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R.I.P. Michael Lang, Woodstock Festival Co-Founder Dead at 77

Lang was also behind the ill-fated 1994 and 1999 stagings of Woodstock

Michael Lang Woodstock
Michael Lang, photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Woodstock 50
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    Michael Lang, a co-founder of the famed Woodstock Festival, has died at the age of 77.

    A family spokesperson said Lang passed away Saturday (January 8th) from a rare form of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

    Lang was one of the chief architects of the 1969 Woodstock Festival. Taking place over four days in August at a family farm in Bethel, New York, the festival welcomed nearly half a million attendees to watch performances from Jimi Hendrix, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, The Band, Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Who, Santana, and more. With copious amount of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, the festivals became emblematic of late-60s counterculture, while also launching the career of countless future Rock and Roll Hall of Famers.

    Due to the success of Woodstock, The Rolling Stones enlisted Lang at the last-minute to assist in relocating a free concert they had planned in San Francisco in 1969. After the city revoked a permit for the concert to take place at Golden Gate Park, The Stones moved the show to the Altamont Speedway. Unfortunately, due to logistical challenges caused by the Altamont Speedway, the close proximity of the stage to the crowd led to a chaotic scene that was only compounded by the presence of Hell’s Angels, who had been hired to work security. Numerous fights broke out over the course of the concert, and an audience member named Meredith Hunter was stabbed and killed when he rushed the stage with a gun while The Rolling Stones were performing. The tragic events at Altamont had an immediate impact on the country’s then-fledging festival scene, as promoters were met with vigorous legal and community opposition to their proposed events.

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    Rather than stage another large-scale event, Lang instead focused his efforts on managing artists such as Joe Cocker and Rickie Lee Jones. He also formed a record label called Just Sunshine Records and released music from Karen Dalton, Betty Davis and Mississippi Fred McDowell.

    However, in 1994 Lang revived the Woodstock brand to commemorate the original festival’s 25th anniversary. Taking place over three days in August in Saugerties, New York, Woodstock ’94 featured performances from Nine Inch Nails, Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Green Day, Bob Dylan, and Peter Gabriel, as well as several acts from Woodstock ’69. Though only 164,000 tickets were sold in advance, half a million people turned out to the festival, resulting in numerous logistical and security challenges. Heavy rain also turned the grounds to mud, leading to mud pits and attendees pelting performing artists with mud while on stage.

    A second revival of Woodstock by Lang held in 1999 proved even more chaotic. Obsessive heat, high-priced concessions, a lack of bathroom facilities, and long distances between stages led to violent scenes throughout the weekend, including several fires being started within the crowd. There were also numerous reports of sexual assault, and one individual died after collapsing in a mosh pit. The events of Woodstock ’99 were recently chronicled in an HBO documentary.

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    Lang attempted one final revival of Woodstock in 2019 in commemoration of its 50th anniversary. But after running into issues with financing, those plans were postponed, and ultimately canceled with the emergency of the coronavirus pandemic.

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