A festival of books about Woodstock
August 6, 2009
By BILL BLEYER
Do aging baby boomers need a major nostalgia fix for the 40th
anniversary of Woodstock? Publishers must think so - they're bringing
out a raft of new books on the world-famous music festival.
OverviewsWOODSTOCK: Three Days That Rocked the World, edited by Mike
Evans and Paul Kingsbury (Sterling, $35). A 288-page hardcover
coffee-table volume that is the most comprehensive offering.
WOODSTOCK: Peace, Music and Memories, by Brad Littleproud and Joanne
Hague (Krause Publications, $24.99 paper). This 256-page trade
paperback covers the entire festival, but its unique aspect is a
guide to Woodstock memorabilia.
Personal accountsTHE ROAD TO WOODSTOCK, by Michael Lang with Holly
George-Warren (Ecco, $29.99). The festival, according to one of the
event's promoters. Lang takes credit for aspects of the festival that
others agree he had nothing to do with.
THE PIED PIPER OF WOODSTOCK, by Artie Kornfeld (fall release from
Spirit of Woodstock LLC, $30). Another of the festival promoters, who
was also a successful music producer, describes the growth of the
rock culture. But 120 of the 365 pages are about Woodstock.
MAX B. YASGUR: The Woodstock Festival's Famous Farmer, by Sam Yasgur
(Self-published later this month, $25; purchase details at syasgur
@hvc.rr.com). A 300-page biography by his son with heavy emphasis on
WOODSTOCK VISION: The Spirit of a Generation, by Elliott Landy
(Backbeat, $35). Landy was the official festival photographer and
most of the 224 pages showcase his work. Almost half the shots were
taken at Woodstock.
TAKING WOODSTOCK: A True Story of a Riot, a Concert, and a Life, by
Elliot Tiber with Tom Monte (Square One, $15.95 paper). Tiber is the
person who lured the festival promoters to Bethel, and his account,
reissued by the Garden City Park publisher, is the basis for the new
Ang Lee movie of the same title.
Oral historiesWOODSTOCK REVISITED: 50 Far Out, Groovy, Peace-Loving,
Flashback-Inducing Stories from Those Who Were There, edited by Susan
Reynolds (Adams Media, $12.95 paper). Enough said.
odstock, by Pete Fornatale (Touchstone, $24.99). The DJ-music
historian interviews festival artists and organizers.
WOODSTOCK: The Oral History, 40th Anniversary Edition, by Joel
Makower (SUNY Press, $19.95 paper). The organizers tell their stories.
ROOTS OF THE 1969 WOODSTOCK FESTIVAL: The Backstory to "Woodstock,"
by Weston Blelock and Julia Blelock (Woodstock Arts, $19.95 paper).
Transcript of 2008 discussion about how musical "Sound-Outs" in town
of Woodstock inspired the '69 event in Bethel.
Musical focus BY THE TIME WE GOT TO WOODSTOCK, by Bruce Pollock
(September release from Backbeat Books, $19.95 paper). Chronicles
outdoor concerts that preceded and followed Woodstock.
For children MAX SAID YES! The Woodstock Story, by Abigail Yasgur and
Joseph Lipner with illustrations by Barbara Mendes (Change the
Universe Press, $17.95). The 32 colorful pages explain the Woodstock
aura to the next generation of flower children.
Woodstock books bring readers back to Yasgur's farm
BY HOWARD COHEN
The Road to Woodstock. Michael Lang with Holly George-Warren.
Ecco/HarperCollins. 304 pages. $29.99.
Back to the Garden. Pete Fornatale. Touchstone. 303 pages. $24.99.
If you think the media saturation on Michael Jackson's death is
outré, you should prepare for the gates of pop culture to burst in
mid-August as the 40th anniversary of Woodstock arrives.
Everyone who was there -- or thinks he was -- will tell of dropping
acid for a ride with the Jefferson Airplane, skinny dipping in
communal baths with 400,000 nubile neighbors and waking up to Jimi
Hendrix strangling The Star Spangled Banner out of his electric
guitar for the finalé of the three-day festival of music, mud and bad
New Yorker Michael Lang, who in the '60s owned a head shop in Coconut
Grove and who created the Woodstock warmup Miami Pop Festival in May
1968, helped shape the Woodstock Music and Art Fair through
persistence, charisma and Herculean organizational savvy. He proves
to be a brilliant, amusing raconteur in The Road to Woodstock, in
which he recounts how the festival came together.
