In 1969, as music festivals were taking their first shaky steps into existence and
America's youth grappled with the hard realities of the Vietnam War, two artists and two businessmen came together to build a recording studio in Woodstock, New York.
Then a burgeoning artists' community, Woodstock seemed a natural fit for such an enterprise. But with 1967's Monterey Pop proving there was money to be made in large-scale concert production, those four young men shifted their sights to what still might be the largest gathering of arts and music of all time. The rest, as they say, is history.
But what do most of us who weren't there know of Woodstock? Very little, it turns out. But with Oscar-nominated filmmaker Barak Goodman's (Scottsboro: An American Tragedy) look at the mother of all music festivals in Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation, we learn of the trials producers faced in the lead up to the event, and how miraculous it was that it happened at all.
Woodstock itself actually took place in Bethel, New York, after conservative anti-festival residents in nearby Woodstock took their concerns to the courts. Months of work was made obsolete, and the subsequent (and minimal) four weeks spent transforming a field at Yasgur's Farm in Bethel into a concert-ready venue left
organizers flailing. Faced with being able to complete either the stage or perimeter fencing, the stage won out, resulting in hundreds of thousands of concert-goers simply walking right into the park—tickets or no. In the end, the producers lost untold amounts of money and roughly 400,000 attended, many of whom didn't pay a dime. More importantly, however, zero violence occurred throughout the three days (and Jimi Hendrix's Monday morning performance) of Woodstock. Yes, there were medical incidents, occasional bad trips and the food stands ran out of food. But interestingly, the residents of Bethel rallied together to donate what they could, and this becomes the film's central thesis—togetherness and taking care of one another.
This is a wise step from Goodman and company, particularly since a simple YouTube search yields plenty of concert footage. Learning of the trials and logistics through beautifully remastered footage, however, is fascinating. Interviews with producers, performers and festival-goers feel vital as well, particularly in capturing the feeling of nearly half a million people gathering without incident. Of course, for some, a little part of them never left that field in Bethel, but we can hardly blame them; nothing like it came before, and nothing has since.
For these people, Woodstock ought to provide a charming trip down memory lane. For others in search of a pop-rock history lesson or even just
interested in the roots of festival culture, it's a highly watchable if well-trod reminder that if you build it they will come, "it" just didn't used to be all about commercialism.
+Beautiful footage; money isn't everything
-Constant reminder that everything today is terrible
Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation
Directed by Goodman
Center for Contemporary Arts, NR, 106 min