Michael Lang (1944-2022) | General Arts & Culture | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
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Michael Lang (1944-2022) 

Last Updated: 01/10/2022 2:21 pm
click to enlarge Michael Lang - FIONN REILLY
  • Fionn Reilly
  • Michael Lang

Word broke on Saturday night that Michael Lang, the indefatigable cocreator and organizational face of the 1969 Woodstock Festival, had died at the age of 77. A rare form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma was the cause.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, Lang was inspired to go out into the world and make things happen by the clarion call of a new phenomenon that had set America’s youth alight in the mid-1950s. “When I was a teenager, I loved the early rock ’n’ roll,” he told me when I interviewed him for the August 2019 issue of Chronogram. “I was addicted.”

Many of Lang’s peers, the ones who weren’t content with simply being listeners, would feed their rock ’n’ roll addictions by forming bands. But Lang would take a different route on the music's map. After majoring at NYU in business and psychology, Lang parlayed his rock cravings into becoming an organizer, opening a head shop in the arts district of Coconut Grove, Florida, before entering the realm of music promotion via a series of smaller concerts and Miami’s 1968 Pop Festival.

It was shortly after his move to Woodstock that year, while he was attending one of the regular, local Sound-Out mini-festivals, that he got the idea for “something like this but bigger.” For all his fearless, youthful ambition, little could the then 24-year-old Lang, or anyone else, have known at that moment just how much bigger the physical manifestation of that idea would be. But on August 15, 16, 17, and 18, 1969, the entire world would come to find out, when Lang and his crew presented a cast of rock’s biggest acts to a record-breaking audience of over 400,000 at Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel.

Although the Woodstock Festival had been moved to Sullivan County after logistical concerns from the municipality that bears its name, the ever-optimistic Lang never seemed resentful of the town’s rejection of his idea for the event. He remained in Woodstock, where, among numerous other projects (film production, his Just Sunshine record label, environmental work), he staged Woodstock ’94 in neighboring Saugerties and seemed to always be happy to do whatever he could, whenever he could, to support and encourage local arts and music. (Lang maintained that his involvement in the problem-plagued Woodstock '99 in Oneida County was minimal; his efforts to hold a Woodstock 50th anniversary festival in 2019 were ill-fated.) Aside from his instrumental role in the making of the modern-day music festival, his part in making the Hudson Valley music scene the vibrant force that it is today is likewise inestimable.

The colorful afterglow Lang created via those three-turned-four “Days of Peace & Music” in 1969 didn’t fade after its lighting the way for an entire generation. It continues to radiate indelibly into the future, shining with it a sense of wondrous possibility.

All of us here at Chronogram send our sympathy to Michael Lang’s family and friends upon his passing. A longer remembrance of him will appear in our February issue.

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