The Road to Woodstock

The Road to Woodstock

by Michael Lang


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“[A] vivid and lively account of those hectic and historic three days….The best fly-on-the-wall account, tantamount to having had a backstage pass to an iconic event.”
New York Post

Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Woodstock with the definitive book on the festival.

The Woodstock music festival of 1969 is an American cultural touchstone, and no book captures the sights, sounds, and behind-the-scenes machinations of the historic gathering better than Michael Lang’s New York Times bestseller, The Road to Woodstock. USA Today calls this fascinating, entertaining, and blissfully nostalgic look back, “Invaluable.” In The Road to Woodstock, Michael Lang recaptures the magic for the generation that was there…and for the generations that followed.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061576584
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 06/22/2010
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 62,317
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

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.

Read an Excerpt

The Road to Woodstock

Chapter One


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.

What People are Saying About This

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.”

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.”

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Road to Woodstock 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 22 reviews.
Frick More than 1 year ago
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.
Rojoho More than 1 year ago
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 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.......
steven bateman 6 months ago
Masterpiece! I'm not usually an audiobook kind of guy. However, I believe hearing Michael tell this story put the frosting on the cake. The insight this story gives on the most iconic music festival of all-time is remarkable. From having to move venues, to Jimi's unforgettable rendition of the Star Spangled Banner; this book shares everything. Thank you, Michael, for allowing us to escape into your world. Steven Bateman~author of Woodstock Bound
Zee_Grega More than 1 year ago
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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ThomasJ More than 1 year ago
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."
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