Swami Satchidananda giving the opening speech at Woodstock (Photo/Wikimedia-Mark Goff)
Swami Satchidananda giving the opening speech at Woodstock (Photo/Wikimedia-Mark Goff)

Woodstock turns 50; feminist gangsters; ‘Scary Stories’; etc.

“Woodstock: Three Days that Defined a Generation,” a new offering in the “American Experience” series on PBS, will air at 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 17 on KQED Channel 9 among its many showings. The film was co-written and directed by Barak Goodman, 56, a two-time Emmy winner best known for his Oscar-nominated doc “Scottsboro: An American Tragedy.”

Goodman laces together interviews to tell the story of Woodstock “miracles,” and among the interviewees are three of the four Jewish guys who came together to create the festival: Artie Kornfeld, 76, Michael Lang, 74, and Joel Rosenman, 77. The fourth, John Roberts, died in 2001 at 56. Based on a talk I had with Kornfeld in 2009 and other information, it’s clear to me that being mensches guided them as much as any hippie ethos. As noted in the film, the men made no money from the festival; in fact, Roberts had to dig deep into his own pocket to make sure there was adequate food, etc. for a crowd much larger than expected.

Only a month before the concert date, and after organizers lost their original venue due to the passage of an anti-hippie ordinance, Lang and Kornfeld rented the dairy farm of Max Yasgur (1919-1973), near the Borscht Belt. To prevent a second anti-hippie vote, Yasgur appeared in front of his town’s zoning board, lectured its members on freedom, and how freedom included hippies, and hippies had a right to be in town. Max’s son, the late Sam Yasgur, told me in 2009 that his father, a conservative Republican, saved his best for last. “Facing the [board] directly with something that had long rankled him about them, Max said, ‘What are you planning to do next? Are you going to try to throw me out of town because I am a Jew?’” The board backed off.

Max Yasgur gets more than a small mention in “Three Days,” but I wish Goodman had included the story told above or even thrown in a mention that Yasgur (and the others) was Jewish. He was the patron saint of Woodstock.

Many Jewish musicians played Woodstock, including some with Bay Area ties. Jorma Kaukonen, 78, was the lead guitarist of Jefferson Airplane. Country Joe McDonald, 77, and Barry Melton, 72, were in the band Country Joe and the Fish. McDonald is still a working musician and lives in Berkeley; Melton, a lawyer, is the retired head of the Yolo County public defenders’ office and lives in Lake County. Mickey Hart, 74, was the drummer for the Grateful Dead; he still lives in the Bay Area and tours with the band’s surviving members. Elliot Cahn, 71, was a member of Sha Na Na; he left the band in 1971, got a law degree from UC Berkeley and is a Bay Area attorney. His bandmate, Alan Cooper, 72ish, became a biblical scholar and is the provost of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City.

At the movies

Opening Friday, Aug. 9 is “The Kitchen,” a sort-of-feminist gangster movie that is based on a comic book series. Mobster wives Melissa McCarthy, Elisabeth Moss and Tiffany Haddish, 39, take over after their husbands are jailed. Haddish’s late father was an Eritrean Jew. The director is Andrea Berloff, 44.

“The Art of Racing in the Rain,” also opening Friday, Aug. 9, is based on a best-selling novel by Garth Stein, 54. A witty and philosophical dog named Enzo (voiced by Kevin Costner) narrates the film. The screenplay is by Mark Bomback, 47, who has written or co-written a number of big hits including “Live Free or Die Hard,” “The Wolverine,” and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” He lives in Chappaqua, north of New York City, with his wife, Tema, 48, and their four children. Tema is a longtime volunteer at a school for developmentally disabled boys that is run by JCCA, formerly known as Jewish Children’s Services. The Bombacks are profiled on the JCCA website and are described as “important donors for years.”

Also opening Aug. 9 is “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark,” which is set in 1968 in a small town. Austin Abrams, 22, has a big supporting role as Tommy Milner, one of the teens who discovers a diary; he also plays Ethan in the HBO series “Euphoria,” which is based on an Israeli TV series. “Scary Stories” is based on stories by Alvin Schwartz (1927-1992), who wrote more than 50 books, mostly for children.

Nate Bloom

Nate Bloom writes the "Celebrity Jews" column for J.