As we approach the fortieth anniversary of the Woodstock music and art fair, the new documentary Back to Woodstock by filmmaker Julie Cohen tells the story of six people whose lives were transformed by one of the defining cultural events of a generation. It was a counter-cultural festival of peace and love in the midst of the turbulent ’60s, a time when the Vietnam War and racial tensions were at their height. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, as we approach the fortieth anniversary of the Woodstock music and art fair, held from August 15th to 17th, 1969 on a farm in Bethel, New York, we turn to an excerpt of a documentary on one of the defining cultural events of a generation. It was a counter-cultural festival of peace and love in the midst of the turbulent ’60s, a time when the Vietnam War and racial tensions were at their height. Woodstock would become the biggest event in rock and roll history.
This documentary, Back to Woodstock, directed by filmmaker Julie Cohen, tells the story of six people whose lives were transformed by Woodstock. It’ll air on NBC Dateline this Sunday at 7:00. This is an excerpt.
NARRATOR: Just a few hundred yards from the hog farm compound, a teenager named Greg Walter was helping build the Woodstock arts and crafts pavilion.
GREG WALTER: It was a job that anyone would want. There was — you could get 10,000 applicants to work at this music festival. It was amazing.
NARRATOR: Before Woodstock, Greg hadn’t considered himself part of the counterculture. Far from it. Greg grew up in a conventional suburban family in Cornwall, New York. He hadn’t rebelled against his parents, or much of anything else. But in 1969, that started to change.
GREG WALTER: When you turn eighteen, at the time, you were supposed to register for the draft. The principal of the high school called me in and already had the papers all prepared for me. I ended up getting my draft card.
NEWS ANCHOR: Enemy forces delivered four ground attacks today in Vietnam.
NARRATOR: He had seen the images from Vietnam on the nightly news. Now he started paying closer attention. Greg decided he opposed US involvement in Vietnam. With a church youth group, he went to his first antiwar demonstrations.
GREG WALTER: We weren’t real radicals. We were just trying to make our voices heard.
NARRATOR: As he got more involved with the protest group, Greg fell in love with the music that was transfixing American youth.
GREG WALTER: Music was one thing that our generation really felt was theirs. It wasn’t coming from someone else. We were creating it. We controlled it.
NARRATOR: What drew Greg Walter to Woodstock was the musical acts that were signed on, artists like Janis Joplin, Richie Havens and the band called The Band.
LEVON HELM: In 1969, we had just signed a recording agreement with Capitol Records.
NARRATOR: Levon Helm, drummer and singer in The Band, was a natural fit for the festival. He and his band mates were already living in the Catskill Mountains north of New York City in the little town of Woodstock, New York.
LEVON HELM: A lot of the people here play music anyway. So, you know, you go into the gas station, and the guy that’s helping you fill your car up, he may be the best banjo picker around, you know, so people around here have always celebrated music.
AMY GOODMAN: Levon Helm, part of the documentary Back to Woodstock, its producer, Julie Cohen. Ann Curry is the host of the Dateline 7:00 Sunday night production.
Julie, you weren’t exactly grown up at the time, but the importance of Back to Woodstock for you?
JULIE COHEN: Well, I think — you know, I wasn’t grown up at the time, I was quite a little girl, but I really remember it as one of the seminal events of that era. And I think the reason it stuck with people wasn’t just the music; it was kind of the coming together in an unexpected way of people from so many different worlds. I spoke to a lot of people for this program. They came for all different reasons. And a lot of people’s lives were really transformed by three days.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, it’s an amazing documentary. Back to Woodstock on Sunday night. That does it for the show. Thank you, Julie Cohen.