Unless I somehow figure out how to construct a time machine, the closest I’ll ever get to attend Woodstock, which occurred 50 years ago on Aug. 15–18, 1969, is to watch the stunning documentary, Woodstock, on Blu-ray in the comfort of my living room.
That is something I have done over the past few weekends in part to honor 50 years since the world-changing music festival was held in Bethel, N.Y., and partly to see what all the fuss about the festival was about.
I have to say even though I never had to endure the nearly half a million people, rain storms, mud and general chaos of the festival, I’ve taken a few things away from it and can see why it was so renown and was cornerstone of the counterculture generation. Watching a film isn’t the same as being there, of course, but the fact that it was documented in such clarity and so thoroughly makes me glad that it is here for future generations to at least watch and study.
The documentary, which won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1970, takes hours and hours to watch. The extended director’s cut version that I purchased runs over 240 minutes and that is not counting all the bonus features. This seems kind of fitting considering the festival itself ran over time and extended out into an extra day.
It starts out with organizers Michael Lang and Artie Kornfeld and documents their efforts, with partners, to hold a music festival in upstate New York, everything from finding the venue, getting bands to attend, to the construction of the stage for the festival.
There are many scenes of a young Lang riding around on his BSA motorcycle from different areas of the venue, which was held on a field in Max Yasgur’s dairy farm, as organizers work to build the stage and get the festival set up ahead of the performances.
The documentary shows the mass exodus of people coming to Bethel to watch the show, although many did not have tickets, money or any other support system. The boxed set that I have included items like newspaper clippings from the time discussing the festival, an iron on patch as well as replica tickets for the event, which was one of the most interesting items to me.
Tickets for Woodstock were sold for individual days, meaning that if you wanted to get in on a certain day and see a performance, you needed to buy a $7 ticket for that day. As crowds began to fill the farm, and congest the nearby town, it was announced that the festival was now a “free festival” and the tickets didn’t matter anymore. Soon the crowd swelled to larger than the size of the venue, and people were camping out in neighboring hayfields adjacent to Yasgur’s farm.
One thing that struck me about the festival, and doing research on it after watching the documentary, was the fact that there was reportedly no violence at the festival considering the fact that there were thousands of people all in the same venue.
There were reports of deaths – one attendee who was sleeping in a parking area was killed after he was run over by a tractor. Another died of a drug overdose, and there are reports of several births at the festival. But all in all festival organizers said everyone got along. Even the townspeople interviewed said although they did not agree with the hair and dress of some of the attendees, they were well behaved.
The documentary isn’t one sided and shows others in the area who complained about the festival. One farmer was concerned by trespassers who damaged his hay crop for his dairy cattle, and also complained that milk from his dairy had to be thrown out because of the congestion of the festival wouldn’t allow milk trucks to get to the location. Another concerned parent expresses his disdain that young people were attending the festival and camping.
It only goes to show what even “three days of peace, love and music,” had its issues.
And there are the amazing musical acts captured on film, everything from Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix and Santana. All in all if you want to take a trip down memory lane, or learn some musical and American history, I would recommend checking out Woodstock.