Woodstock inspires all kinds of dreamers. Sid Bernstein made his name promoting concerts by the Beatles. He also discovered the Young Rascals, and managed them for five years.
In recent years, he's taught a course on the entertainment business at New York's New School for Social Research, hosted his own public access television show, and worked as a consultant. But around 1986, when an acquaintance took him to see Max Yasgur's farm, he got the urge to get back into promotion, and set out to stage a 20th-anniversary concert in Bethel.
"I tried to do warm-up festivals in 1987 and 1988," says Bernstein, a sweet, potbellied man of 75, sitting in the living room of the Manhattan apartment that also serves as his office. "But I made the mistake of saying that I was broke. Word got around that Sid takes the bus to Bethel, and it was seen as something of a put-down."
Bernstein figured he was out of the game when Woodstock Ventures came courting Bethel in 1992, but those negotiations stalled when the county and town appeared resistant to even a scaled-down festival for 150,000 people. The Multiple Sclerosis Society then began bargaining with the town, but when financing for an adult-oriented fest for even 80,000 proved problematic, the ball finally came down in Bernstein's court.
By a vote of 3 to 2, the Bethel Town Board gave Sid Bernstein Ltd. the go-ahead to start planning a festival for 80,000 on the same weekend as Woodstock '94. As Bernstein could not use the Woodstock name for his event, it was dubbed "Bethel '94." Facing deadlines in Bethel, Bernstein's financing for the $10 million he figures it'll take to mount Bethel '94 remains shaky.
"If Sid and all the other options fail," says Allan Scott, town supervisor of Bethel, "then we're back to square one--a disorganized scenario where people will just show up and we'll just have to make the best of it."
Bernstein has also made an offer of $25 million to have the Beatles reunite for an appearance at Bethel '94. Bernstein added that if the remaining members of the Fab Four preferred to appear as solo acts, they could sing from three separate stages. Otherwise, Bernstein has announced that Richie Havens, Melanie, John Sebastian and Tom Paxton will appear at the festival.
"I happen to believe in dreams," says Bernstein of what looks to be an uphill battle to produce Bethel '94. He also adds that his six children, some of whom are working with him on the project, "have never been prouder of me."