Ideas come and go, and more frequently than not, they die as they began – just ideas. Too few of us put our ideas into action, and even when we do, failure is sometimes the result.
But every now and then, the stars align, what could go wrong rights itself through the actions – or even inactions – of the parties involved, and something magical and memorable – even transformative – takes place.
That was the case with 1969’s Woodstock Music & Arts Festival near Bethel, New York. That summer, a wild and wonderful convergence occurred thanks to the ideas of a handful of young men, some much needed financial backing, the kindness of more strangers than can be counted, musicians willing to do something a little different and, of course, possibly the best audience in concert history.
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Author Dan Bukszpan’s new book, “Woodstock: 50 Years of Peace and Music” delves into how people and communities came together to make the festival the almost mythical cultural touchstone it ultimately became. Here’s a look at the people who made it happen. What follows is excerpted with permission from his book. It’s quite possible that without the involvement of all of them, Woodstock could be remembered quite differently than it is today.
1. Michael Lang
Michael Lang booked almost every act that performed at Woodstock. Before that, he had coproduced the 1968 Miami Pop Festival, featuring performances by such artists as the Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Blue Cheer, and the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
“I was sort of inspired by Monterey Pop,
so we called it Miami Pop,” he said.
When the festival ended, he moved to
Woodstock, New York. The town was known as
an artists’ hub, and it was home to Bob Dylan.
It held “Sound-Outs” during the summer, overnight concerts on small farms just outside town,
and the concept of bringing music out into
nature left a lasting impression on Lang.
“Things were turning violent in the States,
and 1968 was the year of the assassination of
Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and
riots around the world,” he said. “We were kind of losing this dream, and so we thought, ‘Let’s
give it one last shot, and take people out of the
cities and take them out of their usual pressures
and see if we could make it work on our own.’”
Despite his idealism, he knew that a large
gathering of young people would present
“There was a movement afoot in the counterculture that said music should be free,” he
said. “The logic behind it was kind of flawed.
I mean, somebody’s got to pay the bands, got
to pay the stage crew. Without those realities,
you don’t have a music event.”
Nonetheless, “music should be free”
was the prevailing mentality, and Lang knew
exactly how he didn’t want to see it handled.
“I was in a bunch of festivals that year,
and [authorities] were tear-gassing at the
gates, people were trying to break in, and
there were these sorts of confrontations that
were almost preplanned,” he said.
“I made it
sort of, part of the fabric of the festival that
there would be free kitchens, free campgrounds, free stages; you could come whether
you had money or not. If you wanted to be a
part of it, you were in.”
2. Artie Kornfield
Artie Kornfeld has been a music fan for as long
as he can remember. He started off as a child,
“I was the first tenth-grader that ever
made first-chair All-State solo trumpet in the
All-State symphony,” he said. But when he
heard rock and roll for the first time, he fell in
love, and he never got over it.
“I wanted to write rock,” he said. “I worked a
whole summer, simonizing cars, so I could buy a
cheap acoustic guitar and get a tape recorder.”
He got a record deal, but he saw the most
success as a songwriter. He cowrote “Dead
Man’s Curve,” a hit for Jan and Dean, and
“The Rain, the Park & Other Things” by the
Cowsills, which he also produced.
He moved up the music industry ladder
quickly, becoming vice president of Capitol
Records when he was still in his twenties.
Even then, he identified as a music fan, first
“I always felt I was a groupie,” he said.
“I was just shocked that I was even there with
these people. Every time I sat and talked to John
Lennon for an hour or two, I couldn’t believe I
was sitting with John Lennon for two hours.”
In 1968, Kornfeld met Michael Lang,
who was in New York to promote a band
called the Train.
Kornfeld said that he and Lang got an
embryonic idea for Woodstock during a long
night of hanging out and kicking around ideas.
“It was three in the morning, and I said,
‘You know, Michael, it would be great to have
a concert at a Broadway theater…I’ll just
spend all my money, I don’t care if I spend it
all. And we just keep on getting acts and then
make it free and see what happens’.”
Kornfeld credited his wife, Linda, with the
idea of taking the concept outdoors. But it might
not have been successful without his knowledge
of the music business, and it also never would
have made its money back if he hadn’t negotiated with Warner Bros. over the rights to what
would become the Woodstock documentary.
“I made the movie deal four days before
Woodstock,” he said.
Kornfeld said that to him, Woodstock
wasn’t just a musical event. It was a political
“I was very antiwar,” he said. “My grandfather’s brother was the president of the
American Socialist Party, and Woodstock was
a very socialist event. Woodstock proved that
socialism could work.”
