All I knew about Michael Lang was what I had seen in the original movie. He seemed like a hip guy who had a Cheshire Cat smile and you problably never knew what he was really thinking when he spoke. He seemed cool in that movie. Maybe a little too cool.
But I was wrong…
I read his book, The Road to Woodstock and have been reading and studying accounts of how the Woodstock Festival went down and it’s clear he was the soul and the inspiration for not only making it happen but for also keeping it “rightous” in the full 60’s meaning of the word.
In fact, most accounts say that Woodstock 69 would not have happened without him.
There were so many problems and curveballs thrown at the promoters that the fact that it happened at all was amazing. Put that’s another post.
Michael Lang was a boy from Bensonhurst, Brooklyn who grew up in a modest middle class family. His father ran an engineering business installing heating systems. He was also an inventor and understood what it was like to take chances. As Michael recounted in his book The Road To Woodstock…
“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 enough to think clearly; and trust your instincts.”
This advice would server him well as he struggled to make Woodstock happen.
He played drums in rock bands. And was hip enough to check out pot and LSD in his early teens but also hip enough to catch some great music in Greenwich Village, like Phi Ochs, Fred Neil, Dave Van Ronk, and Bob Dylan. But he also was hip to jazz and saw some of the greats around town too. It was clear he loved the music of his generation and understood it too.
The Miami Pop Festival
After off-and-on stints at New York University, Lang ended up in the Coconut Grove section of Miami. He opened a head shop, which was not easy task in the mid 1960’s, and managed to even make some money at it.
Inspired by Monterey Pop he decided he wanted to put on the first music festival in Florida.
Somehow he managed to pull it off in a matter of weeks, and the show happened in May of 1968. Acts included John Lee Hooker, Chuck Berry, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Blue Cheer, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, and the new sensation, The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
The show went off well despite weather problems (sounds familiar) and problems with the acts and the “money” people. Generally though, it is remembered as one of the better concerts from that year. It drew 80,000 people over two days.
Michael Lang’s Strength – Staying Calm
In his book it’s clear from the quotes by people like Abbie Hoffman, Eddie Kramer, and the other promoters that he could handle the heat. When the situation went south he could stay cool, keep everyone else calm and get things done.
Through the debacle that was the original site in Walkill New York, to finding a new location, to putting together the organization and crews for the show, you can see in his book, that Michael was the visionary who made it happen and the one who made sure it happend on a “high” level. The proof is we are still talking about this weekend 40 years after, with not only affection, but with a gleam in our eyes. It truly was a magical weekend — thanks to Michael Lang. To learn more about the book click on this link.