Review: Woodstock: Three Days that Defined a Generation

Woodstock, New York will always be associated with the concert that took place 50 years ago 43 miles from there in Bethel. Half a million young people came together for 3 days to enjoy an amazing slate of the era’s best musicians: The Who, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Joan Baez, Jimi Hendricks and so many more. I was too young to go, but I wish I could have been there. The war in Viet Nam was still sending bodies home. Kennedy and King had been assassinated. The young people of America needed a place to chill and come together. And this was the perfect venue. They came from all over the country to be a part of it. And there will never be another moment like it. There was an Academy Award winning documentary made about it in 1970 called simply Woodstock. And it would make a great companion piece to this new film. It had a lot more of the performances. This one is from the perspective of the people who put the whole thing together and more a play by play as it happened. I missed the music, but Woodstock: Three Days that Defined a Generation tells a great story and made me long for that 60s peace and love vibe.

The film’s strength is in letting the story be told by people who were there both from the famous and from regular festival-goers, all off-screen over archival footage of the concert. It paints the picture of a truly miraculous event. They planned the concert at one venue, then were chased out of town days before they expected 50,000 people to show up. Then they found another venue. Then almost half a million people showed up and since they’d had no time to build fences, they couldn’t charge admission. And the artists couldn’t get to the venue because of the traffic jams that reached for miles. It was by all accounts a massive disaster in the making. But somehow they pulled it off. Max Yasgur is one of the heroes. He donated his 600 acre dairy farm at the last minute. And when they ran out of food to feed the concert goers, the locals rallied and donated tons of food and drink. And when New York Governor Rockefeller talked about sending in the national guard (damned pot-smoking hippies!), he was talked out of it, and dozens of Army doctors volunteered their time to take care of the people in need. My favorite character (and he is definitely that) is a guy called Wavy Gravy who was hired to come with his fellow Hog Farm commune denizens for “security” but mostly used his peace and love tactics to keep it all copacetic. It really was a groovy scene.

Woodstock: Three Days that Defined a Generation is a great reminder of a time when the young people of America where united around the idea of peaceful coexistence. And the concert showed that they could live it. If for nothing else, the film makes a statement worth hearing. It’s a very well done documentary and I highly recommend it.

[Mainstream Chick’s take: I enjoyed this documentary for many of the same reasons, though it dragged a bit early on, and I didn’t particularly like that most of the interviewees driving the narrative were never seen on camera. It definitely picked up steam as the festival drew closer (and got underway) and I did gain a significant appreciation for the music, the message and the miracle logistics of it all. Makes the Fyre Festival debacle look all the more pathetic! Woodstock was a once-in-a-lifetime event that would be impossible to replicate in today’s world, even if organizers of the seemingly ill-fated Woodstock 2019 hope otherwise. Can you imagine if hundreds of thousands of people showed up at a remote concert location without tickets and the organizers just said, “your safety is more important than our money. Enjoy the concert!”? What a wonderful world it would be… and was, for three days in 1969. -hb]

 

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