Tags: Lang | Woodstock | Havens | NY

Michael Lang Remembers Woodstock

By    |   Thursday, 28 August 2014 07:39 AM

The late 1960s were a tumultuous period marked by riots and political assassinations. This writer attended as one of a handful of conservative delegates the 1967 congress of the left-wing National Student Association, which featured several people who became political stars and served as the spawning ground for the "Dump Johnson" movement at a meeting presided over by the legendary Rep. Allard Lowenstein, D-N.Y.

A strange link between this event and Woodstock was a performance by folk singer Richie Havens. This writer was singularly unimpressed, and readers can follow the link below to see an example to illustrate that almost anyone can sing better in the shower than Richie Havens could. However, it was Havens' performance as the lead act at Woodstock that made him famous and a sought-after performer even for corporate commercials.

This article will serve mainly to introduce readers to Michael Lang, the impresario who conceived and organized the concert that became Woodstock. In 2009 he appeared at the Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, Vt., to talk about his book, The Road to Woodstock: From the Man Behind the Legendary Festival, written with Holly Green-Warren, who also chimed in with anecdotes and responded to questions with Lang. C-SPAN's BookTV recently replayed the event.

The overall impression will probably be different from the popular image of an enterprise that was totally out of control. Lang explained that once he decided that his education was over, he established a head shop in Coconut Grove, Fla., and became involved in the local concert scene promoting concerts with attendance of a maximum of 20,000 to 40,000 at Gulfstream Park with Jimi Hendrix as the headline act.

Contacts in the arts and real estate communities piqued Lang's interest in exploring the possibilities New York could offer, and he migrated to the arts community there. Lang worked with local realtors to determine what might be available in Ulster County, N.Y., which was known as a hospitable environment for artists of all kinds. He was looking for a field that could accommodate up to 200,000 people for three days. In each case, the closer he got to finalizing arrangements, the more determined local authorities became to thwart his plans until the local officials enacted ordinances with which he could not comply.

Eventually, through perseverance and a change in luck, Lang and his colleagues found the perfect spot available for rent, and they proceeded to put several hundred technicians to work in order to bring the necessary utilities to the site. From the outset the group tried to establish an ethic of accommodation, so that people would feel welcome and would willingly share their resources so everyone could make it through the weekend.

In reality the turnout far exceeded expectations as half a million fans showed up, tying up the highways. Performers, as well as fans, were delayed by hours, so Havens had to hold the stage for three hours, thus establishing himself as a folk hero. In fact, 150,000 elaborately printed and illustrated programs were delayed until the final day.

While the event was a fabulous creative success, financially it was a near disaster, as Lang and his backers ended up $1.2 million in debt. Lang suffered the fate of so many start-up enterprises, as thin financing left his group unable to hold on to its interest long enough to reap the rewards of all their work. The recording and film rights turned out to be valuable properties that produced $80 million to $90million for Warner Brothers.

(Archived video can be found here. A representative performance of Richie Havens is here.)

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The late 1960s were a tumultuous period marked by riots and political assassinations. This writer attended as one of a handful of conservative delegates the 1967 congress of the left-wing National Student Association.
Lang, Woodstock, Havens, NY
Thursday, 28 August 2014 07:39 AM
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