The co-creator of the iconic festival was 77 years old


NEW YORK – Half a century later, Michael Lang was still calling for change.

On the 50th anniversary of his famous Woodstock Music and Art Fair in 1969, Lang spoke about the need for sound gun control laws and signed a petition for a piece of the original scene. of the festival.

“Fifty years ago we protested against Vietnam, he said in 2019. “No one wanted to go out and be killed in an unpopular war. Now we see children being killed here at home . “

For decades, Lang, co-creator of the event, has championed the ideals presented at the festival.

He died at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City at the age of 77 on Saturday, his family confirmed. Lang was battling non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

“He was (an) absolutely historic figure, and also a great guy,” family spokesman Michael Pagnotta told The Associated Press. Pagnotta said he had known Lang for about 30 years. “These two things go hand in hand. “

“Playing at the festival is a memory I will never forget” John Fogerty tweeted Sunday. “Send love to his family.”

“Woodstock 1969 made me want to make music, and Woodstock 1994 put me on the map” Sheryl Crow wrote. “Thank you forever for giving a newbie a chance on this historic scene.”

Opinion: Woodstock now far in the past, but for those of us who were there it will still be far away

Original Woodstock promoter Michael Lang at the Catskill Distillery / Dancing Cat Saloon in Bethel, New York on August 17, 2019. He was there to sign a gun control petition over a piece of the original Woodstock scene.

Lang leaves a legacy as an icon to generations of music fans, helping to popularize the modern music festival. It’s a legacy that also includes high-profile failures, such as a violent 1999 Woodstock festival and a 2019 event that ended in cancellations and lawsuits when Lang’s organizing group repeatedly failed to obtain the appropriate permits and meet the necessary safety requirements for a modern music festival.

Lang and his three partners in 1969 “changed the world, even though everything was against them,” Lori Majewski, host of Sirius XM’s Volume channel and former editor of “Entertainment Weekly,” told USA TODAY at Woodstock’s 1950s sequel. cancelation. “They faced adversity at every turn. But people walked away thinking, ‘Yes, we can, we can change the world. “I think that’s why Michael Lang fought so hard for Woodstock 50.”

Still, the anniversary of its original festival prompted tens of thousands to visit the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts in Sullivan County from August 15 to 18 for a four-day celebration. Lang chose not to attend; the organizer and organization that operates a concert hall on the original festival grounds had a long-standing split, and Lang had insisted that only Woodstock 50 would be the official anniversary event.

“Woodstock 99: Peace, Love and Rage”:HBO documentary recounts ‘off the rails’ concert fiasco

“Three days of peace and music”

Along with partners Artie Kornfeld, John Roberts and Joel Rosenman, Lang hosted the festival billed as “three days of peace and music” in the summer of 1969 as the Vietnam War raged and drove growing numbers of disgruntled young Americans. to turn away from mores traditions and adopted a lifestyle that celebrated freedom of expression.

About 450,000 people descended on the hamlet of Bethel and suffered from traffic jams of several kilometers, torrential rains, food shortages and overwhelmed sanitation facilities. Over 30 acts performed on the main stage of the concert at the foot of a hill on land owned by farmer Max Yasgur, and spectators were treated to iconic performances by artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana , The Who and Jefferson Airplane.

Lang, sporting a head of bushy brown hair, is seen throughout the 1970 Michael Wadleigh documentary film that chronicled the festival.

“From the start, I believed that if we did our job right and from the heart, set the stage and set the right tone, people would reveal their higher selves and create something amazing,” Lang wrote in his memoir, “The Road to Woodstock.

Although Woodstock is often seen as setting the model for large-scale music festivals, it was not the first to take place in the United States. follow-up, which Lang also arranged. But Woodstock nevertheless holds an indelible place in history.

The 1969 festival created “that hope for a better life – a better world, a more compassionate world, and it came at a time when things were very dark,” Lang said.

He described Woodstock as “kind of a miracle of sorts”.

“Half a million people came together, no one followed anyone, everyone came together as a community and family,” he said. “It was so different from what the human experience looks like, everyday experience. It was a moment of hope, something that proved it was possible – and that resonated.

“They come from a counter-culture very involved in trying to make the world a better place. It was a chance for all of us to see if this could happen when we were in charge – and it did. “

Rediscovering the magic of Woodstock

In the months leading up to the 2019 anniversary, Lang spoke about how the country’s political climate was reminiscent of 1969 and the value another Woodstock could have for society. Famous, Lang and his partners found Yasgur’s farm after the original festival site fell in Saugerties in March 1969, adding to the mystique of Woodstock as an entity capable of overcoming obstacles.

But repeated attempts to recapture this magic have proven impossible, in part due to the evolution of the modern music industry.

Woodstock ’94 in Saugerties hosted 350,000 people, 100,000 of which were free, and was perhaps the first indication of Woodstock’s struggles to find its place beyond 1969.

Woodstock ’99 took place five years later at Griffiss Air Force Base near Rome, New York. But, the event was marked by violence, fires and reports of assaults.

In 2009, Lang had hoped to host a Woodstock 40th anniversary concert in Prospect Park in Brooklyn. But the cost of hosting a free concert and the inability to find sponsors to cover the $ 8-10 million forced him to abandon the show.

Woodstock 50’s plans have changed several times: After failing to secure the necessary permits to hold the event at Watkins Glen International racetrack in Schuyler County, the town of Vernon rejected a hasty plan for the event takes place at Vernon Downs. It was ultimately canceled after a last-minute attempt at an event at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland.

Yet the memory of Woodstock and its ideals continues to resonate.

Contribution: The Poughkeepsie (New York) Journal and The Associated Press

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