Fifty years ago this month, 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 stage of the Historic Holmes Theatre.
"I worked for Michael Lang, who was the producer of Woodstock," says 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," which comes to the Holmes Theatre stage at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 8.
"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. We're really excited about bringing it to Detroit Lakes."
Surface added that she's also excited to be returning to the Holmes Theatre, where she and her husband have performed with their band once or twice in the past.
"What a beautiful theater to perform in," she said. "We're really looking forward to it."
Tickets for Thursday's show are $25 for adults, $12.50 for students, and can be purchased at www.dlccc.org/holmes-theatre.html, 218-844-7469, or at the Holmes Theatre Box Office, 806 Summit Ave.
Chillin' at the Holmes Art Cellar
In conjunction with Thursday's show, the Holmes Art Cellar (in the theater's basement level) will host a free public event that includes family-friendly activities, appetizers and an art showcase featuring the HAC’s August Spotlight Artist, Hannah Spry of Detroit Lakes.
“We’ll have food and free activities for all ages,” says Holmes Theatre Marketing Director Rachel Hofstrand. “There will be opportunities to paint a vinyl record, make flower headbands, or get a '60s-themed temporary tattoo.
“We’ll also have a place to sign up for 2019-20 art classes at the Holmes Art Cellar,” she said, “and this will also be the kickoff event for our open studio hours at the HAC. We’ll be offering free use of our creative spaces every Friday, as well as the first and third Saturday, and second and fourth Thursday of every month, through December.
“People can come in and use the space to work on an art project, school homework or other creative projects,” Hofstrand said.
The public art event will be 5:30-7:30 p.m. Thursday.