The book's detail-laden flashbacks from organizers and performers
such as hippie goddess Melanie, a newcomer who had no idea what she
was getting into; a cranky Pete Townshend, who blasts ``the people at
Woodstock'' as ``a bunch of hypocrites;'' and a bemused Grace Slick
who recalls singing ``sort of half asleep,'' are potent enough to
give readers a contact high.
Reading Lang's book can be a heady experience. He recounts vivid
tales of the early days in the Grove -- which he describes as ``an
artsy laid-back vibe, the kind of place where dogs lie down and sleep
in the middle of the road.'' Lang and his pals spent a lot of time
outwitting cops (some corrupt, others of the Keystone variety). One
planned bust of a pot party went hilariously awry as a tipster
alerted Lang and his cronies to the coming arrests, and word spread
along the Grove grapevine: ``As a line of police cars raced through
the Grove in one direction, an equal number of long-haired cyclists
would whiz past them, going the opposite way.''
As the leader of a rag-tag group who had never staged anything of the
magnitude of Woodstock, Lang steadfastly believed in his vision even
as fate conspired against him. Woodstock wasn't even in Woodstock,
N.Y. The location fell through at the last minute, and as Lang
recounts, producers had to go to nearby Sullivan County. They found a
large field owned by amiable dairy farmer Max Yasgur, who apparently
was someone over 30 whom hippies could trust.
Lang also proves a brisk storyteller in the later chapters, which
describe such career-making performances as those by newcomer Santana
and Sly & the Family Stone.
``I got to witness the peak of the festival, which was Sly Stone. I
don't think he ever played that good again -- steam was literally
coming out of his Afro,'' guitarist Carlos Santana recalls. However,
not every act rose out of the muck. The Grateful Dead had problems.
``A combination of the weather and hallucinogenics proved their
undoing,'' Lang writes.
But chunks in the middle of Road feel an interminable slog -- like
the traffic jams that led to the field at Yasgur's farm -- to anyone
uninterested in spread sheets and the headaches with which concert
promoters deal. Perhaps this was Lang's unintended way of making the
reader feel as he did 40 years ago: For every one giddy step forward,
there's a corresponding and frustrating step back.
Pete Fornatale's Back to the Garden -- titled after a line in Joni
Mitchell's Woodstock -- lacks the peaks and valleys and import of
Lang's book. After all, Fornatale, a veteran New York radio
personality, merely reported on the event. He relies on about 110
sources -- some living (David Crosby, Paul Kantner) and others dead
(Jerry Garcia, Abbie Hoffman) to take readers back to Yasgur's farm
in Bethel ``when the s - - - hit the fan (or, in some cases, when the
fans hit the s - - -'').
Fornatale's belief is that ``you didn't have to be at Woodstock to be
at Woodstock,'' and his mighty task here is to weave the
recollections to prove that paradox. Back to the Garden is a brisker
read than Road to Woodstock as it lacks the minutia that sometimes
makes the reader's eyes glaze in Lang's book. And Fornatale's
conversational style and the assortment of characters he quotes make
for a lively read.
Some have fond stories. Original Sha Na Na guitarist Henry Gross, who
later had a '70s solo hit about a missing dog (Shannon), tells of
drinking with Hendrix, who had also performed at Lang's Miami Pop
Festival. Others were less than enchanted with the shows: Concertgoer
Jim Marion tells of leaving the rain-drenched festival early because
it wasn't all that. Marion would have a considerably better time
going back to the garden with these books as guides.
The Road To Woodstock
One of Woodstock's creators looks back on the festival's 40th anniversary.
By Norman Weinstein
July 25, 2009
The 40th anniversary of the Woodstock festival has brought with it a
bounty of books from those who organized it, attended it, wished they
hadn't attended it, or missed it altogether. If your local bookstore
resembles mine, a display table of Woodstock memorabilia, including
DVDs, coffee mugs, and posters, competes for space with eight new
books on Woodstock published within the last few months.
