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edge staff writer


This perfect place' Woodstock's Michael Lang looks back

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Forty five years ago this week, four very unlikely partners joined forces to stage what turned out to be the granddaddy of music festivals.

Michael Lang, whose previous festival experience included the Miami Pop Festival in 1968, became close friends with fellow Brooklyn native Artie Kornfeld, a Capitol Records producer and songwriter. The pair formed an alliance with two young businessmen (and aspiring TV script writers), John Roberts and Joel Rosenman.

The partners set out to build a recording studio in the small arts community of Woodstock, NY, designed to entice locals like Bob Dylan, The Band, Van Morrison, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix into becoming clients.

To fund the studio, they hatched a plan to stage a concert drawing upon Lang's festival experience. The event was to be billed as the 'Woodstock Music and Art Fair' with dates set for mid-August 1969.

Permits were granted to stage the show in nearby Wallkill. Lang estimated that 'maybe 50,000' would show. In a move that almost guaranteed an impressive lineup, the foursome agreed to pay acts more than they would get elsewhere. The first to sign on was Creedence Clearwater Revival, and the rest of the bill filled quickly.

On July 15, one month before the festival was scheduled to open, the Walkill permit was revoked after rumors began circulating that the town would be soon overrun by undesirables. 180,000 tickets had already been sold.

Enter Max Yasgur, whose 600-acre dairy farm in nearby Bethel became the ideal setting for the festival. Lang remembers the first time he saw it: 'We came up over a hill and there it was this perfect, perfect place.'

It's estimated that 500,000 attended the festival.

The movie deal for Woodstock was struck less than 24 hours before Richie Havens (the first to take the stage) started playing. Warner Bros. paid $100,000 for the film rights when they realized that that the event had the potential to be either a colossal rock disaster or a cultural landmark.

As Michael Lang explains in the following unpublished interview conducted on Woodstock's 40th anniversary in 2009, the fact that Woodstock happened at all is remarkable.

Dow: After you made the deal with Max to use his farm, were there any objections from townspeople in Bethel?

Lang: Not in the beginning. We arrived in Bethel and made a deal with Max. It was the 16th of July and the festival was set to start less than a month later. People (a crew of 1,000) worked 24/7 for the next month to make happen. Not just us. It was an amazing effort by so many people.

Max was the leading businessman in his community. A week after he made the deal with us people in the community started turning against him for bringing these hordes of hippies through their town. He really stood up for us. He was an amazing human being.

Dow: I've seen the movie so many times and still get choked up when I see Max take the stage to address the crowd. It was such a great moment.

Lang: It was an amazing moment. You know, he had a bad heart and this was a big thing for his family. I was really concerned about him. I called him to tell him that I was putting another three miles of roads across his alfalfa fields. His wife said, 'Give him another half hour in the oxygen tent before you come.' He was extraordinary.

Dow: It is true that you spoke to Bob Dylan about playing the festival?

Lang: I did. I didn't book Bob because he was very much against the image of being the guru of a generation. I definitely wanted him to be there, so I went and spent the afternoon with him to try to get him to come by, sort of unannounced, to play.

Dow: I also read that you asked John Lennon to appear at Woodstock. Is that true?

Lang: I did, and he wanted to but was having problems with our government letting him into the country. We spent a lot of time trying to make that happen. Apple Records actually sent me a letter saying that they would like to send the Plastic Ono Band and James Taylor as a consolation. Unfortunately the letter arrived the day that we lost our permit in Wallkill and it stayed on my desk until sometime after the festival and I never got to it. That would have been great.

Dow: I've always wondered how you powered the event. Did you use big generators?

Lang: Yes we did. Actually we brought power to the site from about eight miles away from a big power station, but we didn't use it for the stage. You never do that. If something goes down on the grid, you're screwed. You really need independent power to run your PA.

Dow: There have been attempts to recapture Woodstock's magic many times since the original festival. Kids dream about what it must have been like to have been there. Why do you think there will never be another Woodstock?

Lang: I think it's because you can neverexactlyrecapture a moment in time. It's like trying to step twice into the same river you can't do it. Things move on. Times change and circumstances change. I think that emotion can be recaptured. Things were not looking good at that time. Many groups were turning violent and then along comes Woodstock and this sort of moment of 'Wow, we really can get along' happened. I think that those kinds of moments can be recreated you just can't copy them.

Michael Lang and Joel Rosenman, still partners in Woodstock Ventures, are reportedly in the early stages of planning a 50thanniversary Woodstock festival for 2019. Lang says he stays in close contact with Artie Kornfeld. John Roberts died of cancer in 2001.

'The Big Morning Show with Mike Dow' can be heard on Big 104 FM The Biggest Hits of the '60s, '70s & '80s - airing on 104.7 (Bangor/Belfast), 104.3 (Augusta/Waterville) and 107.7 (Bar Harbor)


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