3. Joel Rosenman
Joel Rosenman was one of the two men
who gave Woodstock its financial backing,
along with John Roberts. According to Artie
Kornfeld, there would have been no festival
“It never would have happened without
Joel and John putting up that first $270,000,”
A musician and a Yale Law School
graduate, Rosenman wanted to entertain and
wanted to go into business. He split the difference by starting a venture capital company
with Roberts, but he had an ulterior motive —
they would write a sitcom about two men
looking for investment opportunities and
find material for it by running a classified ad
asking for that very thing.
Kornfeld and Michael Lang responded
to the ad, looking for backing for a recording
studio. Rosenman and Roberts were already backing one and weren’t interested in another,
but they liked the idea of a Bob Dylan concert,
which Lang and Kornfeld had proposed
as a way of celebrating their new studio,
if it opened.
Dylan didn’t perform at Woodstock, and
Lang and Kornfeld didn’t build a recording
studio. But the idea of putting on some kind
of outdoor concert event had legs, and the four
men formed Woodstock Ventures
4. John Roberts
“The day after that festival, we were
$2,600,000 in the hole,” said Woodstock
production coordinator John Morris.
“John Roberts and Joel—but it was
John’s inheritance—were faced after
the festival with a tremendous debt and
bankers said, ‘You have to go bankrupt
or pay the money.’”
Morris said that Roberts, whom he characterized as “a real Edwardian gentleman,”
wouldn’t hear of it.
“John said, ‘We are not burdening anybody
on this festival; we will pay all the bills’,” he
said. “And Joel said, ‘I agree.’”
Roberts, the fourth member of Woodstock
Ventures, was Joel Rosenman’s business
partner, so it’s accurate to say that they took
on the financial risk for the festival jointly.
But the resources to do that came from
Roberts’s family, who owned the Block Drug
Company, makers of such products as
Poli-Grip, Sensodyne, and Beano.
Rosenman and Roberts became close
friends after Rosenman’s brother arranged
a golf game for the three of them. He said
that it was surprising that Roberts would back
Woodstock, simply because it wasn’t
“If anyone was not a member of the
counterculture, it was John,” Rosenman said.
“He dressed like a member of the establishment, he did establishment things. He was
the kind that gets rushed to the guillotine
when the revolution happens, except that he
was adored by everybody, so that no matter
what happened, he would have been one of
the chosen few.”
When Woodstock was done, Morris told
Rolling Stone that Roberts had taken out $1.3
million in loans to pay off the debts that had
Roberts died in 2001 at the age of 56, from three kinds of cancer — lymphoma,
leukemia, and lung.
5. John Morris
(Pictured: John Morris onstage at Woodstock.) John Morris was Woodstock’s production
coordinator and part-time emcee. This has led
many people to assume, wrongly, that he was
the one who made the announcement warning
festival-goers to stay away from the brown acid.
He set the record straight about that.
“[Stage lighting designer Chip Monck] did
that announcement,” he said. “I get credited
with that, and I did not do it. I
did not do drugs, because I was
usually in charge and I didn’t feel
I could. So me saying the brown
acid is not particularly good
would be very out of character,
because I would not have the
Morris worked at the Fillmore
East, first helping to set up the
venue and then creating shows with such
groups as the Grateful Dead and Jefferson
“The main thing I was being hired to do
was to supervise the production, the stage,
and other things, and to help book the artists
for the show,” he said.
When the time to prepare for Woodstock
came, a person’s individual specialty was less
important than the prevailing sense of “just
make it happen.”
Morris, and the people he
worked with, relied on some unorthodox methods as a result.
“We used Boy Scout manuals and U.S. Army field manuals to plan for toilets and stuff,” he said. “Of course, we thought we
were going to have 50,000 to 75,000 people, not half a million.”
When Morris was deputized to make stage
announcements, he said that the job was
made easier by the fact that the audience was
“We asked them to take care of each
other; we asked them to cooperate,” he said. “I mean, during
the storm, I was asking people to
get off the towers, because the
towers were dangerous, and they
got off the towers.”
The crowd was even responsive when informed that an
anarchist group from New York
City called the Crazies planned
to descend on the festival and destroy the concession stands. This was capitalism, the Crazies reasoned, and it needed to be smashed.
“When they came running out of the
woods, they got smothered by about 50,000 people who said, ‘Nah man, you don’t
want to do that’, and saved the concession
stands,” he said.
“One of the major things about Woodstock,
and to me it’s the greatest example, is that
Woodstock got a lot of people to do stuff
they wouldn’t have normally done, and help
other people totally selflessly,” Morris added.
“I mean, [there were] just a tremendous
amount of people who did that.”
Special recognition: The audience
Can we just stop for a second and give it up for the 400,00-some-odd folks who showed up and dealt with less than perfect conditions? The crowd was so great, in fact, that Joel Rosenman, credits them with the refusal to let Woodstock go down in history as a catastrophe.
