Remembering When City Hippies Left New York for Country Life

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The cover of New York’s current issue takes inspiration (as anyone of a certain age will recognize) from the Whole Earth Catalog, the counterculture manual first published by Stewart Brand in 1968. It was a how-to book for people with an urge to go back to the land, giving basic instructions to citified folks about operating wood stoves and drilling wells and such.

Richard Goldstein, a longtime editor at The Village Voice, was a frequent contributor to New York in its early years, and he knew many New Yorkers who were feeling the need to get out of town. “There was,” he explains today, “a lot of hostility coming from the police, who just regarded hippies as baby seals who could be clubbed. I saw many, many people with long hair who were bleeding, and then violence from poor people who lived in the neighborhoods that hippies colonized, because they resented them and took out a lot of their anger.” Two young hippies had even been murdered in the East Village a few years earlier. In short, the backlash against the 1960s counterculture was getting under way (and soon came to a head with Richard Nixon’s reelection). “People who were more gentle or pacifistic — it just became harder and harder to be that way, given all the violence around us,” Goldstein says. “So a number of people decided that they needed to get out of the city, where they didn’t have to deal with those issues. They could make a new life for themselves. To the Catskills, which were down-and-out at the time, and also to places like Vermont, where you now have the Bernie Sanders demographic” — young Brooklyn expats turned old Vermonters. “It’s the same people! And their kids. It was very good for the state, too. And I had friends who did this, so I went and visited them and spent time on their commune or farm or whatever.”

“The Urban Blues and the Great Green Hope” appeared in the issue of August 23, 1971. “Moving from the city; withdrawing from the mass. Any way you cut it, you’re acknowledging that the Movement has failed to provide its followers with a Way,” Goldstein wrote. “Hip culture, in its urban beachheads and campus sanctuaries, seemed to be building a new community, but that fell apart before the onslaughts of enterprise and the ravages of trend. In the wake of that failure, we have all been left holding an empty bag, feeling isolated and aimless, the loneliness of men without a movement. In the seventies, it turns out that politics is incomplete; it cannot teach us how to live.” We meet Mike and Harriet Kramer, out of Cobble Hill and into a house in Woodstock with their two small daughters; we meet Phil and Toby, moving to Vermont and eating grits for breakfast.

They were living the dream, following what Goldstein reminds us is “an old American reflex, getting away from the evil city and having a place where you could control what went on, and live in harmony of your own making.” But they were also, sometimes, way out of their element. “These are urban people, right? Dirt is something in a pot and a flower growing out of it,” he says, laughing. “I was kind in that story — I didn’t talk about how uncomfortable they had it, how terrible the food was, and the debates about who would go to town for milk because nobody knew how to milk a cow. Everybody was too tired at night to have sex or listen to Cream records. I thought it would all be sex and drugs and rock and roll, and apart from the drugs, which were just the ordinary drugs — a lot them were stoners — it wasn’t.” How long did he stay? “As long as I could take it. Maybe a week, maybe a little less. At some point I really had to get pavement under my feet.”

But some expats not only stayed but flourished. Daisy Kramer Bolle was 2 when her family was photographed for the story. Her parents still live in Woodstock, and she, after a stint in L.A., came back herself. “They love it here. They go to the city only when they have to,” she says. “The whole Woodstock lifestyle really worked out. They live in the same house, are still married.” Her parents opened a pair of stores in Woodstock that she now runs, along with a third shop, Dig, that she started in Saugerties. “I chose exactly the same life for myself,” Bolle says. “You know, they were right about everything: the environment, civil rights, all of it. Everything except patchouli.”

*This article appears in the July 10, 2017, issue of New York Magazine.

Remembering When City Hippies Left New York for Country Life