A long, strange trip
By ANDREW MCGINN
Crystal Dudley has been hearing the same thing for years.
“People would meet me and say, ‘I think you were born in the wrong decade,’” Dudley, 38, explained.
It’s an easy assumption to make given her tie-dyed clothes, ever-present bare feet and kids named Dylan and Mason — one after Bob Dylan and the other after an obscure Grateful Dead song called “Mason’s Children” that the Dead debuted at the Fillmore in San Francisco in December of ’69.
The thing is, the farther we get from the 1960s — this week marks the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, that legendary, three-day gathering of the tribes in upstate New York — the more the planet finds itself in legitimate need of gentle, hippie souls.
It just so happens that Dudley is ready to outfit all new and returning hippies of any age and shape.
The lifelong Greene County resident recently launched a clothing business, Ties to Dye For, out of her garage on South Olive Street in Jefferson with all the timing of one of Jerry Garcia’s guitar solos on “Sugaree” circa ’77 — that’s to say, the timing is almost otherworldly.
Not that many hippies read Harper’s Bazaar, but the venerable fashion magazine in June proclaimed that “tie-dye is back,” even calling it “the year’s most woke trend.”
Fifty years after a sweaty Joe Cocker electrified a half-a-million blissed-out kids at Woodstock in a tie-dyed shirt of his own, names like “Beyonce” and “Prada” now accompany news stories about tie-dye’s resurgence.
Call it countercouture.
Then again, for a mere fraction of Stella McCartney’s tie-dye T-shirt — which she actually has the gall to sell for $358 — you could buy enough tie-dye from Dudley to last until the 75th anniversary of Woodstock.
Dudley is in her second year as a vendor at the Greene County Farmers’ Market, which is open on Tuesdays through September on the east side of the Greene County courthouse.
Earlier this month, she set up shop in Bagley as part of the annual Highway 141 Garage Sale.
“I didn’t even have my stuff out of the car and I had people shopping,” Dudley said. “I came home with 25 empty hangers.”
The girl who never quite fit in growing up — she walked out of Jefferson-Scranton High School her junior year after the very first class and never returned — has finally hit her groove.
Over the past year, Dudley has come into her own as a tie-dye artist, turning out one brightly psychedelic shirt after another.
“This is what I hear: ‘We’ve done tie-dye, but it never turned out like this before,’” she said.
She’s pretty amazed as well.
“I didn’t know I was artsy until I got divorced,” Dudley confessed.
That was in 2016.
Flipping through the racks of shirts in her garage is like looking through a kaleidoscope. The swirls and stripes are the result of intricate folds in each shirt before the dyeing process. She’s even figured out a way to dye the shape of a guitar onto a shirt.
When someone asked for matching “sister” shirts for their kids, she produced two shirts with a large, half-circle on each. Put the two together and they form a complete circle.
She recently produced a size XXXLT shirt as well.
No two shirts are exactly the same.
“The thing with tie-dye,” she explained, “is you can’t screw it up.”
Even if you get a zig where you wanted a zag, “Someone’s going to like it,” Dudley reasoned.
The colors themselves have names like orange sorbet, hot hibiscus and glacier blue.
She’s also got her so-called Ram pants — pants dyed red and black.
It all started little more than a year ago when Dudley bought a tie-dye kit and set out to make a few shirts with her kids, ages 8 and 5.
“And they turned out really horrible,” she said of the resulting shirts.
She turned to YouTube for advice, and the rest is history.
A business was born last summer when cyclists on RAGBRAI spotted the tie-dye shirts hanging in her garage during their overnight stay in Jefferson.
“Nice shirt, girl!” she yelled out on this morning to a little girl in tie-dye zooming by on a bike.
The shirt, it turns out, was one of hers.
“All the neighbors have tie-dye,” Dudley added with a smile.
Dudley has been wearing tie-dye herself longer than the original hippies were even hippies.
Discovering the Dead right before Jerry’s death in 1995 — 24 years ago last Friday, to be exact — Dudley immediately fell in love with hippie culture.
“It’s just this feeling of home,” she said, a “skull and roses” tapestry hanging in her garage. “It’s like this is where I’m supposed to be.”
Naturally, she hit the road and started following a jam band, String Cheese Incident, logging 37 shows during that time.
She now sells shirts at Byron’s, the well-known Deadhead bar in Pomeroy.
But, as Dudley explained, being a hippie isn’t about what you listen to — or even about what you wear.
“With all the hate these days, it’s refreshing to find someone who’s just nice,” she said. “I try to be genuinely nice.”
She said her two boys are required to do one nice deed every day.
With that said, Dudley finally has an answer to all those people who say that she was born too late.
“I was born,” she said, “when I was supposed to be.”