“It’s clear if you think about it for more than 15 minutes, the real hero of Woodstock is the audience,” he said. “They endured a lot, and in the words of Max Yasgur [the farmer who owned the property where Woodstock eventually took place], they showed the world that homo sapiens is not necessarily a lethal mutation. It’s actually got these very fine instincts for taking care of each other, loving one another, supporting one another, and that was all in the audience.”
Much of the coverage of Woodstock at the time focused on the lack of amenities and general unpleasantness. All of that is true, and
understandably, it’s led many people to ask about Woodstock, “What went wrong?” This is the wrong question. The Altamont Speedway Free Festival, which was marred by violence and death, took place only four months later, and it showed that many gatherings descend into chaos. Sporting events, with enough food and seating for everyone, have descended into riots, with overturned cars, smashed windows, and fires, even when the home team wins.
Given the conditions that the Woodstock audience endured, why didn’t the same thing happen? Why didn’t it turn ugly? The real question to ask, really, is not “What went wrong?” It’s “What went right?” Dan Mouer, a Vietnam veteran and author of the book Warbaby: Talking About My Generation, worked in the underground press and covered Woodstock. He described conditions that don’t come through on the soundtrack album.
“Crowded. No food. Practically no toilets,” he said. “We all slept on the ground in the rain. And mud. Lots of mud.”
He went home early, but he was there long enough to see why Woodstock didn’t go down in history as The Catskill Mountains Humanitarian Crisis.
“It was a bit of a nightmare, but folks shared, helped each other, made the best of it,” he said. “It was miserably uncomfortable, but most everyone seems to have enjoyed it…loved it, even.”
6. Chris Langhart
Chris Langhart was Woodstock’s technical
director. John Morris called him “an absolute,
flat-out genius…the person who could
anticipate and think of what we might miss.”
Morris recalled one event just prior to the
festival that impressed him greatly.
“Langhart came in and said, ‘How much
does Jimi Hendrix weigh?’”
Morris guessed 160 pounds. Langhart
returned to his trailer, returning later to ask
what the average groupie weighed. Morris
guessed 125 pounds. Langhart disappeared
again and returned hours later with the design
for the bridge to the festival stage.
“He had loaded it, taking Hendrix’s weight
and as many groupies as you could possibly get
on the bridge chasing him,” Morris said. “He
tripled that and made that the loading quotient
for the bridge. The bridge was excellent, and it
took two decent bulldozers about a day and a
half to pull it down after the festival.”
Langhart and his crew of approximately
130 people outfitted the grounds with electricity and running water. They spread out across
the field, relying on decades-old communication methods to relay information.
“We had [hand-cranked field phones], those
World War I, World War II kind of things, where
you run a wire in the trench,” Langhart said.
“You had to crank on the telephone and it would
ring and you would get a hold of somebody.”
Langhart said that his experience with
Woodstock didn’t end when the festival did.
He had been instrumental in making a field
inhabitable for over 400,000 hippies, so the
government branded him a dangerous subversive and tapped his phone for a year.
“Looking back on it, you can see that this is
the second-largest city in the state of New York,
which happened in two and a half weeks,” he
said. “If you were the Civil Defense Authority,
you would want to know why that was.”
7. Chip Monck
(Pictured: Chip Monck, left, with Joshua White of the Joshua Light Show.) When it comes to stage lighting design, John
Morris was unqualified in his praise for Chip
Monck, the man who he said was the best in
“Chip is the best rock-and-roll lighting
designer ever,” he said.
As if to underscore the point, Monck won
the Parnelli Lifetime Achievement Award in
2004, the staging and lighting industry’s
Before Woodstock, Monck was already
well known in the music and theater world. He
had worked at the Newport Folk Festival, the
Newport Jazz Festival, and the Apollo Theater.
He heard about Woodstock through Hector
Morales of the William Morris Agency, whom
he would contact every couple of weeks to find
“I went to Hector, and he said, ‘Oh, by
the way, this guy Michael Lang, here’s his
number, he’s hiring everything in Christendom, I suggest you get in touch with him.’
Michael and I started to chat about what I
could do, what I do, what I did, and how
could I help.”
There were only a couple of weeks to get
the Bethel site into shape, and one of the
casualties of the time crunch was the stage,
which had been designed by stage production
manager Steve Cohen.
“What we should have had was five
Navajo riggers who were the best in the oil
business, and maybe four or five Texas, heavy duty, redneck oil workers that could have put
the staging together as it should have been,
but we didn’t,” he said. “We had one person
that was on the crane, standing in a 55 gallon drum, trying to tighten nuts and bolts to
keep things in the air.”
After Woodstock, Monck went on to work
other rock festivals, including the violence-plagued Altamont festival. Despite the way
that that turned out, he kept working for the
Rolling Stones for the next five years. Today,
he lives in Australia, where he works in
corporate and retail lighting, and where he’s
much less likely to have his teeth knocked
out by speed-addled bikers with pool cues.
