Woodstock organizer Michael Lang, driving force behind 1969 festival, dies at 77


Michael Lang, longtime Ulster County resident and driving force behind Setting 8. He was 77 years old.

According to Lang’s obituary, he died of complications from lymphoma in New York City.

Lang hosted the Woodstock Music Festival with three partners, but since August 1969 he had remained the public face of the famous gathering and its enduring ideals of peace, love and music. The festival was held in Bethel, Sullivan County, but was scheduled for the town of Woodstock, Ulster County.

Held within a year of the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Reverend Martin Luther King, Woodstock took place against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement and growing divisions that continued to fracture the nation on the political, generational, economic and racial fault lines. Culturally, the concert landed on the opposite of the spectrum, away from the violence and uncertainty that defined much of the 1960s.

Woodstock is far from a financial or organizational success: major highways are blocked by concert traffic and festival-goers face rain, mud and logistical problems never before encountered as a concert at the Woodstock scale never happened.

But the four-day concert in Woodstock was also a time for the counter-culture to come together and show the nation and the world’s political leaders how they wanted, needed and would be heard. The counterculture took a stand in Woodstock, and the crowning moment of the movement came with a soundtrack from the best artists of the time, including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Richie Havens, Sly & the Family Stone and The Who.

The legacy of the 1969 Woodstock Festival is the legacy of Michael Lang.

The Woodstock Festival launched careers and innovations in the industry

“Woodstock was an opportunity, a moment, a home that we all looked forward to and worked towards,” Lang wrote in his successful 2009 autobiography, “The Road to Woodstock,” co-authored with a Phenicia resident and the Professor SUNY New Paltz. Holly George Warren.

“For me, Woodstock was a test of whether people in our generation really believed in each other and the world we were struggling to create,” Lang wrote. “How would we do when we were in charge? Could we live like the peaceful community we imagined? I had hoped we could. From the start I believed that if we did our job right and with heart, set the stage and set the right tone, people would reveal their higher selves and create something amazing. Woodstock came to symbolize our solidarity.

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Woodstock also featured Joan Baez, Country Joe and the Fish, Crosby, Stills and Nash & Young, Carlos Santana, John Sebastian, Ravi Shankar, The Band and Arlo Guthrie, some of whom were at the start of what would become a long and prolific career.

Lang’s obituary also detailed Woodstock’s lasting impact on music and concert production. “With the lighting and sound innovations of Chip Monck and Bill Hanley respectively, security, recording and video technologies … were born in Woodstock and continue to this day,” we can say. read.

The face of a famous rally also produced Woodstock ’99, other tributes

Organizer Michael Lang speaks to reporters at the Woodstock 25th Anniversary concert on August 13, 1994 at Winston Farm in Saugerties, New York. (Photo by Rémi Benali / Liaison)

Rémi Benali / Getty Images

A resident of the town of Woodstock for decades, Lang was an unpretentious guy seen quite regularly in the community, dining at Bread Alone Café and attending screenings during the Woodstock Film Festival, for which he served on the advisory board.

And although the town of Woodstock has a long history with the arts that predates the 1969 festival by many years, it was the Woodstock Music and Art Fair that shaped the famous community’s personality, its economy, its appeal as as tourism destination, and the businesses that anchor its daily trade. The Woodstock candle store is called Candlestock and its sign includes the phrase “Peace, Love & Light”. There is a cupcake place called Peace, Love & Cupcakes.

Lang has also conducted musicians, including Billy Joel and Joe Cocker.

Lang is remembered by many from the Oscar-winning documentary of the 1969 Woodstock Festival. He appeared throughout the film wearing a life jacket and riding a BSA motorcycle on the festival grounds – an alfalfa farm in Bethel, New York, which now houses the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts.

But he will also be remembered by many for Woodstock ’99, the 30th anniversary of the Woodstock Festival he hosted at Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome in Oneida County, New York.

The last night of this rally was marked by riots and fires. Lang in his autobiography wrote: “During performances of acts like Limp Bizkit, Korn and Rage Against the Machine, the mosh pit was a scary sight. The surfing public became quite aggressive, and we were horrified to find out later that incidents of assaulted women had been reported. “

Deputy Minority Leader in the State Senate Joseph Griffo (R-Rome) told the Poughkeepsie Journal in 2019 that Lang’s plan for Woodstock ’99, for the most part, had been “very well done.”

