Goodbye to the man who brought us Woodstock

Goodbye to the man who brought us Woodstock

Michael Lang is at a celebration of the 40th anniversary of Woodstock in 2009.  (Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
Michael Lang is at a celebration of the 40th anniversary of Woodstock in 2009. (Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

Michael Lang, the Jewish co-creator of 1969’s legendary Woodstock Music and Art Fair, died on Saturday at 77.

The cause, according to a family spokesperson, was a rare form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

A concert promoter who was just 24 at the time, he was one of several Jewish collaborators who made the generation-defining festival, billed as “Three Days of Peace and Music,” happen. Other key players included music executive and promoter Artie Kornfeld — another Brooklyn-born Jew — and businessman Joel Rosenman, a Jew from Long Island.

Perhaps most notably, when the initial plans to hold the festival in Woodstock fell apart, Max Yasgur, a Jewish dairy farmer in nearby Bethel, offered his land. Yet another Brooklyn-born Jew, Elliot Tiber, whose parents owned a motel in the area, wrote a memoir about the period saying he helped Lang land the new venue, although other accounts differ. Ang Lee adapted Tiber’s memoir for the 2009 film “Taking Woodstock”; in that movie, Jonathan Groff played Lang.

Though the organizers had expected a crowd of 50,000, the Woodstock festival famously drew an estimated 400,000 people to Yasgur’s farm between Aug. 15 and 18, 1969. The performers were a veritable who’s who of rocks’ biggest acts at the time, including the Grateful Dead, Santana, Janis Joplin, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Joan Baez, the Who, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and festival-closer Jimi Hendrix.

In his book “The Road to Woodstock,” Lang credited his Jewish parents, who were small-business owners, with teaching him the skills he needed to pull off an event of such scale. His father, he said, “always taught me to be self-reliant. That was his thing — just take care of it. Early on, he gave me a strategy for getting out of tough situations: take charge and keep moving. Step back just enough to think clearly, and trust your instincts. That’s how he dealt with things, and this would serve me well.”

Lang was born in 1944 in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. He briefly attended New York University before he dropped out and opened a head shop in Miami selling cannabis paraphernalia, reportedly using money he saved from his bar mitzvah. He then became a concert promoter, helping to organize the 1968 Miami Pop Festival.

The next year, Lang returned to New York and was inspired to create the Woodstock extravaganza.

Lang’s involvement with Woodstock endured for decades. He produced the Woodstock ’94 festival and the ill-fated Woodstock ’99, which was marred by violence, sexual assault, and temperatures that ran into three digits. Lang also had hoped to produce Woodstock 50, a 2019 festival in honor of the original concert’s 50th anniversary, but various legal and venue issues meant that it never got off the ground.

After Woodstock 50 was canceled, Rolling Stone asked Lang if he worried about tarnishing Woodstock’s legacy. “It’s not something I consider,” he said in 2019. “What we did in 1969 was in 1969 and that’s what has endured and will continue to endure. We’re not going away.”

Jewish Telegraphic Agency

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