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The Woodstocks, They Are A-Changin'

August 07, 1994|STEVE HOCHMAN | Steve Hochman writes about pop music for Calendar

For Jeff Rowland, a mission that began when he missed out on a great cultural milestone 25 years ago is finally going to be fulfilled.

No, he's not going for a moonwalk. He's going to Woodstock.

And, as one of the media executives overseeing the television coverage of Woodstock '94, he's making sure that no one who wants to experience the silver anniversary edition of the Upstate New York rock festival will miss it, as he did with the 1969 original.

"My best friend actually got me a ticket in 1969, but I couldn't find a way up there," says Rowland, a Long Island native now 39 and senior vice president of PolyGram Diversified Entertainment, the company producing the festival.

"I was too young to drive and my friend said, 'Let's hitchhike,' but sad to say I wasn't that intrepid at the time," says Rowland. "I wish I had a pay-per-view option."

Of course, he didn't. In fact, the original Woodstock was barely covered by TV at all, save for news bits focusing mostly on the traffic tie-ups and other ramifications on the region from the half-million-strong hippie invasion.

But Woodstock '94, expected to draw up to 250,000 people to a farm site 100 miles north of New York City, will be televised. And televised. And televised.

PolyGram's pay-per-view coverage will be wall-to-wall, starting at 9 a.m. Saturday and finishing whenever the last encore ends, sometime late Sunday.

Virtually every note of every performance--from Woodstock '69 vets Crosby, Stills and Nash and Santana to such younger acts as Metallica and Salt-N-Pepa that were probably more interested in "Scooby Do" than rock 'n' roll when the original was happening--will be aired. Those that aren't shown live will be highlighted in taped segments to be run in the wee hours of the morning. (The suggested price of the programming is $34.95 per day, or $49.95 for a two-day package. Contact your cable company for details.)

Not enough Woodstock? MTV's taking care of that. Starting Friday afternoon, the music channel will make the Saugerties festival site its base of operations for the weekend, with most of its programs originating there--from "MTV News" to "Headbangers Ball."

Allowed to show no more than a minute of any live performance, MTV is designing its "Woodstock '94 Weekend" to complement the pay-per-view, not compete with it. The coverage begins at 3 p.m. Friday with videos from Woodstock performers and initial reports from the site, with the centerpiece of the programming being blocks of "Woodstock Weekend" on Saturday from noon to 5:30 p.m. and 8-10 p.m., picking up again at noon the next day. Regular MTV shows, including "Dead at 21" and "Real World," will air between Woodstock programs.

"We're the information source," says Doug Herzog, MTV senior vice president of programming, of the channel's role. "Pay-per-view will be the wall-to-wall music and we'll be bringing some perspective on what's happening there, behind the scenes, capturing the mood and the crowd. When you're talking about three days and 30-plus bands, there are a lot of stories to tell."

No word on what role Beavis & Butt-head will play in the coverage, but hold on to your credit cards: MTV will even have a program of, yes, "Woodstock Shopping," airing three times over the weekend.

"They didn't have that in 1969, did they?" Herzog asks rhetorically. "If you can't be there among the 250,000 strong, maybe you want to do the virtual-reality Woodstock, which means go pay-per-view and buy a T-shirt through MTV shopping. . . . This is as much a television event as a live event."

The only television event--at least televised music event--that really compares is the broadcast of 1985's Live Aid concerts in London and Philadelphia. They, however, were carried on non-pay TV. And that was one day, not three.

Still, it's hard not to think of the Woodstock coverage as overkill.

"I think the marketplace will tell us if it's overkill," says Rowland. "It's entirely possible that there are people that don't want to sit through 14 hours of programming a day. But, in the case of Woodstock, there's a cultural inertia that's carried through 25 years and we should allow people to see it as it's happening."

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