Jane’s Addiction, Sublime, Acid Bath, or Ani Difranco, plus we also still believed the answer was blowin’ in the wind. You just had to find that fucker and make him talk. And we were all making our own music while we looked for those answers.
I remember my old drummer Pat Howland playing me Bad Brains’ God Of Love album and how it changed our world! And we could ask Dr. Know all about it in person (because he also worked with Pat at a local farmstand)!
People today are really uninformed about this 90’s scene on a national level, because no one (even the artists who were there) talks about it as much as the 60’s, or they just don’t know the facts. Local bands were even recording at Bearsville Studios (ahem … my early bands Melancholy and Fuse) and playing shows to packed houses every weekend. Girls were a big part of the scene, though not as many performed in the bands, which would have been cooler. There were a lot of kids who also died (R.I.P. Jason Foster of Lunch Meat, Pat Howland of Melancholy and others). The harder edge meant harder drugs, some of which haunted members of Coheed and Cambria all the way to the national stage (and oh yeah, Cambria is my sister’s name).
I battled with hard drugs from age 15-20 but never have used them since, though struggled with booze until a few years back. That’s not exaggeration. I was shooting up speedballs or taking acid every day at an age when some kids’ balls haven’t dropped.
Folk anarchist John The Baker (Uncle of Josh and Joey Eppard) won a $20,000 censorship lawsuit against town police for being arrested singing on The Green in Woodstock about cops sleeping with underage girls. He used the money to put out the album by his band, Slimy Penis Breath (with art of a pig-faced cop eating a literal dick) and mailed it to all the police stations. Former Slimy Penis Breath bassist Jason Christopher is now in metal legends Prong and has played with Corey Taylor of Slipknot.
We held pro-choice benefits and built our own skatepark with money kids raised, and then got shut out from doing shows at the Youth Center by a bed and breakfast with noise complaints (fuck you, still). Somehow, I was able to book Three, Melancholy and a drunk punk band Hauler in the Town Hall opposite Police Dispatch. Crazy fuckin’ times. I’m so glad most of us are still here to sing about it. PMA 24/7 everyday, always.
Here’s some reflections from some of the people who were there.
Ian Thomas (current Mearth and 4 Gun Ridge guitarist, ex-Hauler, ex-Melancholy):
“I rolled up in my sweet minivan with our gear and some friends to the Town Hall. As I pulled into what was basically a police parking lot I could see Hauler’s singer Tom crawling from our pal Ray’s car. Somehow, between New Paltz and Woodstock he got blind drunk. Such was the Hauler way. I remember thinking we’d get arrested walking in through what seemed like the police station. Maybe we made a wrong turn. Our set, if you could call it that, consisted of Tom knocking his amp over and howling into the mic. And myself and drummer Kev Sharp (now of Lara Hope’s band Tiger Piss) pushing through. Ridiculous, but the kids loved it for some reason. Those Woodstock shows were always a rip. Hauler, Melancholy, Mearth. It was damn fun back then. I loved having the chance to play for/with all of you guys and all the great bands. Tom’s amp was 2 radio shack PA cabs and an old Gibson PA head. Stacked up it was probably about 5 feet tall so when it fell, it fell with drama. Shit scattered like dominoes and shrapnel. He’d prop it up again, howling guitar feedback the whole time. Slam! Down it fell again. Kev and I furiously blasting through whatever we could play as if the entire spectacle was planned. Fucking hell.”
Kwame Gtb WiafeAkenten (rapper, proud father, former merch/security for Killswitch Engage and Coheed and Cambria):
“Looking back at that time, it’s like damn how amazing to be surrounded by such a broad mix of talent within a space that allowed bands to get together and play openly and for the kids that went to enjoy, a space to watch that magic. Such a special time and opportunity. I feel like that’s what’s missing now. I would hate to be a music loving kid these days. No place to get what we all got!”
Jeremy Swift (ex-Guava Lamp, current guitarist in GET OUT., The Beautiful Bastards):
“The area had a thriving music scene in the bars and clubs, but the kids were locked out, so they started a parallel scene developing whatever venues they could get their hands on. Within a year or so the youth scene was rivaling the bar scene and surpassing it in turnout. Some of the heavier adult bands that had trouble getting booked in the more conservative and very competitive bar scene started playing the youth shows, and were embraced by larger, more enthusiastic audiences than they ever found in the bars. I remember playing to 400 kids at the Kingston YMCA, with a swirling pit at our feet.”
Nate Kelley (multi instrumentalist and ex-Shabutie, Coheed and Cambria, DIVEST, Pontius Pilate Sales Pitch, Moe & The Boogie Cats. Currently in The Widow Capet with his wife Deena):
“There was a ton of experimentation, both musically and chemically. There was an amazingly diverse set of bands in the area, particularly for such a small scene. There was a ton of healthy competition, especially among the drummers. And then there was me.”
Peter Head (Pitchfork Militia, guitar and vocals):
“When we first started out, we were actually making fun of country music. It hadn’t degenerated into the full blown pop music with a Southern accent and twangy guitar it is now, but it was still terrible corporate crap and we hated it. We wore cowboy hats and the biggest boots we could find because we thought it was so dumb … then we started liking it. But we had a punk rock attitude and the tempo was fast. We said naughty words, and generally had a lot of fun making fun of everything, including ourselves.”
Brian Goss (guitar The Noise, Simone Felice band, ex-Dripping Goss, Warzone, The Warm Jets):
“My favorite part of the scene back then was that all the bands were going in different musical directions, which to me was exciting. No one was trying to sound like the other bands, quite the opposite, we all kept pushing away, developing our own unique sound(s). It all came to a head at a show at Heartbreak Hotel. Dripping Goss, Shabutie, Peacebomb, Pacemaker, and a few others. That night was magical, and everyone knew and felt a part of something larger. People still bring that show up to me on the street.”
James Degrassi (Mearth, bass):
“There was such a strong sense of community and everyone that came out to the shows was so supportive of the bands. Even 15+ years later, I still regularly meet people that would come to those Youth Center/Community Center shows and those people are just as supportive and friendly as they were back then. High energy crowds that support local music. What more could a band ask for?”
Godfrey Damrath (ex-Oblivion Grin, currently The Beautiful Bastards):
“Mostly it was making the music we wanted to hear and couldn’t find. It was easier to write a new Clash or Killing Joke song than wait for one. It wasn’t until the second record that we got self conscious about imitation – our first record is almost a K-tel sampler of us apeing the bands we loved.”
Mike Archdeacon (fan, Woodstock area lifer):
“The local music scene at that time was awe inspiring. I became totally immersed in town life. From shows at the community or youth centers, Tinker St. Cafe, the Joyous Lake to six band line ups at keg parties, we tore it up. Mosh pits, kinetic dancers of night, leave it all on the stage performances by the sickest bands. You said it best, Morgan, at the Tinker Street live WDST leap year recording of Melancholy: ‘Raw like a ham on the floor.’ RIP Pat Howland, drum solo expert and dear friend.”
Article by Morgan Y. Evans
Special thanks to Oriana Fine, Nicole Terpening, Laura Zimzores for photos/fliers