Volunteer Stories: Jim Shelley

Exploring the stories of Woodstock attendees turned Bethel Woods volunteers

jim shelley

Jim Shelley is a Woodstock alumnus who has volunteered with Bethel Woods since 2011, primarily as a docent tour guide. While Woodstock was not at the forefront of his life following the August weekend, he calls it a "life-affirming event," as he found himself sharing in ideals and beliefs of the majority of festival attendees.

While Jim and his friend intended to return home Saturday night of the historic weekend to pick up his girlfriend—now wife, Joyce—to bring her to the festival Sunday, the overwhelming crowds and traffic made this mission impossible.  He emphasized that many of the most well-known Woodstock performers today, such as Santana and Joe Cocker, were not the performers expected to steal the show in 1969.  “When you go to a concert you’re going probably to see the main act, so when the main act does a good show, you expected it to be a good show,” Jim said. “When you go to a concert and the opening act is better than the group that you paid money to see...that's what happened with Santana.”

jim and joyce
Jim and Joyce in 1969. Photo provided.

Jim said he would have never found his way back to the site of the 1969 Woodstock festival if he and his wife hadn't purchased a second home just half an hour away in Damascus, Pennsylvania.  In 1997, the couple found themselves driving down Route 17B on their way to see their house, when Jim slowly realized he was once again in the area  where Woodstock was.

His suspicions were confirmed when he visited Bethel Woods for the first time. Jim came here before the Museum opened in 2007 to share the photos he took on Joyce’s father’s film camera at the festival in 1969. 

Today, one of those photos can be seen in the Museum lobby and throughout the site displayed as the banner image for the 2019 Special Exhibit “We Are Golden." You can view the rest in Bethel Woods' online photo archive.

Jim said his favorite part of volunteering at Bethel Woods is running docent tours and talking to people, as they have become a large part of his life in retirement.

“When you do your tour, not only do you tell the story of Woodstock, you put the Woodstock event in the context of the 1960s,” he said. While Jim was familiar with the history growing up in the 1960s, he said telling the stories on his tours helped him understand the details that allowed the Woodstock festival to occur, and how this impact still matters.


Photo and interview done by Bethel Woods Marketing Intern, Lindsey Toomer.

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