Woodstock festival promoter Michael Lang died at the age of 77, a representative confirmed.
He passed on Jan. 8 after a battle with a rare form of lymphoma in a New York hospital. The producer, artist, manager and sculptor had five children and one grandchild. “We are very sad to hear that legendary Woodstock icon and long time family friend Michael Lang has passed at 77 after a brief illness,” colleague Michael Pagnotta wrote in a tweet. “Rest In Peace.”
Lang was one of four businessmen behind the original Woodstock event in 1969. It became a cultural icon after almost half a million people are thought to have attended, with performers including Jimi Hendrix, the Who, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Santana and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. He went on to oversee follow-up editions in 1994 and 1999, while an attempt to stage a 50th anniversary event was ultimately canceled in 2019 amid contractual and financial difficulties.
“We thought we were all individual, scattered hippies,” participant David Crosby told Rolling Stone in 2004. “When we got there, we said, ‘Wait a minute, this is a lot bigger than we thought.’ We flew in there by helicopter and saw the New York State Thruway at a dead stop for 20 miles… You couldn’t really wrap your mind around how many people were there. It had never happened before, and it was sort of like having aliens land.” Carlos Santana called the experience “incredible,” adding: “I’ll never forget the way the music sounded bouncing up against a field of bodies.”
Lang had already staged the Miami Pop Fest in 1969 when he came up with the concept for Woodstock after visiting a low-key gathering in the same area. “it was in the country in a cow field, very idyllic, very laid-back,” he told Billboard in 2009. “The stage was six inches off the ground. People could come and camp for the weekend if they wanted to, or if they lived locally they just went home. There were about a thousand people, something like that. But the music was great, and I thought, ‘Jesus, this is the way to see music. This is just heaven…’ There wasn’t any pressure, no cops, no nothing. It was just enjoyment and getting together with great people and listening to great music.”
Speaking to Pollstar after Woodstock 50 collapsed, he reflected: “When something pushes back as hard as this did, you have to get the sense that maybe there is a reason behind it.” Responding to the suggestion that he was the “Woodstock poster child for eternity,” he noted that “it did seem like there were forces at work beyond our ken” that helped the original festival come together despite all its backstage challenges. He concluded: “Life is full of experiences, and not everything works out. But you keep trying or nothing works out… That’s always been my attitude.”