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The Road to Woodstock: From the Man Behind the Legendary Festival

By Michael Lang
With Holly George-Warren

David Browne Aug 25, 2009
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Michael Lang still remembers plenty about planning and organising rock’s most iconic festival 40 years ago. As he recounts in his new memoir, The Road to Woodstock, Lang, now 64, met with a curious and noncommittal Bob Dylan (who ultimately didn’t show), begged Richie Havens to open the three days of music and paid a woman $100 a week to light incense in the festival’s offices. Lang remembers the tensions that grew between him and his partners (Joel Rosenman, John Roberts and Artie Kornfeld), and wrangling with Jimi Hendrix’s handlers, who demanded $30,000 ”“ the most of any act. That pound of cocaine donated to the crew on the first morning? Yes, Lang remembers ”“ and “no, it was not filmed,” he says, laughing.

But Lang ”“ who, post-Woodstock, ran a small record label, organised the Woodstock festivals in 1994 and 1999, and currently operates a film-and-event-production company ”“ had completely blanked on other key moments, which only returned to him when he and co-author Holly George-Warren began the two-year process of writing the book. Lang had forgotten that Jim Morrison passed on Lang’s invitation to play the festival for fear of being assassinated onstage, and that the Moody Blues had pulled out at the last minute due to problems finishing their fifth album. In his Woodstock, New York, office, Lang found a letter from the Beatles’ label, Apple Corps, informing him that John Lennon couldn’t make the fest due to the 1968 drug bust that prevented him from coming to America. Instead, James Taylor was offered. “We were in panic mode, so I never saw it until it was too late,” says Lang.

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Although he contributed to a photo-heavy 1979 book about the festival, Lang had avoided a full-on memoir for the past four decades: “I forced it away. You either put it away, or it can really dominate what you do for your life.” But after numerous other published accounts, Lang wanted to have his say. To jog his memory, he and former Rolling Stone editor George-Warren relied on interviews with musicians and co-workers, and documentation from his files; audiotapes of the festival confirmed who played when.

Lang is also savoring the festival’s anniversary. “The world has come around again to where the story may have some relevance,” he says. “Woodstock came at a really dark moment in America: an unpopular war, an unresponsive government, human-rights issues. Things were starting to edge toward violence. And along came Woodstock, this moment of hope. That’s how I see the Obama inauguration.”

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