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The Road To Woodstock

One of Woodstock’s creators looks back on the festival’s 40th anniversary.

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The shift from the generational “we” to “I” follows soon. Lang tells of his early success as an entrepreneur running a shop selling countercultural paraphernalia (pipes, papers, posters) that evolved into producing successful outdoor concerts with big-name rock bands in the Coconut Grove, Fla., area. Any number of potentially dangerous disorderly situations were apparently defused by Lang’s unflappable nature and his cool demeanor, characteristics that served him well at the Woodstock festival. Although clearly a great music fan, Lang explains few of the reasons for his musical predilections and devotions.

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He fast-forwards his narrative as he moves from Florida to Woodstock, an small, upstate, New York town with a long bohemian history. Lang’s timing for his move was astute. Woodstock was in the process of reconstituting itself as a haven for highly accomplished rock innovators like Bob Dylan, The Band, and Jimi Hendrix.

There he met Artie Kornfeld, head of A&R at Capitol Records, a kind of hip capitalist not unlike Lang, but with considerably more money and connections in the music industry. The two formed a friendship with young venture capitalists Joel Rosenman and John Roberts. These four became the nucleus of the leadership that made the Woodstock festival a reality. (Ironically the festival was actually held a 40-minute drive from Woodstock in Bethel, N.Y.)

Lang’s account of the three-day event does suggest that he was the “mastermind and creative genius” who faced all the unforeseen events associated with Woodstock (countless bad drug trips among the half-million crowd, lack of food and sanitation, etc.) and kept everything working. Whether you believe this or not, Lang’s relationship with his three key partners has been contested in print and through the media in the years following Woodstock.

If you crave more information about Woodstock after reading Lang’s book (and you probably will), I would recommend Pete Fornatale’s “Back to the Garden: The Story of Woodstock.” The book offers what Fornatale cleverly identifies as “the Rashoman effect” (named for a Japanese film where a crime is described through a dozen different narrators), a very broad spectrum of completely different, even contradictory perspectives on Woodstock, offered by organizers, performers, and attendants.

Whatever the Woodstock festival meant, it was too capacious for even the trickiest mastermind to narrate fairly on his own.

Norman Weinstein, who writes about arts and culture for the Monitor, is the author of a forthcoming biography of Carlos Santana.

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