The Road to Woodstock

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Overview

August 15, 1969. Richie Havens, the first act of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, takes the stage and welcomes a crowd of several hundred thousand to the green fields of Max Yasgur's farm -- which is quickly becoming the second-largest city in New York State. People are dancing, imbibing, meeting, and helping the ever-increasing stream of new neighbors set up camp. Beyond the fields, the roads are jammed with cars and people, some of whom have been traveling for days to reach the festival site. Havens ...
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Overview

August 15, 1969. Richie Havens, the first act of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, takes the stage and welcomes a crowd of several hundred thousand to the green fields of Max Yasgur's farm -- which is quickly becoming the second-largest city in New York State. People are dancing, imbibing, meeting, and helping the ever-increasing stream of new neighbors set up camp. Beyond the fields, the roads are jammed with cars and people, some of whom have been traveling for days to reach the festival site. Havens enthusiastically delivers folk-blues standards and Beatles songs, then begins to improvise, riffing on the refrain "Freedom." Freedom is at the heart of the harmony of this landmark cultural event -- along with brotherhood, love, and peace. The next three days are the realization of months and years of dreaming and planning, the result of miracles and crises and coincidences.

The story of the festival begins with Michael Lang, a kid out of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, who liked to smoke a joint and listen to jazz and who eventually found his way to Florida, where he opened a head shop and produced his first festival -- Miami Pop, featuring Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, and others. In the late sixties, after settling in Woodstock, he began to envision a music and arts festival where folks could come and stay for a few days amid the rural beauty of upstate New York. The idea crystallized when Lang talked it over with Artie Kornfeld, a songwriter and A & R man, and with two other young men they formed Woodstock Ventures. They booked talent, from Janis Joplin and the Who to the virtually unknown Santana and Crosby, Stills and Nash; won over agents and promoters; brought in the Hog Farm commune to set up campgrounds; hired a peacekeeping force; took on fleets of volunteers; appeased the Yippies; and were run out of one town and found another site weeks before the festival.

On the ground with the talent, the townspeople, and his handpicked crew, Lang had a unique and panoramic perspective of the festival. Enhanced by interviews with others who were central to the making of the festival, The Road to Woodstock tells the story from inspiration to celebration, capturing all the magic, mayhem, and mud in between.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Michael Lang began his career running a head shop in Coconut Grove, Florida, but he went on to much bigger things. Much, much bigger things. As the mastermind co-producer behind Woodstock, Lang left a deep mark in music history, not to mention the muddy fields of Bethel, New York. In The Road to Woodstock, he comes clean about his part in an event that germinated far beyond anyone's expectations. An eyewitness to mind-blowing history.
Publishers Weekly
For three days in August 1969, half a million music lovers happily braved torrential rains, endured lack of food and clean water, and grooved to the cosmic blues of the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin, danced all night to the funky soul of Sly and the Family Stone and witnessed the birth of a new band called Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Held at Max Yasgur's dairy farm in Bethel, N.Y., the first Aquarian Exposition, or the Woodstock Music & Art Fair, grew far beyond the expectations of its creators. In this lively memoir, Lang, one of the festival's cocreators, retells the story—some of it already well-known—of the halting steps that he and his partners took to develop the greatest rock concert of all time. After a stint at NYU, Lang moved to Coconut Grove, where he opened a head shop and, with the help of some of his friends, organized Miami Pop in 1968, one of the first outdoor music festivals drawing major acts. Burned out on Miami, Lang headed to Woodstock, N.Y., to settle into the bohemian community of artists and craftsmen, and opened a recording studio. With a storyteller's verve and energy, Lang regales us with the tales of struggles with smalltown political leaders who opposed the festival, the kindness of Max Yasgur and the gargantuan task of feeding and taking care of a community the size of a large city. With the gritty insights of the ultimate insider, Lang weaves interviews with performers and others into his memoir, providing a glimpse of the madness, frustration, happiness and sheer euphoria that turned Woodstock into a memorable music festival. (July)
Library Journal

With George-Warren (Grateful Dead 365), Lang, the coproducer and copromoter of the August 1969 Woodstock Music & Art Festival, shares his experiences orchestrating the iconic event. After reminiscing about his childhood, he describes his role in organizing the first Miami Pops Festival and then turns to his idea of a countercultural celebration in upstate New York. The author portrays the people who formed the nucleus of the Woodstock effort as well as his negotiations with artists, promoters, and filmmakers by interspersing quotes from festival personnel and musicians with his narrative. Though Lang's descriptions of outfitting Max Yasgur's farm with portable toilets, plumbing, and electricity become somewhat tiring, his fond memories of the adrenaline rush of multitasking to meet a deadline for several hundred thousand youths energize these pages. He spends the last quarter of the book reliving the three days of music at Woodstock through his and others' stories and anecdotes. Commemorating the 40th anniversary of the most notable rock festival of the 1960s, this book will be enjoyed by both the general public and music fans.
—Dave Szatmary

