July 20th, 2009 – Former headshop owner Michael Lang had scant promotional experience when he dreamed up Woodstock as a massive festival different from anything before it. As this memoir released 40 years later makes clear, it’s a wonder that Woodstock even happened at all.
Lang and his partners were kicked out of the initial concert site at the last minute, sending Lang scrambling through nearby Sullivan County to look for an emergency replacement. He found a gently sloping hay field owned by dairy farmer Max Yasgur who, luckily for Lang, was a friendly sort eager to accept these long-haired kids.
Meanwhile, renowned promoter Bill Graham, not wanting the competition, threatened to shut Woodstock down. Yippie leader Abbie Hoffman did too, unless Lang and his partners coughed up $20,000 for leftist activities. The promoters gave him $10,000.
Hoffman went on to spend nights leading up to the concert taking down newly installed fences. His Woodstock adventure ended abruptly when he tried to make an announcement during the Who’s set and Pete Townshend whacked him on the head with his guitar. This is an oft-told tale, but Lang keeps it interesting with insider’s tidbits.
The original plan was to have off-duty New York City cops wear pith helmets and provide security before the police commissioner forbade it.
Richie Havens didn’t want to open the concert — his enduring claim to fame — because he feared the crowd would throw beer cans at him.
Lang not only failed to land Bob Dylan, but also Roy Rogers.
He wanted the cowboy crooner to sing “Happy Trails” at the end of the concert (yes, he would have followed Jimi Hendrix’s The Star-Spangled Banner.)
Lang, who wrote the book with Holly George-Warren, comes off in this book as a pleasant hippie hustler, unflappable in the face of looming disasters. His narrative is broken up throughout the book with brief testimonies from other people involved with Woodstock.
Some of the interviews with long-dead participants like the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia are years old. And about half read like filler. There are great stories in there, though, like the high school kids who pretended they were rock stars to get choppered into the concert over the hopelessly clogged roads.
The best part of the book is Lang’s blow-by-blow account of watching all his carefully laid plans go south in spectacular fashion over the weekend of the concert. There were too many people, too few roads, too much rain, no fence, no ticket takers.
It could have been an unmitigated disaster, but Lang and his 400,000-plus guests decided to roll with it, assuring Woodstock a spot in history. By MICHAEL HILL. Source.