The Woodstock film festival co-founder loves the town’s liberal, creative vibe, its independent stores and the surrounding area’s natural beauty – whatever time of year you choose to visit
People still think of Woodstock as the hippy home of the 1969 Woodstock festival. But the festival never actually took place here; it was in Bethel, 60 miles away. There are still a lot of leftovers from that era – you’ll see old-timers hanging about who will never change – but Woodstock’s a very contemporary and dynamic place these days. It’s quite political and liberal, though, which also dates back to the 1960s: people have strong opinions and express them.
Woodstock’s one of the oldest arts colonies in the US. It was established at the end of the 1800s, when artists came here from Holland. Everybody here is either an artist, married to an artist or related to one. There’s a real creative vibe around town. You feel it in the air, and there’s always something arty going on. There are tons of great galleries, like the Woodstock Artists Association, which shows local work, or the fabulous Kleinert/James for international work. I moved to here in summer 2000 to start the Woodstock film festival, in large part because I knew there were many artists living there and that it would be a good community that would appreciate a film festival.
Bob Dylan used to say you only had to throw a stone and you’d hit a musician here. It’s true – they’re everywhere! One of my favourite music venues is the Bearsville Theater, which was the idea of Albert Grossman, the man who discovered Dylan. It gets many great acts – plus it has restaurants and a bar. Another cool place is the Midnight Ramble held at Levon Helm’s barn in the woods, where he used to hold sessions himself. Kingston, 10 miles south, has become the hipster capital of the Hudson valley. Backstage Studio Productions is the place to go: lots of Brooklynites play there and there’s a very happening bar.
It has become a filmy destination since we launched the festival 15 years ago. A lot of film people have moved here and tons of movies and TV shows are made here. I call it Indiewood on the Hudson. You’ll drive down a country road and see filming going on on either side. So many great people hang out here – from Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz, who have a house here, to David Bowie. There’s an abundance of celebrities but it’s the opposite of the Hamptons. It’s not a playground for those who want to be seen; it’s a playground for those who want to hide away and just enjoy their lives.
You really feel close to nature here. Whichever direction you walk, you’ll find yourself near a brook or a river, a pond or a lake. I love to walk around the Ashokan reservoir. It’s pristine, surrounded by mountains, and makes me feel like I’m in Switzerland. Cooper Lake is beautiful too – last time I went I saw thousands of froglets. And there are many swimming holes if you fancy a dip: my favourite is Big Deep. It’s in the woods and you can just dive in then sit on the rocks to dry off – perfect on a warm summer’s day.
The Dalai Lama has visited the beautiful Tibetan monastery just north of Woodstock. It’s at the start of a challenging hike to Overlook Mountain, on the edge of the Catskills. At the end of the hike there’s an old hotel that’s now in ruins. There’s a saying that if you stand under the shadow of the hotel you’ll always come back to Woodstock.
The film festival is an exciting time to visit. You’ll see lots of people walking around dressed in black, as they do, but it’s really unpretentious. There are films shown in four venues, plus parties every night and live concerts. Top producers, screenwriters and actors are all hanging out with emerging filmmakers and visitors. People are really friendly, though, and everybody’s talking movies.
There are some cool independent shops in town. The Golden Notebook is a brilliant bookshop and the owner’s a sweetheart. It’s been there forever and on any given weekend there are a few book readings. Daniel Craig and David Bowie like to shop at my favourite men’s clothing shop, Changes. Every Saturday there’s a flea market in the centre of town – whenever I have friends over they always leave with something from there. And Castaways is a brilliant secondhand store, great for ornate dresses. The area’s good for antique hunting too: the nearby towns of Saugerties and Hudson have endless stores and people come from all over.
You’ll see Anne Hathaway having lunch with her friends in Oriole 9. Nobody makes a fuss. It has the best mint tea – packed with fresh leaves. Cucina is another favourite. Chef Gianni Scappin serves delicious Italian food in a converted rambling farmhouse. He taught Stanley Tucci how to cook for his movie Big Night. New World Home Cooking is another great place with organic food, a fun atmosphere and great outdoor area – I love the spicy stringbeans and pot au chocolat dessert.
The Waterfall House is a great holiday rental, right by the Tannery Brook waterfall. The Emerson Resort and Spa is a world-renowned hotel where actors Tim Robbins and Keanu Reeves have stayed. The Woodstock Inn on the Millstream is very modest and lovely: every room overlooks the water and years ago during the festival Peter Gabriel stayed there with his daughter. Hotel Dylan is a new place that has quickly become a favourite – every room has a movie theme. And Woodstock Way inn is in town but in the middle of the woods by a brook, with private cottages.
If you have more time, kayaking on the Hudson is fun. Lots of people here have boats and love playing about on the water. Or you can go tubing in Saugerties, where the river’s smaller. If you visit in winter there’s skiing, snow-shoeing, snowboarding on Hunter and Belleayre mountains. Woodstock’s a brilliant place for the great outdoors whatever the time of year.
• The Woodstock film festival runs from 30 September-4 October – WAAM will be the reception center for the Film Festival and will be closed to the public during this time.
Article courtesy The Guardian click here