They're getting themselves back to the garden for the golden anniversary of the Woodstock festival in Bethel

BETHEL — Every time Josef Ferri visits the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, the Woodstock memories come flooding back.

Fifty years ago he drove to Bethel in his Volkswagen from Buffalo, getting a two hour’s walk away from the festival at Max Yasgur’s dairy farm.

He brought a camera in his bag, although he never took it out.

Instead, he vowed to just take it all in with his eyes and is surprised at how much he still remembers.

"This is a special place for me," he said. "I love coming back here and sharing stories."

Ferri, 71, has come to Bethel Woods about 20 times in the last decade and knew he had to be here for the golden anniversary.

On Thursday, he returned along with thousands of others who came to kick off the 50th anniversary celebration with a free concert from Woodstock veteran Arlo Guthrie and a screening of the Academy Award-winning documentary, "Woodstock: The Director’s Cut."

The festivities were to continue Friday through Sunday with performances by Ringo Starr, Carlos Santana and John Fogerty.

Like he did 50 years ago, Ferri wore the same pair of sunglasses. He also had two peace symbol necklaces, one made with a piece of the original Woodstock fence and the other made with a piece of the original stage.

For Ferri, the music back then was great, but he said the crowd was the real story of Woodstock.

His spot in the field 50 years ago was about 60 feet from the stage. Ferri said every time he comes to Bethel he likes to sit there again and reminisce.

"It’s the only festival, concert of its kind where the performers watched the audience as intently as the audience watched," he said.

Sitting by the Woodstock monument on Thursday, Bethel resident Duke Devlin, 77, reflected on his journey.

In 1969, he hitchhiked from a Texas commune with another guy to the festival. Devlin got separated from him in Bethel and hasn’t seen him since.

And although the original festival ended 50 years ago, Devlin never left.

"This area’s been noted for its beauty and its hospitality," Devlin said. "That’s one of the reasons I stayed here because the local people around here are just as beautiful as the landscape. Their hearts were big and pure and the sense of community that we had here in Woodstock still exists today."

Travelers heading to Woodstock’s 50th anniversary festivities should expect some congestion on Route 17 westbound going into Sullivan County.

Dozens of people have set up camp at the Yasgur Road Reunion at Max Yasgur’s old dairy farm. People have been sitting around campfires, walking the grounds and listening to live music onstage in the woods.

Many people donned tie-dye, round-framed "hippie glasses" and bohemian attire for the occasion.

Shawn Daly, of Middletown, has been coming to the camping-out music festival off-and-on since 1994.

He remembered about six years ago when it used to be free, before the town clamped down on organizers for permitting issues, he said.

Daly said attendance has gone down since organizers began charging, but he still thinks the experience is the most authentic way to celebrate Woodstock.

He’s been using his particular camping spot in the woods, cordoned off with a circle of colorful tapestries, for six years.