Michael Lang: Woodstock Co-Creator & Producer
Historic gatherings of unseen magnitudes aren’t a completely random occurrence or string of events. Concert promoter and co-founder of Woodstock 1969 Michael Lang is known for being one of the persevering spirits behind one of the largest gathering of musicians, fans, and artists in history.
Lang, the concert promoter and former head shop owner had experienced great success with the Miami Pop Festival, which up until Woodstock a year later, was the largest music festival of the time. It seemed that every concert that Lang touched oozed large attendances and commercial success. The idea for a music festival was conceived after Lang met Artie Kornfeld soon following his move to New York from Florida. Lang got an appointment with Kornfeld who was the vice president of Capitol Records by mentioning growing up in the same neighborhood. After the first meeting, the two became close friends and Lang moved in with Kornfeld and his wife.
Lang and Kornfeld teamed up with Joel Rosenman and John Roberts who were in charge of the finances behind the operation. The company was called Woodstock Ventures Inc., and the profits were split four ways among the founders. Rosenman and Roberts settled on the idea that they would throw a party and use the profits gathered to finance a studio in the Woodstock area, which had become the center of the folk music culture. The company could not have imagined the response that their party would generate or its historical notoriety as being one of the largest blowouts of all time. The initial site for the Woodstock concert was Mills Industrial Park in Wallkill, NY, but the permit was rejected on the grounds that the portable toilets would not meet town code. After being denied by Wallkill, Lang was contacted by the owner of the El Monaco Motel named Elliot Tiber who already possessed permits to hold performances in White Lake, NY.
Tiber suggested the festival be held on the 15 acre property surrounding the El Monaco. Lang explained that 15 acres simply wouldn’t be enough to accommodate the foreseen 50,000 people who were expected to attend the concert and turned down the offer. The panicked Tiber in an attempt to save the life of the quickly declining El Monaco explained that his friend and milkman, Max Yasgur, may allow the concert to be held on his 600 acre dairy farm. Yasgur agreed, and the Woodstock vision was made a reality.
The Woodstock concert was billed as “An Aquarian Exposition” in order to appeal to their free minded target audience. The title was a reference to the astrological connection contained in the Broadway play “Hair” which had been a recent mark of the counterculture. The mention of art as well as music described on the legendary Woodstock poster offered an element to the concert which expanded beyond the bounds of a regular concert during the period. The company decided on the slogan “Three Days of Peace and Music” to describe the Woodstock event.
Woodstock was initially designed as a profit driven endeavor with 186,000 tickets being sold at $18 apiece. The concert was ultimately made into a free concert before the show opened in light of crowds greatly exceeding the expected 200,000 guests. The announcement and deliberate tearing down of the surrounding fence symbolized the ideals of peace and freedom associated with the event that became iconic within the music world. Lang’s vision, through a series of random and unlikely events had been manifested and engraved into the history of music and American culture.
Lang still lives in the Woodstock area with his family and oversees the production of current and future Woodstock related entertainment. The Michael Lang Organization has also worked with artists such as Prince, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bruce Springsteen, Snoop Dogg, Outkast, and Avril Lavigne. Michael Lang will be played by actor Jonathan Groff in the upcoming film “Taking Woodstock” to be released in the Summer of 2009.