The Road To Woodstock
One of Woodstock’s creators looks back on the festival’s 40th anniversary.
The 40th anniversary of the Woodstock festival has brought with it a bounty of books from those who organized it, attended it, wished they hadn’t attended it, or missed it altogether. If your local bookstore resembles mine, a display table of Woodstock memorabilia, including DVDs, coffee mugs, and posters, competes for space with eight new books on Woodstock published within the last few months.Skip to next paragraph
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Even for those like myself who actually remember trekking the long and winding road to the festival, this dizzying display of marketing “peace and love” can seem bewildering. But then again, Woodstock itself was confusing. Without even counting the reunions (concerts repeated in 1994 and 1999 under the moniker of “Woodstock”), it’s unclear whether the original 1969 event was really a single happening. Or was it instead, simultaneously, a rock music festival, a countercultural party, a political protest, a free-love carnival, a psychedelic drug expo, the world’s largest improvised town meeting – or something more?
Purporting to sort it all out for us is The Road To Woodstock, the memoir (as told to and transcribed by Holly George-Warren) of Michael Lang, one of the 1969 Woodstock festival’s cocreators.
The jacket copy of “The Road to Woodstock” calls Lang “the man who started it all.” Some of Lang’s partners might take issue with that claim. But publishers’ marketing copy aside, Lang does reveal himself in “The Road to Woodstock” as an extraordinarily convincing capitalist of a particular flavor. Relying on direct quotes from many of the key Woodstock organizers as well as musicians and their managers, a portrait emerges of Lang as an extraordinary trickster, a character as large and charming as Melville’s “Confidence-Man.”
Miriam Yasgur, wife of Max Yasgur, whose farm made the event possible, sketches this portrait of Lang: “It takes Michael about fifteen or twenty minutes to charm you, and having spoken to him for a while, he really put us at ease. He explained the way it was going to be, and he made it sound like everything was going to be so simple and not anything that big. He has a way of ingratiating himself – I think he’s a born con man. Even though you know you’re being ‘had,’ you can’t help but like him.”
Lang presents himself, however, as the loftiest of idealists: “For me, Woodstock was a test of whether people of our generation really believed in one another and the world we were struggling to create.” At least that’s how he opens his memoir.