By BETSY CALVERT
Call it three days of peace, love and air conditioning.
A Punta Gorda coffee boutique owner is organizing a 50th anniversary of the Woodstock rock concert to be held at the Charlotte Harbor Event and Conference Center, Aug. 16-18.
“Three days, man, three days!” the website says at puntagordawoodstock.com.
That’s the voice of local organizer “Tiki Tom” Watson talking. Watson has lived in town 10 years and bought The Bean coffee specialty cafe about two years ago. He told the Sun he was only 8 when the real Woodstock changed history in August 1969 on a farm in upstate New York.
Are things so different now, he asks?
“They were troubled times in America then as well,” Watson told the Tourist Development Council Tuesday. At Woodstock, he said, “Peace and love prevailed.”
The council agreed to give the event $10,000 from a development fund that Watson can use to pay for bands and marketing. The fund is taken from room taxes and is aimed at increasing overnight stays in the county. Council members from local business and government provide guidance to the county tourism bureau and can offer grants.
In pitching his plan, Watson told the council he has at least 12 bands ready to go, and more waiting in the wings. The Facebook posting immediately generated 65,000 views with 3,500 interested in attending. He’s sold about 100 tickets so far, and slowed down marketing pending the council’s approval. He’s hoping to sell about 3,000 tickets drawing from locations up to six hours away.
“I think it’s going to be an epic event,” he said.
The lineup will include a tribute band to the Grateful Dead — Spiral Light, Creedence Clearwater Revival tribute Dave J., Woodstock tribute Paisley Craze and a Janis Joplin act. Other acts will include a Florida swamp blues singer. Christian rock bands will play Sunday morning. Local band The BoogieMen will play Saturday night.
Advance tickets through today are $16 per day or $28 for three days. After July 4, tickets will be $22 and $36.
The idea hatched, Watson told the Sun, when he started thinking about how everything gets so quiet in the summer after the snowbirds leave in the spring. He started small — maybe a tie-dye event. On the hippie theme, he thought of Woodstock. Then he realized August is exactly 50 years from the original Woodstock.
Watson said longtime Punta Gorda resident Michael Haymans convinced him to go indoors due to the daily deluge in Florida summers. When Watson pointed out the hippies were drenched at Woodstock, Haymans said, “They had nowhere to go.”
A nationally marketed 50th anniversary concert in upstate New York has been on, then off, now on again, with investors backing out but organizers refusing to concede. As of Tuesday, officials of Oneida County were preparing for 65,000 people to descend on a racetrack called Vernon Downs, even though ticket sales are not yet open. Those officials are worried, because there are only 3,100 hotel rooms in the county.
Watson thinks the original Woodstock should remain in history. Punta Gorda’s Woodstock will be a celebration of survival, he said. And there will be plenty of hotel rooms in Punta Gorda and Charlotte County.
“To me, in August, it’s going to generate economic benefit for us,” said Charlotte County commissioner and council member Bill Truex.
Some council members, including Four Points Hotel Director of Sales Kelly Williamson, are worried it won’t generate a lot of overnight stays.
Punta Gorda Mayor and council member Nancy Prafke urged the council to help make the event a success, rather than critique its potential for overnight stays.
“What can we do to help the promoters?” Prafke asked the council.