Kirkus Reviews
Totally rocking firsthand account of Woodstock, "a test of whether people of our generation really believed in one another and the world we were struggling to create."In addition to providing an engaging record of the sights and sounds of the festival, Lang offers an in-depth look at the business behind the creation and execution of the event that all but defined the late 1960s. Now considered to be among the most innovative promoters of pop-culture events, Lang was a wide-eyed, just-out-of-NYU idealist who, until 1969, had put together a handful of concerts and exactly one major festival. But he was-and probably still is-the kind of guy who, once he sets his mind to it, could get anything done. The author is a generous raconteur with a good memory for specifics, but what elevates this book above the level of most rock memoirs is the inclusion of voices other than Lang's-including scenesters and key Woodstock players like Jimi Hendrix, Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, Jerry Garcia, Abbie Hoffman, John Sebastian, Greil Marcus and Wavy Gravy. "The full story stretches from Brooklyn, to Greenwich Village, to Coconut Grove, and finally to upstate New York," writes the author, "encompassing the individual and collective experiences of those three days and nights."Well-written, informative and tons of fun, Lang's book will be appreciated by rockers and musicologists of all ages. Northeast regional author appearances
Richmond Times-Dispatch
“There are plenty of juicy tidbits in “The Road to Woodstock,” starting with the compelling opening of Lang sharing his backstage view of Hendrix’s sizzling performance at the rain-soaked end of the festival.”
New York Post
“The shelf of books about Woodstock is groaning, but Lang’s is the best fly-on-the-wall account, tantamount to having had a backstage pass to an iconic event.”
USA Today
“Invaluable…[Lang] wraps up his cinematic reminiscing by taking a seminal thread from Woodstock’s history—Jimi Hendrix’s breathtaking interpretation of The Star Spangled Banner—and linking its poignancy to what some have called the 21st century Woodstock moment: the day Barack Obama became the first black president.”
New York Times Book Review
“Lang, one of Woodstock’s organizers, provides details about how the production was put together and kept running. His account is interspersed with interviews with performers and others, including, perhaps most interestingly, Hugh Romney, aka Wavy Gravy, of the Hog Farm, whose group provided order, reassurance and, as we know, granola.”
Carlos Santana
“At Woodstock I saw a collective adventure representing something that still holds true today. When the Berlin Wall came down, Woodstock was there. When Mandela was liberated, Woodstock was in there. When we celebrated the year 2000, Woodstock was in there. Woodstock is still every day.”
Terry Stewart
“Reading this inimitable account of how Woodstock really came to passmakes the Manhattan Project seem like whippin’ up one of my mom’s custard pies....[This book] he and Holly George-Warrenwill knock you out and once again make you wish that you were there.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061576553
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/30/2009
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 545,863
  • Product dimensions: 6.34 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.24 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Lang

Michael Lang has produced festivals in East Berlin, the concert at the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Woodstock '94, and Woodstock '99, among many other events worldwide. He is the head of the Michael Lang Organization, producing live events; is a partner in Woodstock Ventures; and, with Sam Nappi, runs Harmony Entertainment, producing film and theater. He lives in upstate New York.

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Read an Excerpt

The Road to Woodstock

Chapter One

Brooklyn

Sitting in the dark, smoky Five Spot club on the Bowery, in lower Manhattan, I watch John Coltrane travel out to the edge with his music. There is no net. He's trying to see where it all goes—letting it happen to him, his sax following what's inside him. He doesn't worry about where the music takes him or what's ahead. Knowing there's danger there, yet somehow it's going to be okay, that there's something incredibly exciting about being out there on that edge: It's the place to be. For me, as a sixteen-year-old kid from Brooklyn, this is a totally new concept. The idea of not having to stay within a form or follow the rules, but to improvise, work from internal inspiration, will serve as my own noninstruction instruction book.

Growing up in Bensonhurst in the late forties and fifties, I was surrounded by Jewish and Italian families. My parents, Harry and Sylvia Lang, were of Eastern European descent, and we lived modestly, like other middle-class families in the neighborhood. My father ran his own business, Lang Engineering, installing heating systems, and my mother kept the books. He was an inventor, and in his youth, my father designed a ballast system for navy submarines and a system to remove pollutants from smoke generated by coal-burning power plants. I always felt he would have led a really adventurous life if my older sister, Iris, and I hadn't come along.

