The Woodstock Festival of 1969 was much more than a concert, unintentionally becoming the symbol of the decade’s youth/hippie movement shortly before it came to an end. The potential those “3 [August] Days of Peace & Music” offered was so appealing at that time in the United States it spoke to hundreds of thousands of people, inspiring them to descend on Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel, New York, to take part in the festivities.
The event lives on through Michael Wadleigh’s excellent Academy Award-winning film, which documented the experience as well as the medium could allow. Wadleigh and his team of cameramen captured not just a portion of the musical performances on stage but presented points of view ranging from the workers behind the scenes to the attendees down in the mud.
This home video release celebrates the 40th anniversary of the event (the film came out a year later in 1970), and the 15th anniversary of the director’s cut extended to a run time of 225 minutes. The first disc goes right into the film as preparations are underway. The organizers talk with a reporter as the stage and rigging are being set up. The local townsfolk seem to appreciate the business brought about by the initial “influx of humanity,” some of whom have slack-jawed, deeply focused stares moving past anything taking place in front of them.
The famous announcement warning the attendees about the brown acid is heard and then Richie Havens and his acoustic guitar open the concert. It’s refreshing to watch him play and sing in such long, uncut segments during “Handsome Johnny.” Modern-day editors should be mandated to watch and learn from the work of Thelma Schoonmaker and Martin Scorsese on display.
People are shown sneaking in and breaking down fences. The organizers decide to make Woodstock a free concert, but they don’t have much choice in the matter. Since they don’t have the security to handle the problem, it’s not as noble a decision as they make it out to be. In a parallel, some audience member jumps on stage while Canned Heat plays. He starts hugging lead singer Bob “The Bear” Hite, and even bums a smoke off him.
A couple of kids are interviewed and it’s interesting to hear the way they see the world. This happens periodically through the film as it steps away from the music and puts the audience front and center. One girl has lost her sister and is concerned about getting her home in time for work.
Fifties cover band Sha Na Na seems like an odd choice on the line-up, but their silliness is an extension of the fun and joy within music, so why not? What’s even odder is learning they actually appeared before Jimi Hendrix came out on the last day.
Storm clouds blow in, and the wind whips. The organizers have to repeatedly ask people to move away from towers for safety. A chant of “No Rain” begins but doesn’t work. Some leave the concert area, some use it as a chance to bathe, and one guy claims “”the man” seeded the clouds to ruin the show. The majority embrace the weather and play in the mud.
When Arlo Guthrie performs “Coming Into Los Angeles,” the visuals show people smoking pot and even a few cameramen take part. Yet, not everyone is on drugs. Some do kundalini yoga in its place, which one man compares to smoking DMT.
Crosby Stills Nash (& Young, who refused to be filmed) are playing their second gig together and do a great job on “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” Ten Years After plays a great blues-based rock medley including bits from “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Baby, Please Don’t Go,” “Whole Shakin’ Goin On.” They tear it up and go to the Interfuckingmission on a high note.