A new documentary aims to capture a group known and discussed by many yet rarely pinned down in any definable way: wooks.
The film, simply titled Wooks, is described by its creators as “an acid soaked journey to the edge of madness with the wise and wild Wooks of America’s hippie underbelly.” It doesn’t seek to define the live music-adjacent subculture in explicit terms, but rather sets up shop in wooks’ natural habitats—from Dead & Company tour to Suwannee Hulaween—to experience their lifestyles and soak up their euphoric wisdom.
The documentary’s 38-minute runtime unfurls as a curated montage of earnest wook soliloquies, unbound by common filmmaking devices like talking heads, narration, and text. Even the bands themselves—the detached yet vital life force of this vagabond herd—are downplayed in the film. While Wooks doesn’t necessarily hide the concerts at which it takes place, the stars on stage are merely wallpaper in this examination of the compelling characters in the crowd and the parking lot.
“I tried to essentialize their vibe with this film, make something that is wooks as opposed to about wooks,” director Sean Dunne told Live For Live Music about the project, now available to watch in its entirety on YouTube. “So we took a raw approach. … We shot at a bunch of festivals and parking lots. What comprised most of the film was shot at Phish in Ohio, Dead & Co in NYC, Hulaween, and a couple events at Nelson Ledges Quarry Park in Ohio. … Snuck the camera into shows and festivals and talked to the people that were drawn to us.”
The project, directed by Dunne with cinematographer/editor Joey Lipstein and producer Cass Greener, employs a different tone than previous lot docs like Andrew Callaghan‘s Channel 5 “Phish Lot” episode (which admittedly nailed the “wooks say the darndest things” comedic angle on the fringe demographic). Rather than sprinting straight for shock-value laughs, Wooks ambles into its strangely wholesome humor by way of more detailed human renderings. The smiles you end up with are less of the “what in the world” variety found on Shakedown before the show, and more the sort you’d savor late at night back at camp with new friends. Sure, those slightly slurred conversations may barrel off topic from time to time (wooks gonna wook), but as with the best psychedelic experiences, the pearls of cosmic knowledge and genuine introspection are the moments you’ll remember.
“We structured it like an acid trip,” Dunn explained. “It starts with an Oracle, an old man basically giving you the acid and teaching you how to watch the film. Then begins the come up, which leads to the peak, and then the last 15 minutes is the come down.”
Over the course of the trip, we hear from Dead tour wook mamas with Stealie tattoos, young wooklets draped in tie-dyes and pashminas, ravers en regalia heading to late-night DJ sets, and other spunions of all shapes and sizes. We see ice-cold fatties, countless joints, and just as many white guys with dreads. We see crime and grit alongside love and compassion. We see glassy, dilated eyes glowing with sincerity while weekend wooks explain why they keep coming back.
The filmmakers—all longtime live music enthusiasts well acquainted with wookery—brought an insider’s perspective to the project, allowing themselves to be absorbed in the world of their subjects. “We were inspired from our own lives by how psychedelics and music can help you blossom,” Dunne told Live For Live Music. “We were on mushrooms or acid through most of the shooting. Always on weed. Avoided nitrous as I’ve done my lifetime supply of balloons.”
“We smoked some DMT in the Phish lot and I think it really changed the trajectory of the film,” Dunne added. “Helped us get into flow and have gratitude. … But we made this for next to no money. We were beg, borrowing, and stealing to get out there and shoot. So in that sense, it was made with the wookiest spirit possible.”
Subjects attempt to classify that spirit in many ways throughout Wooks—from love and connection to beauty and exploration to fun and contentment—but the theme that keeps bubbling to the surface is personal freedom, an openness to following what feels good. As one guitar-toting wook sums it up, “Whatever way you’re pulled, walk.”
“We really made this film to pay tribute to the scene we love and honor the spirit of the wook,” Dunne explained. “So we had a good idea what we were getting into, but of course they blew our minds. It’s refreshing and sometimes intimidating to be around such free people. … Wooks are a really unexpected vehicle for something more people should consider: following their passions and [having] fun.” Watch the full Wooks documentary below.
Wooks – Full Documentary