PBS’ ‘Wood­stock: Three Days That Defined a Gen­er­a­tion’ re­calls a tran­scen­dent mo­ment in cul­ture

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - On Tv - BY GE­ORGE DICKIE

The 1969 Wood­stock Fes­ti­val was an event so fraught with prob­lems it could have spun off into chaos at any one of dozens of junc­tures. In­stead, 500,000 at­ten­dees, pro­mot­ers, staff, mu­si­cians and oth­ers pulled to­gether in a sense of com­mu­nity and made it one of the tran­scen­dent cul­tural hap­pen­ings of the 20th cen­tury. And as its 50th an­niver­sary ap­proaches, a new PBS doc­u­men­tary re­calls that time.

“Wood­stock: Three Days That Defined a Gen­er­a­tion,” a two-hour “Amer­i­can Ex­pe­ri­ence” film air­ing Tues­day, Aug. 6 (check lo­cal list­ings), looks not at the mu­sic and the mu­si­cians who per­formed at that up­state New York con­cert on Aug. 15-18, 1969, but at the myr­iad sto­ries in the crowd and be­hind the scenes through footage and in­ter­views with at­ten­dees, pro­mot­ers and oth­ers.

The odds were against it from the getgo. One town had banned the con­cert af­ter con­struc­tion was al­ready un­der­way, forc­ing pro­mot­ers to find an­other site, even­tu­ally set­tling on Max Yas­gur’s farm in nearby Bethel. Then there were short­ages of food, san­i­tary and med­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties and staff, re­sult­ing in thou­sands of con­cert­go­ers walk­ing in with­out pay­ing. Sur­round­ing roads were choked with traf­fic and the lo­cals were not amused.

But in­stead of ten­sions boil­ing over and fights break­ing out, ev­ery­one kept a cool head, helped their neigh­bor and made the show the leg­endary event it be­came.

There’s a rea­son they be­came known as the Wood­stock Gen­er­a­tion.

“I hon­estly don’t think that could’ve hap­pened,” says Barak Good­man, the film’s di­rec­tor, “if not for the fact that it’s 1969 and these young peo­ple had been con­di­tioned for a while to buy into this ethic and this no­tion of shar­ing and com­mu­ni­tar­i­an­ism and a kind of re­jec­tion of ma­te­ri­al­ism and so on.

“And peo­ple talk about the mir­a­cle of Wood­stock,” he con­tin­ues, “how it was that that event stayed peace­ful, stayed rel­a­tively in­jury-free and tragedy-free even amid the crazy chaos of the whole thing. And I put it down to the val­ues that that gen­er­a­tion that by that time honed ... this sense of help­ing each other out and liv­ing a dif­fer­ent kind of life.”

And that man­i­fested it­self in nu­mer­ous ways, from the “freak-out tents” for those hav­ing bad LSD trips to the en-masse meals made from lo­cal oats, milk and yo­gurt that were passed out to fam­ished hip­pies.

Even the pro­mot­ers got in the spirit, mak­ing it a free con­cert when it be­came ev­i­dent there was no way of stem­ming the flow of non-pay­ing clien­tele. Ini­tially, they lost mil­lions and flirted with bank­ruptcy un­til they were res­cued by un­col­lected ticket rev­enue, the sale of their stake in the orig­i­nal Wood­stock doc­u­men­tary and other deals.

“Wood­stock: Three Days That Defined a Gen­er­a­tion,” a two-hour “Amer­i­can Ex­pe­ri­ence” film, airs Tues­day on PBS (check lo­cal list­ings).

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