Even for those like myself who actually remember trekking the long
and winding road to the festival, this dizzying display of marketing
"peace and love" can seem bewildering. But then again, Woodstock
itself was confusing. Without even counting the reunions (concerts
repeated in 1994 and 1999 under the moniker of "Woodstock"), it's
unclear whether the original 1969 event was really a single
happening. Or was it instead, simultaneously, a rock music festival,
a countercultural party, a political protest, a free-love carnival, a
psychedelic drug expo, the world's largest improvised town meeting
or something more?
Purporting to sort it all out for us is The Road To Woodstock, the
memoir (as told to and transcribed by Holly George-Warren) of Michael
Lang, one of the 1969 Woodstock festival's cocreators.
The jacket copy of "The Road to Woodstock" calls Lang "the man who
started it all." Some of Lang's partners might take issue with that
claim. But publishers' marketing copy aside, Lang does reveal himself
in "The Road to Woodstock" as an extraordinarily convincing
capitalist of a particular flavor. Relying on direct quotes from many
of the key Woodstock organizers as well as musicians and their
managers, a portrait emerges of Lang as an extraordinary trickster, a
character as large and charming as Melville's "Confidence-Man."
Miriam Yasgur, wife of Max Yasgur, whose farm made the event
possible, sketches this portrait of Lang: "It takes Michael about
fifteen or twenty minutes to charm you, and having spoken to him for
a while, he really put us at ease. He explained the way it was going
to be, and he made it sound like everything was going to be so simple
and not anything that big. He has a way of ingratiating himself I
think he's a born con man. Even though you know you're being 'had,'
you can't help but like him."
Lang presents himself, however, as the loftiest of idealists: "For
me, Woodstock was a test of whether people of our generation really
believed in one another and the world we were struggling to create."
At least that's how he opens his memoir.
The shift from the generational "we" to "I" follows soon. Lang tells
of his early success as an entrepreneur running a shop selling
countercultural paraphernalia (pipes, papers, posters) that evolved
into producing successful outdoor concerts with big-name rock bands
in the Coconut Grove, Fla., area. Any number of potentially dangerous
disorderly situations were apparently defused by Lang's unflappable
nature and his cool demeanor, characteristics that served him well at
the Woodstock festival. Although clearly a great music fan, Lang
explains few of the reasons for his musical predilections and devotions.
He fast-forwards his narrative as he moves from Florida to Woodstock,
an small, upstate, New York town with a long bohemian history. Lang's
timing for his move was astute. Woodstock was in the process of
reconstituting itself as a haven for highly accomplished rock
innovators like Bob Dylan, The Band, and Jimi Hendrix.
There he met Artie Kornfeld, head of A&R at Capitol Records, a kind
of hip capitalist not unlike Lang, but with considerably more money
and connections in the music industry. The two formed a friendship
with young venture capitalists Joel Rosenman and John Roberts. These
four became the nucleus of the leadership that made the Woodstock
festival a reality. (Ironically the festival was actually held a
40-minute drive from Woodstock in Bethel, N.Y.)
Lang's account of the three-day event does suggest that he was the
"mastermind and creative genius" who faced all the unforeseen events
associated with Woodstock (countless bad drug trips among the
half-million crowd, lack of food and sanitation, etc.) and kept
everything working. Whether you believe this or not, Lang's
relationship with his three key partners has been contested in print
and through the media in the years following Woodstock.
If you crave more information about Woodstock after reading Lang's
book (and you probably will), I would recommend Pete Fornatale's
"Back to the Garden: The Story of Woodstock." The book offers what
Fornatale cleverly identifies as "the Rashoman effect" (named for a
Japanese film where a crime is described through a dozen different
narrators), a very broad spectrum of completely different, even
contradictory perspectives on Woodstock, offered by organizers,
performers, and attendants.
Whatever the Woodstock festival meant, it was too capacious for even
the trickiest mastermind to narrate fairly on his own.
Norman Weinstein, who writes about arts and culture for the Monitor,
is the author of a forthcoming biography of Carlos Santana.