My father always taught me to be self-reliant. That was his thing—just take care of it, no matter what. Early on, he gave me a strategy for getting out of tough situations: Take charge and keep moving; step back just enoughto think clearly; and trust your instincts. That's how he dealt with things, and this would serve me well.

From the very beginning, my parents took on side ventures, with varying degrees of success, the coolest of which was a Latin nightclub on the Upper West Side called the Spotlight Club. In the 1950s, the mambo was king and musicians from Puerto Rico and Cuba drew big crowds. The Spotlight Club was a long, dark room with a bar spanning one wall, a large dance floor in the back, and a bandstand at the end of the bar. During the day, the interior looked pretty sad, but at night it was all sparkle and glamour. Downstairs, a huge basement ran the length of the place, and there the great bandleader Tito Puente stored some of his drums. Known as El Rey, he pop-u-lar-ized the Latin music that would become known as salsa. I was only eleven or twelve and had just started playing drums myself when I met El Rey at the Spotlight Club. Handsome, with jet black hair, he encouraged me to play and even let me pound out a few rhythms on his set. In those years, one of his most pop-u-lar numbers was "Oye Como Va"—which, a decade later, would become a hit for Santana after they performed at Woodstock.

The early rock and roll that emerged when I was a kid—Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bill Haley and the Comets' "Rock Around the Clock"—made a big impression on me, as did the movie Blackboard Jungle, which introduced the song. Street-corner harmonizing was pop-u-lar around my neighborhood, and I played stickball with a fantastic doo-wop singer who lived down the block.The only one in my family to play an instrument, I was twelve when I joined a rock and roll band. It meant lugging my drum kit up endless flights of steps to perform at glamorous hot spots like the Jewish Community -House on Bay Parkway. But it gave me a glimpse of the thrill that comes from connecting through music. I also played drums in the school band at Sethlow Ju-nior High. Marching and uniforms -were not for me, though. The first time I paraded with the school band on St. Patrick's Day, down Fifth Avenue, I took a quick left turn on Sixtieth Street and never looked back. That was my first and last parade.

Every summer, I'd go to camp in Sullivan County, ninety miles north of New York City, in the Catskill Mountains. I liked being out in nature, especially on horse-back. My last year of camp, when I was eleven, I convinced a lazy stable hand to let me tend the -horses and take campers on trail rides for him. He gave me a gorgeous paint named Bobby for the summer. Riding him bareback at a full gallop was the epitome of freedom. That summer, I also had my first-ever sexual encounter, in the barn with one of the counselors-in-training.

In the winter, our family would road-trip to Miami and in the fall head north to Canada, catching the changing of the leaves along the way. My parents loved taking Iris and me on these long drives. I shared my father's love of driving and he started showing me the ropes when I was ten or eleven. The day I got my learner's permit, he took me to Midtown Manhattan and made me drive home to Brooklyn through insane traffic. Soon after passing the driver's test, I bought a motorcycle. I was a little nuts. I'd lie down on the seat, which cuts the wind resistance, then open it up on the Belt Parkway. After a couple of years, I stopped riding on the street because I knew I'd kill myself, but the rush I got from racing was like an out-of-body experience, and it was a feeling I was always trying to recapture.

Not long after I turned fourteen, my friend Irwin Schloss and I tried pot for the first time. His older brother, Marty, who's now a radical rabbi in Israel (Marty bar-mitzvahed one of Bob Dylan's sons in the eighties), ran the Cauldron, a funky macrobiotic restaurant in the East Village that was way ahead of its time. Marty influenced us quite a bit. He was into Eastern philosophy, leading a very bohemian life, and one day he gave Irwin some pot. At that point, marijuana had already become associated with jazz musicians and the Beats but was not in the public eye. Irwin and I first lit up on a fall afternoon at Sethlow Park, just outside our ju-nior high school. I actually remember my very first joint: It was rolled on yellow papers, and after the joint was lit, the marijuana seeds inside kept popping. This was long before hydroponics and the elimination of seeds.

At first I didn't get high. Marty had explained to Irwin how to inhale and hold it in. I don't recall how many tries before I finally did get high, but when it happened, I laughed for what seemed like hours. It was sort of "Ah, now I get it!" Irwin and I would get high and listen to music. We'd laugh and then we'd want to eat. Experimenting with pot, and later LSD, would take me further than any motorcycle or car I ever owned.

