By RICH CASSONE
This year marks the second time that Green Valley Lake has officially held a “Woodstock” festival. The first time was in 2019 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the original Woodstock, a music festival held August 15-18, 1969 on a dairy farm in Bethel, N.Y., about 45 miles southwest of the actual town of Woodstock.
After an interruption in 2020 due to the pandemic, Green Valley Lake’s annual festival was back in full swing this year as a one-day event billed as a “community party” to benefit the GVL community garden and the Mountain Community Alliance (MCA).
Unofficially, however, this is the third time Woodstock has been celebrated in Green Valley Lake. That’s because Sandi Huckaby, who organized the event, was here during the original Woodstock, 52 years ago. “My husband and I were actually here in Green Valley Lake on our honeymoon while Woodstock was going on,” she told me.
Since her 50th wedding anniversary coincided with the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, and given her love of music – she plays the hammered dulcimer – it seemed natural to her to combine the two celebrations.
I had never been to Green Valley Lake before, but I had heard about it. Known as the “Hidden Gem” of the San Bernardino Mountains, my pre-festival research (AKA visiting their official website at www.green-valley-lake.com) told me that it was “small, picturesque and uncrowded.”
Something not mentioned on their website is the fact that apparently Green Valley Lake residents have quite a lot of tie-dye hidden away in their closets. As I entered the festival grounds, there was a sea of the stuff. Looking over the crowd, I was momentarily transported back those 52 years to an era when tie-dyed shirts, flowing hair accented with flowers, hippies dancing barefoot in the sand and rock-and-roll were the style and the pride of a generation.
But not just rock-and-roll. As I search for Huckaby in the crowd, Adam Hurlbut is on stage playing solo guitar. His is a folk mashed with country sound, a younger Kris Kristofferson in a way. He even looks a bit like Kristofferson. His dry, masculine voice is sincere. At the moment, he’s actually playing Elvis Costello’s “Peace, Love and Understanding,” a song that pulls right up alongside Woodstock’s original slogan: “Peace, Love and Music.”
I find Huckaby at a table in the back in a long flowing skirt and floral hair wreath. I am welcomed with a huge smile and an introduction to at least five people in our immediate vicinity, all of whom are in tie-dye and all of whom are also apparently “hippies,” at least for the day; all except perhaps for an older gentleman name Richard who, decked out in a flight jacket and veteran’s cap, is nevertheless smiling broadly and grooving along with Hurlbut.
What Huckaby makes clear immediately is that this “Woodstock” is a true community event. Everyone is here, young and old, and many here have contributed to the success of the festival. “Green Valley Lake may not exactly be a commune, but it’s a strong community,” Huckaby tells me. “I’d like to show you the community garden.”
Along with the Mountain Community Alliance, one of the organizers of the event is the GVL community garden. It’s about a five-minute walk from the Community Center and in a way has become a symbol of Green Valley Lake, literally rising from the ashes. That’s because the garden sits on land where the Fox Lumber hardware store burned down in 2007.
The gardens have a small open area with a stage and then row upon row of raised garden boxes. Huckaby is showing me this, not so much to give me a tour of Green Valley Lake, but to show me how this community embodies the “Peace, Love and Music” mantra of the original Woodstock.
“Each community member,” she said, “has their own box that they are responsible for.” Caretakers may plant whatever they like, but many plants like the sunflowers and hollyhock regenerate themselves. Rhubarb, too, has taken over certain areas and, with a grin, Huckaby warns me, “gardeners just have to work around those because I need them to make rhubarb pies every year.”
On the small stage there is a newly constructed wash-tub bass. A bright-eyed man in a bright tie-dyed shirt claims responsibility. His name is Chris. He tells me he retired, sailed around the world and is now settled here. Chris built the bass, but he himself is a fiddle player and he, Huckaby and others gather in the garden weekly for a community “jam” session.
The music from the main stage is suddenly louder. Hurlbut’s set is done and the GVL All-Stars have taken the stage. And they are rocking. The female vocalist is belting out Janis Joplin’s, “Me and Bobby McGee,” and she is loud. I find out later her name is Heather Hein and she sounds exactly like Joplin, in voice yes, but also right down to the soul she brings.
Chris has now wandered off to take care of one of the hundred things necessarily and invisibly done to keep the festival rolling along smoothly, and Huckaby has said goodbye and rushed back to the bandstand to watch the All-Stars.
I’m alone in the garden for a moment. There is a breeze. Early portents of rain that had threatened to recreate exactly the muddy conditions at the original Woodstock 52 years ago never materialized this morning, but it remains cool.
I close my eyes and listen to Hein/Joplin. I don’t think you can actually smell rhubarb, but I convince myself that I do, or maybe it’s the idea of pies that I smell. Either way, it’s magnificent.
In a moment, I’m going to head back into the crowd and listen to the other bands. I’m going to watch the people dance, the “hippies,” young and old. I’ll watch two young girls, Ava and Natalie, dance like “Peace, Love and Music” is something that was born into them and, when I talk to them, they will tell me that they don’t know exactly why they feel this music, this vibe, so deeply, they just know that they do. I’ll drink a Boylan Ginger Ale from Black Dog Shoppe that the owner, Roxanne, offers me, a stranger, for no other reason than that she is kind. I’ll take notes and talk to locals and I’ll go home and I’ll finish my story.
In just a minute I’ll do all of that. Right now, though, I’m going to just stand here with my eyes closed, smelling imaginary rhubarb pie, listening to Joplin’s voice transported through time, and feeling the magic of a town that today is celebrating the 52nd anniversary of Woodstock. Which is what I expected to find here. And that would be good enough, but I also found something else.
It seems to me that Green Valley Lake isn’t just a town throwing a party every year; it’s a community that works every day to embody the more important idea behind that party: “Peace, Love and Music.”