(New York Jewish Week via JTA) — Michael Lang, the Jewish co-creator of the legendary 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Fair, died Saturday at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital in Manhattan. He was 77 years old.
The cause, according to a family spokesperson, was a rare form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
A concert promoter who was only 24 at the time, he was one of many Jewish collaborators who ensured that this generational landmark festival, billed as “Three Days of Peace and Music,” location. Other key players include music manager and promoter Artie Kornfeld — another Brooklyn-born Jew — and businessman Joel Rosenman, a Jew from Long Island.
Perhaps most notably, when initial plans to hold the festival in Woodstock, NY fell apart, Max Yasgur, a Jewish dairy farmer from Bethel, NY, offered his land. Yet another Brooklyn-born Jew, Elliot Tiber, whose parents owned a motel in the area, wrote a memoir about the time period saying he helped Lang land in the new place, though other accounts differ. . Ang Lee adapted Tiber’s memoir for the 2009 film “Taking Woodstock”, with Jonathan Groff playing Lang.
Although organizers expected a crowd of 50,000, the famous Woodstock festival drew an estimated 400,000 people to Yasgur Farm between August 15 and 18, 1969. The performers were a veritable “who’s who” of greatest rock bands at the time, among them with the Grateful Dead, Santana, Janis Joplin, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Joan Baez, The Who, the supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Jimi Hendrix, the closest to the festival .
In his book, “The Road to Woodstock,” Lang credits his Jewish parents, who were small business owners, with teaching him the skills he needed to organize an event of such magnitude. His father, he says, “always taught me to be independent. It was his thing – just deal with it. Very early on, he gave me a strategy to get out of difficult situations: take matters into your own hands and keep moving forward. Step back just enough to think clearly and trust your instincts. That’s how he handled things, and that would serve me well.
Lang was born in 1944 in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. He briefly attended New York University before dropping out and opening a main store in Miami selling cannabis paraphernalia, apparently using the money he saved from his bar mitzvah. He then became a concert organizer, participating in the organization of the Miami Pop Festival in 1968.
The following year, Lang returned to New York and was inspired to create the Woodstock extravaganza.
Aside from the world-class music, the festival became equally iconic for its bad weather and heavy traffic, which according to the Daily News at the time was “the biggest traffic jam in Catskills history”.
Yet, despite the mud and food shortages, a spirit of unity reigned among the participants. “Your growers have done a tremendous job making sure you’re taken care of…they would appreciate a vote of thanks,” Farmer Yasgur told the sodden crowd on day three. “But beyond that, the important thing that you have proven to the world is that half a million children – and I call you children because I have children older than you – half a million young people can get together and have three days of fun and music and nothing but fun and music, and me – God bless you for that!
Lang’s involvement with Woodstock spanned decades: he produced the Woodstock ’94 festival and the ill-fated Woodstock ’99, which was marred by violence, sexual assault and six-figure temperatures. Lang had also hoped to produce Woodstock 50, a 2019 festival in honor of the 50th anniversary of the original concert, but various legal and venue issues meant that it never took off.
Following the cancellation of Woodstock 50, Rolling Stone asked Lang if he was concerned about tarnishing Woodstock’s legacy. “It’s not something I consider,” he said in 2019. “What we did in 1969 was 1969 and that’s what lasted and will continue to last. We’re not going away. .
The message Michael Lang, Jewish organizer of the Woodstock festival, who died at 77, first appeared on the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.