Woodstock Festival Co-Creator Michael Lang Dies At 77
Michael Lang, co-creator of the legendary Woodstock Music & Art Fair, has died. He was 77.
Lang died on Saturday night, 8 January from a rare form of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York City. His representative and family friend Michael Pagnotta confirmed the news to Billboard.
Lang worked alongside partners Joel Rosenman, Capitol Records’ Artie Kornfeld and John P. Roberts for the 1969 festival held at Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York. The three-day line-up included icons such as Richie Havens, Santana, Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, Sly and the Family Stone, Jimi Hendrix and The Who, among others.
“I booked the three hottest bands at the time — Jefferson Airplane, Canned Heat and Credence Clearwater Revival,” Lang told Billboard in 2019. “That gave us immediate credibility and the word got out and then suddenly the stone was rolling downhill.
“Then we started adding bands left and right. I remember when David Geffen walked into our office with a test pressing of Crosby, Stills and Nash. He put it on the turntable and made a deal right there on the spot. Same thing with Joe Cocker. We heard his voice and booked him pretty quickly.”
After Woodstock, Lang started a record company in 1971 called Just Sunshine Records, which first signed Karen Dalton followed by Billy Joel. Lang later went into management, primarily working with Cocker for about 15 years.
In 1994, he helped promote Woodstock’s 25th anniversary with Woodstock ’94, which featured Green Day and Red Hot Chili Peppers among others. In 2019, Lang planned to host Woodstock 50 — which he told Billboard he had been working on for two years — with a lineup including Miley Cyrus, Dead & Company, Jay-Z and others. The event was ultimately cancelled following a variety of permit and production issues, venue relocations and artists backing out.
Three years before co-creating the original Woodstock in ’69, Lang had opened his first business: a head shop in Miami’s Coconut Grove neighbourhood. He said it had become “the unofficial headquarters of the underground counterculture,” previously telling Billboard that David Crosby and Joni Mitchell would often visit.
“It was becoming sort of famous — and kind of over. I decided it was time to move back to New York. I loved living in a small creative town. I knew about Woodstock, I had been there as a kid and it had a big music scene with crazy artists and bacchanals that were right out of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
“In 1969, people came to have three days of peace and music and to experience community,” he continued. “That what’s made it made it so special … The one thing that people have always said to me when they approached me about how Woodstock changed their life was that it changed how they related to other people.”