In the final moments of PBS’s Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation, a new documentary packed with remarkable images of the epochal 1969 music festival, comes perhaps the most remarkable shot of all: the view from a helicopter above the fest, taking in what 400,000 hippies looks like. The frame is filled entirely with people-as-dots, a gobsmackingly huge number of them, crammed against tents and equipment rigs. It could be a picture of a humanitarian crisis, but the previous hour and a half has made the case that Woodstock was basically paradise on Earth. “It was a mark in cosmic time; I have no doubt about that,” one of the attendees reflects in the voice-over. “I’m not saying it never happened before, or it never happened again, or that it couldn’t happen in the future. But that—that stopped the clock for three days.”
The question of whether the 1969 upstate New York fete could ever happen again is now not only a cosmic matter, but a practical one. And the answer appears to be no. After months of drip-dropping news about financing and permit problems, Michael Lang, the original fest’s co-founder, recently announced that the planned 50th-anniversary edition would be canceled. Lang’s previous two attempts are not renowned for conjuring the classic Woodstock mystique. The 1994 iteration had muddy mosh pits and rageful heavy metal. The 1999 version had riots, fires, and sexual-assault allegations. But could something like Woodstock happen again? Has it already, many times over, under other names, in the 50 years since Jimi Hendrix shredded “The Star Spangled Banner” and Jefferson Airplane awoke the crowd at 8 a.m. with “morning maniac music”?