Review of Woodstock Diary 1969: Friday Saturday Sunday

Editor's Note: The fortieth anniversary of the mammoth Woodstock rock festival that was held in August 1969 is coming up this month. A DVD has been issued by Gravity Ltd in association with Warner Bros Pictures commemorating this event, and it is being distributed by Wienerworld Ltd in London. Further information is available at the Wienerworld Ltd website. I was asked to review this DVD and following is that review...

Review of Woodstock Diary 1969: Friday Saturday Sunday

The late 60's was a time of social upheaval around the world. There were war protests, racial tensions, political assassinations, and a variety of other remarkable events occurring simultaneously. Many young people were expressing themselves through different modes of dress, changes in musical tastes, and ingestion of hallucinogenic drugs. As the decade wound down the topics that dominated the news in the summer of 1969 were man walking on the moon for the first time in history, United States Senator Ted Kennedy's questionable actions in what came to be known as the Chappaquiddick incident, the brutal murder of actress Sharon Tate and others in California, and a massive music festival that was celebrated on Max Yasgur's 600-acre farm in upstate New York, near the town of Bethel. The last of these events was officially titled the Woodstock Music & Art Fair, but it came to be known simply as Woodstock, and it was a seminal event in the history of rock.

In anticipation of the fortieth anniversary of Woodstock, Gravity Ltd in association with Warner Bros Pictures has produced a compilation on DVD, distributed by Wienerworld, that condenses the events which occurred over three days at the festival (August 15, 16 and 17, 1969) into a three-hour show. The result is a historically accurate account of what happened at Woodstock that plays out as an entertaining story of one of the greatest events in the history of rock music, titled Woodstock Diary 1969: Friday Saturday Sunday.

Woodstock was about two things really: fine performances by some of the great music artists of the day, and the coming together of hundreds of thousands of (mostly) young people who managed to live together in harmony while enjoying the music for several glorious days that summer. And it is all captured here for your enjoyment. Thirty-two acts played at Woodstock and you will see performances here by twenty-six of them. Most did sets of anywhere from four to twelve separate songs, condensed here to usually one or two songs per artist. You will see Richie Havens open the show and state in his song that "sometimes I feel like a motherless child." Country Joe McDonald does his Fish cheer ("give me an F..."). Some good music from John Sebastian, Tim Hardin, Canned Heat, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. We hear from some artists that may have been forgotten by many, but are still worth a listen-to, such as the Incredible String Band, Bert Sommers, Quill, and Mountain. Some of the all-time favorites perform, including Joan Baez, The Who, and Jefferson Airplane. More good acts are on the bill including John Sebastian (of the Lovin' Spoonful), Ten Years After, and Johnny Winter. There are musicians who are closely associated with the times, such as Ravi Shankar and Arlo Guthrie. Frenetic stage performances, as one might expect, from the likes of Janis Joplin, and Joe Cocker. Video that I particularly enjoyed from this set were Santana (with some terrific work by their percussionists), Sly & the Family Stone, The Band, and Sha Na Na. For a bit of comic relief we watch some stage announcements from master of ceremonies/director of security for the event, Wavy Gravy ("what we have in mind is breakfast in bed for 400,000!"). It is a fun event featuring some very talented musicians, all captured on video for us to enjoy.

Woodstock was not only about the music. More than a dozen towers were erected on the site, to accommodate sound and lighting, along with a large stage. The crowds had originally been projected to be no more than 50,000. Many more festival goers attended the event or tried to do so, but were prevented from getting there by the monumental strain it created on the New York highway system. Some estimates of the crowd size were in excess of 500,000, and along with the massive throngs came attendant problems with logistics, such as food distribution, first aid, sanitation, and drug overdoses. There was a nearby pond that was used by bathers, skinny dippers, and hippies of all types. A helicopter to fly the promoters and needed supplies in and out of the site. Gridlock on the highways. Lots of tents for temporary shelter. And a thunderstorm that turned the area into a sea of mud and delayed the show for a time. All of these matters are addressed in this fine video, but the emphasis is on the artists and their performances, as it should be.

You will see interviews with Lisa Law, who helped with some of the logistics problems at the site while the festival was playing out, with the financial backers of the project and the managers who planned the event, and with Wavy Gravy himself as well as some others who were in attendance. You will learn how the idea for the concert was conceived and carried out, how it was financed, and whether it proved to be a profitable venture.

The festival itself and the other items that surround it are neatly contained on one DVD, subtitled in French, Dutch and German. It is divided into three segments of one hour each, the segments being Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with each segment showing the acts that appeared on those days. There is a section with brief biographies of the bands, and a menu facilitating easily moving around on the DVD itself. An inlay included in the case containing the disk provides a brief history of the Woodstock Music & Art Fair, track listing details, quotes from some of those involved in the event, and other useful information. Audio and video quality are quite good, and kudos to the editing team that put it together.

To those who are fans of late 60's rock music, or who can't get enough of the phenomenon that was Woodstock during those August days in 1969, Woodstock Diary 1969 is a must see. If you are interested in experiencing a very factual, entertaining treatment of the granddaddy of all rock music festivals, it is highly recommended.

Tom Simon
August 5, 2009

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