“There are always things you can do differently,” Griffo, who was mayor of Rome when Woodstock ’99 was held, told the Poughkeepsie Journal. “The concert went very well. Everything went well until the end. Things are happening. Any criminal activity is unacceptable.

Lang also hosted a Woodstock 25th Anniversary concert at the Winston Farm property in Saugerties, where he originally wanted to host the 1969 festival. Woodstock ’94 brought together the Woodstock Nation and the MTV generation and put on mind-blowing performances from Bob Dylan, Peter Gabriel and Green Day, who were among dozens of bands to perform.

“In true Woodstock style, the community spirit lived, it rained like hell, mud people abounded and Woodstock ’94 made money for everyone but us,” Lang wrote in his autobiography.

Lang’s obituary acknowledges that “the magic of the original Woodstock could not be duplicated”, although a concert produced by Lang approached the importance of Woodstock 69. Held in Berlin the night after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it brought together people from West Berlin and East Berlin for the first time in a generation. Lang, along with singer Joe Cocker, helped negotiate with East German authorities the right to produce a concert on the east side of the wall.

Plans for a Woodstock 50th anniversary concert in 2019 have been announced with great fanfare. But the festival failed to gain traction due to lack of permits, change of venue, lawsuits and disputes between Lang and his Woodstock 50 team, and festival backer Dentsu Aegis.

“Lang’s desire to celebrate the 50th anniversary was a personal disappointment,” his obituary notes, adding that in September 2019, the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Ky., Honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award for its contribution to peace.

Brooklyn boy moves north to Woodstock

Michael Lang grew up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, according to his book. Her father installed heating systems and her mother kept the accounts of the family business. Lang, like millions of American children, grew up listening to rock and roll – Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Bill Haley and the Comets.

Lang was the only one in his family to play an instrument and he joined a rock and roll band, as a drummer, at the age of 12. . “

As a child, he spent summers attending a camp in Sullivan County, where he would stage Woodstock as an adult. During winters, the Lang family took road trips to Miami and Canada.

In 1962, he enrolled at New York University while still in his final year of high school. After transferring to the University of Tampa, then re-enrolling in NYU, he eventually dropped out of college in 1965, moved to Miami, and opened a main store which Lang wrote in his book, has become “the hub of the Miami subway.” . “He hosted live music in his store and expanded that effort to promote bigger shows with musicians including Ravi Shankar.

This led to Lang, along with a partner, hosting the Miami Pop Festival in 1968 with Chuck Berry, the Mothers of Invention with Frank Zappa, and the Jimi Hendrix Experience, among other acts. It drew a crowd of 25,000 people.

A year later, Hendrix would deliver a stunning performance to close the Woodstock Festival. His iconic instrumental interpretation of the “Star-Spangled Banner” on solo electric guitar remains, more than 50 years later, a defining moment of the 1960s.

After hosting the Miami Pop Festival, Lang wrote in his book, “I thought it was time to go back to New York. 90 kilometers north of the city, Woodstock had become a magnet for musicians. I remembered its artistic small town vibe when we went there in the fifties. The city had a history of attracting artists and gypsies. My girlfriend Sonya and I decided to check it out for ourselves.

Community reactions to Lang’s death

Woodstock Film Festival Executive Director Meira Blaustein posted about Lang on Facebook: “I loved you so much.”

Laurent Rejto, founder of the Hudson Valley Film Commission and co-founder of the Woodstock Film Festival, said of Lang on Facebook: “I will remember Michael Lang as a loving father and father, before. all. I will miss her sweetness, kindness and Peter Pan spirit. He has always been so kind to my children.

Steve Bohn of Ulster Park, the former manager of a Starbucks on Massa Drive in the city of Ulster, said Lang would come to the cafe several times a month, order a classic espresso drink, sit down and browse the New York Times while appearing perfectly well that no one recognized him.

Bohn loved having Lang at the cafe and, if there was an interesting concert coming up in the Hudson Valley, he would tell Lang about it. Bohn remembers Lang thought that Bob Dylan’s 2017 concerts at the Hutton Brickyards in Kingston, hosted by the Bardavon 1869 opera house in Poughkeepsie, were a good idea.

“He was always patient and generally conversational,” Bohn recalls.

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