On weekends, I started buying nickel bags of marijuana, sold in little brown envelopes. I would hang out in my room, tune in to radio station WJZ on Friday nights, and listen to Symphony Sid, who turned me on to Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Celia Cruz. Sitting next to my open window, I'd light up a joint and exhale into the alley. I loved listening to jazz while stoned. Some nights, Symphony Sid would put out the word that he was getting sleepy and issue an invitation for listeners to stop by the station if they had something to keep him awake. He was eventually fired from WJZ after a marijuana bust.

I soon discovered that my friend Kenny, who had dropped out of school, was into pot. We'd go over to his -house and get high. His parents were never around. One day I came home from Kenny's and my mother confronted me: While cleaning my closet, she'd discovered my stash, a couple of ounces. I didn't want to lose the pot, so I had to make my case quickly: I whipped out the Encyclopaedia Britannica, looked up Cannabis sativa, and stuck the scholarly article under her nose. I knew the description was pretty benign—I'd checked it out soon after I started smoking. In a matter-of-fact description, the encyclopedia stated very clearly that marijuana was nonaddictive. "I know what I'm doing," I told my mother. "It's a myth that pot leads to hard drugs. Smoking is fun and it helps me see things in a new way. And you know I don't drink any alcohol."

The Road to Woodstock. Copyright © by Michael Lang. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 21 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 20, 2009

    Woodstock and memories of the late 60's early 70's

    I was camping out at Hermit Island with a friend the w/e of woodstock...I remember the th radio ads for its happening that w/e....I knew that there has been a big blow out of music there....as the weeks progressed from aug to sept to oct.....the music thathad been played there was filtering out to the maintsream.....Me....that fall I entered the army to beat the draft.....then i became engulfed inb the music....havens,,,,,hendrix...santana....being in the military....learning things that you didn't want to learn.....seeing behaviours of people who should have known better...finding out who you were.....what did you really believe....feeling like a political prisoner.....forcing yourself to read things that you should have learned in school but didnt or hadnt......seeing up close how things are done in the military.....the meanings of words and music.....reading the book forced me to look at the endavours of the past in another light......the whoi......tommy........janis joplin....Fort Polk Basic Training....where I really did lunge with my battering ram to try and kill my squad leader because he said I had no killer instinct....when I hit him withhe had the stunned look like..."What are you doing?" and I answered "ya wanna die...lets do it".....he looked at me with a distant troubled face afterwards for the rest of boot camp..Fort Rucker....Fort Sam houston...kent state killings....rumours that we were going to be sent somewhere incountry as civil unrest was gonna break out....None of us were gonna listen to our officers about shooting our fellow americans....Fortbragg....all of this was laden with the music of woodstock...Yes all the players under the influence of drugs...whether it was chemicals...emotions....ideas....itwas mind and life changing event......The book was a good read....I recommend it highly....the author does not pull any punches....he writes of the good, the bad and the uglies of that event/events.
    PLEASE REAAD IT.......

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 14, 2009

    Thank You Michael

    No, I wasn't at Woodstock. I was 2 months short from being released from the Navy. The "lifers," were upset, "look at those longhairs. I was reading the Life magazine about "Woodstock". Oh do i WISH i was there! Thank you Michael Lang for having the vision, the guts, and the love for music. Of course there were hundreds also responsible for the music event, but it was Michael Lang that got things going. I have been a music lover for 52, been getting Rolling Stone since 1971, written music review for my Fathers music column. Booked concerts in college (Billy Joel, Canned Heat, and John Sebastain, among others)All that I have read and heard over the years lead me to believe Michael Lang knew what he was doing. If you read nothing else, pick up a copy of Michael Lang's "A Road To Woodstock."

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 31, 2009

    Woodstock

    A good quick light read as to the originals of the festival. I liked the interjections of artists and other promoters as a counterpoint to what Lang said -- and I also liked how he indented those interjections which made them clear and distinct. After reading this, I understood the festival much better and was able to better appreciate some of the documentaries that I subsequently watched -- and the VH1/History Channel documentary was the best.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 29, 2012

    A fascinating inside look at Woodstock from one of its creators,

    A fascinating inside look at Woodstock from one of its creators, this book tells an amazing story of the massive amount of effort it took to pull off what would become a cultural and historical touchstone that influences us still today. Michael Lang does a wonderful job of collating together all of the different elements that led to Woodstock and is strong both in sharing his first-person recollections as he experienced them and in placing them within a larger context. Lang takes justifiable pride in his creation but doesn't puff himself up or overlook the less pleasant aspects of the tale. An interesting story very well told.

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