The Road To Woodstock: Michael Lang

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Hey, Shane

Well, it’s raining. Again.

It’s been a horrible summer here in Maine weather-wise: just a soggy mess that vacillates betwixt rainy and raw and rainy and hot. Here it is the end of July and the state is full of pissed-off tourists who are demanding to know who’s responsible for ruining their vacation (“After all, it says ‘Vacationland’ on your license plates up here!”) and natives who are pretty well ripped themselves about the weather and don’t want to listen to the tourists whine and … well, you get the idea. Foul vibes abound.

But I’m not writing to give you a weather update, Shane. I did want to mention the rain, however. I just finished Michael Lang’s memoir The Road to Woodstock and the rain was definitely part of the supporting cast of that story. Oh, yeah.

Now that I’m done with The Road to Woodstock it’ll give my wife a break from me looking up from the book every few pages and saying, “He was only 24!” That was the deal, you know, Shane – Michael Lang was 24 frigging years old when he and partners John Roberts, Joel Roseman, and Artie Kornfeld put the “Woodstock Music & Art Fair” together. That just fetches me up solid, man. But Lang himself is pretty casual about it all as he tells the story; there’s enough bio of his childhood and teen years to give you a sense of who he was destined to grow into – and by the time the seed of Woodstock begins to sprout, he’s made a pretty good case for “Why not?” In another life, in another setting, with different politics and a much different soundtrack to his life, Michael Lang could’ve been a different kind of leader – with a level head, cool-but-no-fool demeanor, and a this-is-what-needs-to-happen-so-all-we-have-to-do-is-do-it attitude, we’re all just lucky that he was a hippie with a vision and not a warmonger.

Lang tells his story (and yes, it is to be remembered that this is his side of the story) in a manner that never makes him out to be a hero – and feels like it does a decent job of doling out the credit to others along the way.

The book truly is the story of the path leading to the event as we’re 170 pages into the story before we reach the morning of August 15, 1969. It’s all good reading, though. It doesn’t matter if you’re one of the several million who claim to have rolled in the mud at Woodstock (actual crowd estimates still bounce between 450,000 and 500,000), you’d still have no way of knowing all the amazing events that led up to the most famous 3 days of music the world has ever known. (Digging a series of new wells on Max Yasgur’s farm and laying out 14 miles of water pipe was just one little detail.)

The neatest thing about the book, Shane, was that even though I knew the event actually happened, I ended up tearing through it, wondering, “Can they really pull this off?” As you’re reading the book and reliving the experience of being driven out of the initial site for the festival (Wallkill, NY) with a month to go, it’s like a damn movie. (Yep: on July 15, 1969 the Wallkill Zoning Board of Appeals denied Woodstock Promotions a permit for their event. And at that point, there wasn’t a plan B.)

Were mistakes made? Were Lang and company guilty of way underestimating the scale of what they were attempting to do? Without a doubt, yes on both counts … but there weren’t many handbooks available at the time on how to do what they did.

In a month.

Oh – and it rained a lot, too. Did I mention the rain?

As far as the actual three days of music goes, Lang gives us full access to his memories of things (both on- and off-stage) from convincing a terrified Richie Havens (scheduled for later in the program) to lead things off on Friday afternoon to Jimi Hendrix’ last notes fading out over the remnants of the wasted and weary crowd on Monday morning.

The bottom line, Shane, is that The Road to Woodstock is a good read and an excellent time capsule. (What would <I>you</I> have paid The Who – in 1969 dollars – to play at Woodstock?) Lang’s story is neatly spliced with quotes and anecdotes from members of the Woodstock Ventures inner circle to numerous musicians who stood on the stage facing several hundred thousand heads – and some of the folks who stood in the mud and experienced something for the first (and, in its way, the last) time.

May there be outdoor festivals for evermore, Shane. And may everyone who attends them have plenty to eat, a safe place to poop, and a dry place to sleep if they choose to. And may traffic flow as easily as possible and may no one be turned away.

And may there be no rain.

But in the meantime, may we all remember those three days in August of 1969 that changed things. The Road to Woodstock is a good way to do just that.

That’s all for now, Shane. I have some chores to do. With the climate change around here, we have some different wildlife to contend with. Take the howler monkeys, for instance: who’d have thought they’d become native to Maine? They keep the squirrels away from the bird feeders, but they sure get noisy when they’re hungry, man.

It’s time to feed the monkeys, I guess.

Talk to you later,

BR

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