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.Read more...
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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.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 118.
- Review Date: 2009-06-29
- Reviewer: Staff
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)
Woodstock turns 40
1969, when the Woodstock Music & Art Festival began. An event that brought more than half a million people to Max Yasgur’s farm in the Catskill Mountains of New York for three days of music and celebration, Woodstock signaled the popularity and potency of modern rock ’n’ roll in American society, and ultimately led to the creation of today’s popular music empire and celebrity culture. Three books, two new volumes and an updated reissue, provide exhaustive and often spirited accounts from insiders, historians and participants in the epic festival that paved the way for the convergence of commerce and culture that constitutes such contemporary spectacles as Bonnaroo.
Behind the scenes
The Road to Woodstock: From The Man Behind The Legendary Festival is famed promoter and artist manager Michael Lang’s account of the maneuvering, deal-making and deft planning that resulted in Woodstock. Only in his 20s, he’d already organized the Miami Pop Festival in 1968 and enjoyed producing other shows and concerts. He deemed himself part of a new generation rejecting the old social order and embracing fresh ideas about such issues as civil rights, sexuality and drugs. Lang envisioned Woodstock as much more than a series of concerts: it would also be a forum for alternative political and social philosophies, and a chance to debunk myths about long-haired kids, their music and their heroes.
The book documents the daily improvising on details like staging, security and contracts. Lang recruited the help of everyone from The Hog Farm, a commune whose assistance ranged from aiding victims of drug overdoses to providing food for hungry kids, to off-duty cops who took security gigs against the wishes of their superiors, and apprentice carpenters who helped design and build sets with minimal or no specifications.
It also contains several rare photographs and many great stories. These include Lang recruiting Peter Townshend of The Who by keeping him awake and plying him with alcohol, and getting a terrified Richie Havens to open the concert, then having him do so many encores he forgets the words to a number and starts wailing “Freedom.”
History of a phenom
If Lang’s book takes an ultra-personal approach, Brad Littleproud and Joanne Hague’s Woodstock: Peace, Music & Memories is the prototypical historical chronicle. Littleproud and Hague were too young to attend the festival, but they interviewed its co-creator and promoter Artie Kornfield, along with numerous Woodstock survivors. Their colorful chronicles add spice to what would otherwise be a dry factual summary of the concert and related episodes.
Kornfield’s anecdotes dovetail almost exactly with Lang’s, while the spicy rhetoric of such figures as peace activist Wavy Gravy shows that not everyone at Yasgur’s farm was in a joyous and giving mood. There are also 350 color and black-and-white pictures, many of them great candid shots of folks enjoying the music, being overcome by the spectacle and reveling in the atmosphere.
Like Lang and Kornfield, photographer Elliott Landy considered himself part of the new order Woodstock was created to serve. But his involvement and connections came from the journalistic rather than musical end. He took pictures for various underground and alternative newspapers and magazines, and became friends with Bob Dylan, The Band, Van Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin before the festival. Landy was also a prolific contributor to record labels, providing spectacular shots that would become legendary album covers.
While Woodstock Vision: The Spirit of A Generation was first released in 1994, this latest version includes a special 90-page photo commemorative of the Woodstock festival personally selected by Landy from his archive. Because of his relationships with artists, his photos were never posed or staged. Whether it’s classic album covers like Dylan’s Nashville Skyline or Janis Joplin and Richie Havens before and after gut-wrenching Woodstock performances, Landy’s Woodstock Vision gives incredible entry into the personalities of icons.
There will be many other Woodstock retrospective items coming in the days leading up to the anniversary date. Still, these books are a fine addition to the legacy of sources that evaluate the three-day journey that helped change a nation’s culture.
Ron Wynn writes for the Nashville CityPaper and other publications.