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TV review: 'Woodstock; Now & Then'

Woodstock Festival of Arts and Music at Bethel,

Woodstock Festival of Arts and Music at Bethel, N.Y., August 1969. (AP Photo) Credit: AP Photo/AP Photo

THE SHOW "Woodstock: Now & Then."

WHEN | WHERE Friday from 9-10:30 on VH1 and VH1 Classic and Monday on History from 8-9:30 p.m.

REASON TO WATCH Oscar-winning documentarian Barbara Kopple, who explored the intersection of politics and popular culture in 2006's "Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing," seems a perfect choice to tackle the hippie generation's defining moment, the 1969 Woodstock Music & Art Fair.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT With the 40th anniversary of Woodstock coming this weekend, the time is right for a clear-eyed look at the event and its enduring resonance for baby boomers and subsequent generations. Kopple's documentary is almost up to the task.

It's mainly a start-to-finish primer on the chaotic but famously peaceful concert. Kopple interviews the principal organizers, including the groovy-under-pressure Michael Lang (an executive producer here) and his polar opposite, the button-down money guy John Roberts. And there are firsthand accounts from various attendees (including the "pink blanket" couple on the cover of the "Woodstock" soundtrack) and several musicians, albeit mostly sidemen.

Eloquence comes from the usual folks, and some unusual ones. Richie Havens, the event's first performer, recalls his mostly improvised set: "I started singing 'Freedom' because this was the freedom my generation had been looking for." Wavy Gravy explains how he coached acid casualties through their bum trips. And Greg Jackson, the squaresville ABC reporter seen in Michael Wadleigh's 1970 documentary, offers some surprisingly hip perspective on the festival's feminist undercurrent.

But the VH1 demographic must be served, which means watching modern-day rockers (Rob Thomas, Grace Potter) obligingly salute their ancestors. And the very young students at the Paul Green School of Rock (which has branches in Melville and Port Washington) add little to the conversation, although two precocious Hicksville tykes, Michael and Brian D'Addario, are a hoot, especially when discussing the famous Woodstock dust-up between activist Abbie Hoffman and The Who's Pete Townshend. (Winner: Townshend.)

BOTTOM LINE Woodstock is such a well-trodden field that Kopple can hardly be expected to break new ground. Instead, her documentary provides an enjoyable flashback.


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