Fifty years ago this year, a three-day music festival was held in upstate New York that is widely regarded as one of the most pivotal moments in American history.
Woodstock, as it was called, has been the subject of many a book, film documentary and television show in the decades since — and now, a Minnesota woman who worked behind the scenes of that iconic festival is bringing her own musical Woodstock tribute to the Cultural Center in New York Mills Saturday, July 21.
"I worked for Michael Lang, who was the producer of Woodstock," said Donna Surface, who along with husband, Pat, co-owns and operates Spiritwood Music in Ely, Minn. "It seems remarkable to me now, but I was around for this show 50 years ago."
Surface penned the show "Feelin' Alright" last year as a tribute to that remarkable event, and a time in history that she refers to reverently as "the summer of miracles."
"It was quite a world back then; 1969 was a year like no other," she said. "It was a time of triumph and tragedy and miracles ... I call Woodstock a miracle because 500,000 people came together without chaos, without catastrophe. There were only about a dozen police officers there for security, yet there was absolutely no conflict."
But that doesn't mean there aren't stories to tell — and Surface has a few that many will hear about for the first time as part of "Feelin' Alright."
"My favorite story is the one about Roy Rogers," Surface said, adding that country western entertainer was her boss's first choice to close the 1969 festival.
Lang was a huge fan of the "King of the Cowboys," as Rogers was known, and had this vision of him galloping up to the festival stage on his horse, Trigger, jumping onto the platform and singing his iconic song, "Happy Trails," as the event's final performance.
"It would have been incredible," Surface said. "Can you imagine? There would have been a whole new generation of Roy Rogers fans." But Rogers' agent nixed the appearance, and it didn't come to pass. "We do sing 'Happy Trails' in the show," Surface added.
"We do songs by Creedence Clearwater Revival, Arlo Guthrie, the Grateful Dead, Santana, The Band, Crosby Stills & Nash ... but we also do some of the artists that were invited to perform there that didn’t make it."
One of those would-be performers was Minnesota native Bob Dylan, who lived near the festival site at the time and was supposed to appear there. But he abruptly left town before it even started when he became incensed by intrusive fans who appeared outside his home.
Surface came up with the idea for doing a Woodstock tribute as the festival's 50th anniversary approached.
"I'm not going to be around for the 100th anniversary, so when the 50th anniversary was coming up I started writing down what I considered to be some of the interesting things that happened, things that people don't know about," she said. "We started touring with show in Florida when it turned 2019, and it's been a huge hit."
If you go
What: Feelin' Alright! A Tribute to Woodstock 1969
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21
Where: The Cultural Center in New York Mills, 24 N. Main Ave., New York Mills
How much: Tickets are $12 in advance or $15 at the door; students $5. Complimentary snacks and a cash bar will be available.
Info: Call 218-385-3339 or visit www.kulcher.org.