Big Room/View of Lake: A Tribute to Ron Merians' Joyous Lake Era

"Though the I Ching not only seems to be satisfied with its new edition, but even expresses emphatic optimism, this still does not foretell anything about the effect it will have on the public it is intended to reach." -C.G. Jung, 1947

If you were here in the 1970's, you're likely to have your share of memories about the Joyous Lake and its remarkable flow of quality entertainment bills throughout most of the decade. The acts regularly presented there during the Ron Merians tenure were drawn from the hottest and hippest of performers appearing anywhere else in the country, including a horde of big city attractions, and sometimes illuminaries from overseas as well. The names are legend and merely listing them could fill up much of this page before we even touched upon the stories their presence engraved upon our collective psyche. In the Joyous Lake's heyday, it was paradoxically both a small town venue and a desirable and prestigious gig for a musician of international repute. It was no small trick and it lent a particular and unique character to the popular musical culture of Woodstock in that era.

40. Hsieh/Deliverance: If there is no longer anything where one has to go, Return brings good fortune. If there is still something where one has to go, Hastening brings good fortune.

1996 marks the 25th anniversary of the Joyous Lake and the 7th anniversary of the death of its founder, Ron Merians. His eldest daughter, Valerie, a poet and vocalist, has a bouquet of numerological reasons for staging this weekend's memorial tribute and celebration at the current incarnation of the Lake and why not? After all, the very name of the club was chosen through the mystical tradition of the I Ching hexagrams.

Valerie, who returned to Woodstock this summer on vacation and decided to stay, noted that the number 7 represents regeneration; a time you should remember someone; a time when the body recycles all of its cells; days of the week; a powerful symbol of coming full circle and the number of years after her father's death that she returned here and so on. I confess that I pale when numerological theories are detailed but, in the spirit of things and with no yarrow sticks on hand to honor the ancient Chinese Book of Changes, a casting of coins seemed not only appropriate but much tidier than ichthyomancy, which requires examination of fish entrails and follows the I Ching alphabetically on the list of divinations.

The Image: Thunder and rain set in: The image of DELIVERANCE. Thus the superior man pardons mistakes And forgives misdeeds.

Ron Merians was born in Brooklyn on May 24th, 1934, the eldest of 3 children born to Russian-Polish-Jewish parents. His father, Ralph, was an orthopedic shoemaker who had a shop on 57th Street in Manhattan for 40 years. "His father wanted him to become a foot doctor and he did for a while," explained Valerie, the only child of Merians' first marriage to his Midwood High School sweetheart, Cynthia Wapner. "But he didn't like that and went off to become a photographer."

Merians traveled extensively in the following years and, as Valerie marks time, the marriage split up when she was three, her father married Valma, a model, when she was 6 and produced a trio of children; Sam, Three, and Laura.

Becoming a disciple of Swami Satchitananda in the mid-60's, Merians lived in India, Europe and New York in the following years, practicing yoga and meditation and involving himself and his photography in various spiritual and musical movements of the time. His pre and post production work with Michael Lang on the 1969 Woodstock festival led to his decision to build the Joyous Lake. "His ideology was to build a community space where Woodstock could come alive and stay alive and I think he succeeded in that for a decade," Valerie noted.

THE LINES: Six at the beginning means: Without blame. Nine in the second place means: One kills three foxes in the field And receives a yellow arrow. Perseverance brings good fortune.

At some point during the 1970's, my curiosity about where all these acts were coming from provoked me enough to tag along with Ron Merians as he made his rounds, stopping in Poughkeepsie, various spots in Kingston and elsewhere; tending to the printing of posters, the recording of radio spots, the booking of acts, the acquisition of restaurant supplies and the other daily chores of a vigorous and ongoing concern. Then there was the tangle of telephone calls, intercepting entertainers on tour and organizing a space for a stop in Woodstock, even booking them elsewhere on consecutive nights to make a swing up to the country worthwhile. I discovered that his "no small trick" had no magical ingredients beyond a horse trader's powers of persuasion and a thick, tough serving of hard, hard work. When we returned around five there was a build-up of other, more immediate, tasks waiting for him.

Six in the third place means: If a man carries a burden on his back And nonetheless rides in a carriage, He thereby encourages robbers to draw near. Perseverance leads to humiliation.

The Joyous Lake was built under Merians' guidance in 1970 when Ron and Valma had a little Guatemalan clothing store next-door, and it opened officially in 1971. If you've never seen the smooth organic environment of wood and glass and plants it evolved into during the glory days or if your memory has dimmed, Merians' own historic slides, along with the best of some others, will be a part of the show and celebration after the 8 o'clock candlelight tribute and preceding the mystery concert by "names" and local bands who remember the scene and Ron Merians with some fondness, love or respect. If everyone whom I've heard express a wish to see the "Old Lake" again shows up, the place will be packed.

Merians moved to California after closing the Lake in the 80's and, as it changed hands, style and composure several times, he was working in film as assistant director and production assistant to different film makers, going through another divorce and having triple bypass surgery. In the mid-1980's he moved back to New York with his children, still working in film and art, particularly with his close friend Peter Max, and built a house on Staten Island.

"He became a family man," recalled Valerie, with whom he established close ties, doting on his new granddaughter, Francesca. "He knew his health wasn't good and because of the recurrent nature of arteriosclerosis and the way he liked to eat, he basically knew he would probably need another bypass."

Nine in the fourth place means: Deliver yourself from your great toe. Then the companion comes, And him you can trust.

Merians was frequenting Woodstock again before his death in 1989. He had plans to move permanently back to town, buy a building and open a new club along the lines of the original Joyous Lake. He was still vital and busy, swinging a dozen different phones around him, looking younger than his years and feeling generally more optimistic and versatile than he had in quite some time. He intended to take things full circle after 20 years. It was then that a disagreeable side effect from the anticoagulant medication he was taking prompted him to stop ingesting it. The result was disaster. Felled by a massive brain aneurysm and without hope of recovery, his living will dictated that he would not become an unwilling burden to his family.

Six in the fifth place means: If only the superior man can deliver himself, It brings good fortune. Thus he proves to inferior men that he is in earnest.

"Since he's been gone, I've felt bad for 7 years. I've had recurrent dreams about him," Valerie said. "The focal point of the last decade of his life was making amends and being the father to his children he hadn't been in earlier life. He told me that he didn't expect a long life but I know he didn't expect to die at 55; so it was a tragedy. His death was devastating to everyone. The purpose of the tribute is to remember him, celebrate him and the Joyous Lake. I think the Joyous Lake was a very big part of why the town flourished during those years, was what brought people to town and kept Woodstock on the map and the economy going for many years. He produced, managed, represented a lot of artists who came and played there and kept it going. He developed the kitchen, decor. Basically, he was the Joyous Lake. He made it happen."

One thing about going to the Joyous Lake in those days was that, in a very true sense, you never knew who would turn up to play and you were often surprised and delighted. Stars came from the shadows unannounced with precious regularity. That element of surprise attaches itself to the musical portion of the night but the pulse quickens when the Lake of that era is remembered at all and the slides alone beckon a yearning enticement. Remember the famous Joyous Lake; the original? The concept was a bold and lofty one for a small town but, to his everlasting credit, Ron Merians made it history. Maybe you're in those slides. Maybe you've only heard the stories. Here's your chance to see it and remember how it all happened...

Six at the top means: The prince shoots at a hawk on a high wall. He kills it. Everything serves to further.

-- Gary Alexander