Range set to celebrate Woodstock at 50 years

Pictured are Donna and Pat Surface, of Ely, otherwise known as "American Pie." The duo will perform a fundraising multi-media tribute show to celebrate Woodstock's 50th anniversary Sept. 14 at Kaleva Hall in Virginia. Donna, who was "a hippie" in New York in 1969, worked for Woodstock Co-creator Michael Lang and was involved in behind-the-scenes production of the festival.

VIRGINIA — Donna Surface, of Ely, experienced Woodstock from a first-hand, behind-the-scenes perspective. And she has stories to tell.

Like how Jimi Hendrix was not Woodstock co-creator Michael Lang’s first choice to wrap up the three-day festival. He really wanted “The King of the Cowboys.”

Surface was “a hippie in New York” in 1969, and worked for Lang. She met some of Woodstock’s performers; witnessed how it all played out — how the expected 50,000 attendees multiplied into “a sea of 500,000 people,” Surface said in a phone interview.

“The historic event that defined a culture could never be duplicated, as evidenced,” she said, by Lang’s unsuccessful attempt to hold Woodstock 50, which had been planned for mid-August in Watkins Glen, N.Y., to commemorate Woodstock’s 50-year anniversary.

But there will be a tribute to Woodstock — right on the Range.

Surface wrote “an entertaining” musical testimonial to Woodstock in honor of its golden anniversary, called “Feelin’ Alright!”

She and husband, musician Pat Surface, a duo now known as “American Pie,” will perform the show at 7 p.m. Sept. 14 at Kaleva Hall in Virginia. Doors open at 6 p.m.

The $18 tickets can be purchased in advance at Irma’s Finland House, Schmitt Music and Natural Harvest Food Co-op, all of Virginia. The performance will benefit ongoing preservation and restoration of the historic Kaleva Hall.

“We are very excited about this show,” Surface said. “It’s kind of a once-in-a-lifetime thing. We won’t be around for the 100th anniversary.”

The show, which opened in Florida and has traveled to Wisconsin and southern Minnesota, incorporates music of Woodstock artists, including Creedence Clearwater Revival, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Santana, The Grateful Dead, The Band, The Who, and Janis Joplin — who Surface “met briefly,” along with Steven Stills and Sly Stone.

“Our unique show will blast you back to the past,” said Surface, who serves as the emcee of the show. “I take people back with my monologue.”

Attendees are encouraged to “come in their best hippie outfits,” and there will be a prize “for the best hippie.”

Audiences — of all ages — so far have enjoyed not only the music, but also the videos of Woodstock shown during the multi-media variety show.

Surface said the “back-stories” expressed during “Feelin’ Alright!” will transport spectators “to the euphoric environment where 500,000 hippies mellowed out in the music and the mud” on Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm in Bethel, N.Y., 43 miles southwest of the town of Woodstock.

One of her favorite stories is of Lang’s desire to conclude Woodstock with Roy Rogers “galloping up on (horse) Trigger, hopping on the stage, and singing ‘Happy Trails’ to thousands of hippies,” Surface said. The singer and actor’s manger, however, “thought no one would be there and Woodstock would be a waste of time.”

People are fascinated with the story, now, Surface said. “But when you think about it, when we were kids, we grew up watching Roy Rogers. All the boys had Roy Rogers lunch boxes.”

Surface also enjoys telling how Woodstock became a free event. “Michael and his partners expected 50,000 people. But by Aug. 13 (a few days before the festival began), there were more than that camped out at the site.”

Surface said the construction foreman told Lang it would only be possible to build a stage or a fence, not both.

A “sea of humanity” descended on the grounds “with no obstruction,” she said. There were simply too many people to collect admission. In fact, there was so much traffic that people were abandoning their vehicles many miles away and walking to the site.

There were only a dozen police officers at the event — for half a million people, who endured relentless rain, mud, a shortage of food and medical supplies and poor sanitation, she said. And, yet, “there was no disaster, no violence, no chaos. … Can you imagine the security nightmare in this day and age?”

Woodstock was “a pivotal and seminal moment” in history, Surface said. “We knew something amazing had just happened.” But, at the time, “we didn’t know it would be a historical event and one that defined a generation. It’s etched in our history and will be long after us Baby Boomers are gone.”

Surface said those who lived through the era are appreciating the memories the show evokes, and younger generations enjoy learning about “the summer of love.”

“Feelin’ Alright!” will include a Woodstock trivia segment with prizes, she said.

And, true to Lang’s vision, the show concludes paying homage to Roy Rogers.

A horse will not gallop up to the stage, but “Happy Trails” will be sung.

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