Woodstock Impresario Michael Lang Dead at 77


Michael Lang, the concert impresario who helped conceive the landmark, generation-defining 1969 music festival Woodstock, died Saturday night at Sloan Kettering hospital in New York. He was 77.

Michael Pagnotta, a rep for Lang and longtime family friend, confirmed the promoter’s death to Rolling Stone, adding that the cause was a rare form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Alongside businessmen John Roberts and Joel Rosenman and music industry promoter Artie Kornfeld, Lang, who had previously promoted the 1968 Miami Pop festival, co-created the Woodstock Music and Art Fair the following year. Famously billed as “Three Days of Peace and Music,” the upstate New York festival drew up to 400,000 people to Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel, NY and featured dozens of rock’s biggest names, including Santana, Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Who, Jimi Hendrix and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

Lang was only 24 when he helped conceive the festival, which would go on to become a massively influential counterculture touchstone, thanks in part to a documentary on the event released the following year. Over the years, Lang’s name became synonymous with the Woodstock brand, as the promoter helped helm subsequent iterations of the festival in 1994 and 1999. (When Pollstar asked Lang in 2019 what it’s like to be the “Woodstock poster child for eternity,” he replied, “Life is full of experiences, and not everything works out. But you keep trying or nothing works out … That’s always been my attitude.”) A 50th anniversary concert in 2019 was mired in controversy and legal issues and was canceled before it could go on.

Lang, a native New Yorker, moved to Coconut Grove, FL in the late 1960s and opened a head shop. “The climate is perfect, people are into a stimulating variety of artistic things and there was no place for them to get together,” Lang said in author Ellen Sanders’ 1973 book Trips: Rock Life in the Sixties. He applied that same ethos to music festivals, starting with the Miami Pop fest in May 1968. The festival, attended by 25,000 people, featured sets by Jimi Hendrix, John Lee Hooker, Chuck Berry and the Mothers of Invention, among others.

After moving back to New York, Lang met Kornfeld, then a vice president of Capitol Records, and started Woodstock Ventures with Roberts and Rosenman. After a series of planned locations fell through, the quartet was famously able to organize the festival at the 600-acre farm of Max Yasgur, a dairy farmer in Bethel, NY immortalized in Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s 1970 hit “Woodstock.” in 2004, the event earned a spot on Rolling Stone‘s “50 Moments That Changed the History of Rock and Roll.”

“We thought we were all individual, scattered hippies,” David Crosby told Rolling Stone in 2004. “When we got there, we said, ‘Wait a minute, this is a lot bigger than we thought.’ We flew in there by helicopter and saw the New York State Thruway at a dead stop for 20 miles and a gigantic crowd of at least half a million people. You couldn’t really wrap your mind around how many people were there. It had never happened before, and it was sort of like having aliens land.”

“It was incredible,” added Carlos Santana. “I’ll never forget the way the music sounded bouncing up against a field of bodies.”

This story is developing…

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