The face of Woodstock, concert promoter Michael Lang, died on January 8th at the age of 77 after battling a rare form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, according to Rolling Stone. Lang — who wore many hats during his decades in the music business — headed up all three of the Woodstock festivals, organizing and promoting the 1969, 1994, and infamous 1999 event. He tried in vain to produce a 2019 50th anniversary festival, but soon after being announced a crushing series of blows due to permits, funding, and investors ended in a heap of litigation.
Lang, a Brooklyn-born and raised Florida head shop owner, promoted the 1968 Miami Pop Festival and went on to team up with money men John Roberts and Joel Rosenman and record producer Artie Kornfeld to co-create the “Woodstock Music and Art Fair” in 1969. Later that year, he served as an advisor to the Rolling Stones at their ill-fated free concert at Livermore California’s Altamont Speedway.
Lang went on to head up his own record label, Just Sunshine Records, and managed Woodstock icon Joe Cocker for over two decades. His multimedia company, The Michael Lang Organization, has worked with the top-tiered names in pop and rock over the years. 2009 saw the publication of his New York Times best selling memoir, The Road To Woodstock, which was co-written with Holly George-Warren.
Michael Lang is survived by his wife Tamara and his five children — Shala, Lariann, Molly, Harry, and Laszlo.
Michael Lang said that Jimi Hendrix‘s manager Michael Jeffries drove a hard bargain in cementing Hendrix as the festival’s closer: “One day I went to his agent’s office, to try to sort of definitively try to get this done or not, and came up with the idea of offering him two shows. I wanted him to open the festival with an acoustic set, and close with the band. And I would pay him $15,000 per set. So now, he’s getting $30,000. And the other problem was that I’d established this idea of alphabetical billing and everybody getting 100 percent billing, ’cause I sort of wanted this equality between everybody. And I had no problem with any other group except Jimi again, because Michael wanted him to have 100 percent star billing, and I said, ‘Well, you’ll get it. So will everybody else (laughs).'”
Lang was asked at what moment he realized that he was helping to create cultural history: “I guess by Saturday, when everybody had arrived — or anybody who was gonna get there arrived. We knew that this was a historic moment in any case. Whether it resonated or not, nobody thought of that, but we knew that this was extraordinary.”
Michael Lang told us that one of the hardest things about choosing a musical lineup for the venerable festival is the expectation about who should be part of it: “The pressure that you get from the world is if it’s Woodstock, it’s Joe Cocker and Santana and the Who. And when people looked at ’94, there was that bridge between the original and the one we did in ’94, though most the talent in ’94 was also contemporary. People sort of forget that in ’69, that was extremely cutting-edge music and that’s what Woodstock was about.”