What happens when you invite 500,000 people to a cow farm in upstate New York? You get Woodstock. Directed by Ang Lee, tells the story of the man who played a pivotal role in introducing the promoters of the iconic cultural event to the small town where the festival took place. If you remember (which I am sure you don’t), the Woodstock Festival of 1969 was planned to be a three day long music festival of peace and music. Originally planned to take place in a small town in upstate New York, the Woodstock promoters expected a turnout of only 10,000 people. In fact, bands such as Led Zeppelin and The Doors turned down the invitation to Woodstock because they thought they would be just another band on docket. As it turns out, a whopping 500,000 people came out to hear rock and roll legends such as Janis Joplin, CCR, and Jimi Hendrix. As of today, Woodstock is regarded as one of the greatest moments in popular music history not only because of the size of the event and the performances, but also because the concert went off without a hitch. 500,000 people were able to get along for three days and enjoy peace and music, which in an era of counter-culture and pacifism, was just as they wanted.
For a concert that had such an effect on American culture, it makes you wonder whose idea this was in the first place. Enter Michael Lang (Jonathon Groff) a tranquil, hippie-like businessman and promoter of large music events. Financed by New York City businessmen, Lang wanted to organize another large concert in the town of Wallkill, NY. But when ticket sales went into the thousands, Lang and his backers were out of luck because the people of Wallkill decide to abandon their plans out of fear of what the concert goers would do to their town. This caught the eye of Elliot Tiber (Demetri Martin), a resident of the neighboring town of Bethel. Tiber was a gay interior designer living a closeted life as a manager of his parent’s dilapidated motel, El Monaco. Anxious to live his own life but tied down by his parent’s financial problems, Tiber decided to take a leap and offer up his family’s failing motel, his neighbor’s cow farm and his unsuspecting town of Bethel, NY to the Woodstock promoters with the hope of saving his parent’s motel and giving himself a future outside of El Monaco.
With Tiber’s act of bravado, the tiny, conservative town of Bethel was descended upon by an endless supply of hippies, vagabonds and an assortment of characters that were hilarious, inspiring and often shocked the townsfolk (and the viewing audience) with flagrant nudity. For example, we are eventually introduced to a theater group whose dramatic performances usually end in them stripping down to their birthday suits and running off the stage toward their unsuspecting audience.
As the movie progresses, Elliot’s parents find that their motel is making serious money really fast, so fast that it attracts two tough mob men looking to extort the Tibers. Do the Tibers give in? Not even close, what follows is a hilarious fight scene between Elliot, his elderly father wielding a baseball bat, and his elderly mother wielding her fists, that leaves the mob men running for their lives empty handed.
But all things aside, the characters that Woodstock brings to Bethel not only helped create the mesmerizing event that was Woodstock, but also helped Elliot understand himself in a better way. Some such as Vilma (Liev Schreiber), a cross dressing ex-army sergeant, who provides security for the Tiber family was amusing (especially if you have seen him as Sabertooth in ). But mainly, Vilma was crucial because he helped the closeted Elliot realize that what others think of you is not important, even if it is someone close to you like your parents. Instead, knowing oneself is the most important thing to achieving happiness in life.
In general, has an all-star cast, comedian Demetri Martin shines as Elliot Tiber, but the lesser known Imelda Staunton and Henry Goodman standout with authentic performances of Elliot’s blue collar parents. Ang Lee’s direction yielded a well developed story that was an aesthetic sideline view of the famous concert. In the end, not only gave an excellent behind the scenes look of the famed event, but it also told of a man who came to a self realization by bringing the whole world to his backyard.