8. Bill Hanley
Bill Hanley is known as “the Father of Festival
Sound.” Woodstock was one of his most high-profile jobs.
“I was trying to find someone who could
do a sound system for Woodstock, and there
was no one who had ever done something like
that before,” Michael Lang told Front of House
Online. “Then there was this crazy guy in
Boston who might want to take a shot at it.”
He got a call from Michael Lang, who
offered Hanley the Woodstock job based on
what he had done over the past few years.
Hanley said that he had lofty goals for the
sound quality that he wanted to provide.
“I wanted to have a sound like the sound
that you do in the recording studio, without
multitracking,” he said.
Hanley said that despite the fact that he
was doing sound for the entire festival, he
wasn’t able to listen to the music and enjoy it
in the way that the audience did.
“No, I was working,” he said. “I was trying
to figure how to kill this parasitic oscillation
Regardless, Hanley’s work won raves from
the people he worked with.
“I thought the sound was great, and everyone I talked to thought the sound was great,”
Lang told Front of House Online. “Everyone
could hear, nothing blew up, and it all hung
9. The Hog Farm
One of the best decisions that
the Woodstock promoters made
was to fly in a hundred members
of the Hog Farm commune from
New Mexico. The group was led
by Hugh Romney, better known
as Wavy Gravy.
They were described as working security for the festival, but
that doesn’t really capture what
Ethel Romm of the Times Herald-Record,
one of the few publications that covered
Woodstock from the scene, wrote in the
Huffington Post in 2009 that one of the things
the collective did was tend to people having
bad drug experiences, such as a young woman
who appeared on the paper’s front page, being
carried on a stretcher to the First Aid tent.
“The Hog Farm was probably there within
ten minutes, comforting her, which would have
made a truer picture [than the stretcher] of how
bad drug reactions were handled,” she said.
The Hog Farm accepted the
help of anyone who wanted to
pitch in. This included 17-year-old Dikko Faust, an attendee
who said that he helped with
food prep and whatever else
needed to be done.
“I am convinced they saved
the festival,” he said. “Thanks to
Hog Farm, I didn’t starve.”
Wavy Gravy said that the Hog Farm was
approached by Michael Lang about working Woodstock while they were in New York
City. At the time, the collective was based in
New Mexico, and when Lang offered to fly
them out, he assumed that Lang was just talking drug-addled nonsense, so he disregarded it.
“However, there we were, Summer Solstice
on a Tesuque Indian reservation, and this guy
shows up with one of those slightly aluminum
rock-and-roll briefcases, and inside there is paperwork that indeed we have our own
American Airlines AstroJet to take us to
Kennedy Airport, 85 of us and 15 Native Americans,” he said.
Wavy Gravy said that they were paid
“about $600,000 for clearing land,” but
accepted no money for working security.
10. Bill Graham
Concert promoter Bill Graham had no formal
involvement with Woodstock, but it’s hard to
imagine it happening without him. He was the
first to present the music of the counterculture as a marketable commodity, and without
that, August 15 would have been just another
sleepy Friday in the Catskills.
After serving in the Korean War, he settled
in San Francisco and met the San Francisco
Mime Troupe, a political satire organization that
regularly ran afoul of the law. When members of
the troupe were arrested on obscenity charges,
Graham organized a benefit concert for them,
featuring the Fugs and Jefferson Airplane.
He quickly established credibility with the
city’s psychedelic underground, and he recognized its commercial potential. This inspired
him to host “Bill Graham Presents” shows at
the Fillmore Auditorium, which helped start
the careers of such future Woodstock acts as
Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.
He came to New York in 1968 to open
the Fillmore East. This venue would employ
such talents as Chris Langhart, Chip Monck,
and Joshua White, all of whom would work at
Graham had offered guidance to the
Monterey Pop Festival organizers, and he did
the same for Woodstock Ventures. Sometimes,
they took his advice, sometimes they didn’t.
“When I went to see Bill, he said, ‘Look,
it’s simple. You dig a trench around the
stage, because you’ve got to protect the
stage’,” Joel Rosenman said. “‘And you fill
the trench with oil, and then if they try to
rush to the stage, you light the oil… I think
dogs would be helpful, the guards should
Woodstock Ventures did not take this
In 1990, Graham was killed in a helicopter crash, along with pilot Steve Kahn and Bill
Graham Presents staffer Melissa Gold. He was
sixty years old.
11. Max Yasgur
(Pictured: Max Yasgur, the owner of the farm where Woodstock took place.) Max Yasgur was a dairy farmer in Bethel,
New York. He allowed the promoters to use
his land when the original site in Wallkill fell
through. It was not because he shared the
“He was older, he was Republican, he was
pro the war, but he was the most fair-minded
person I’ve ever known,” Michael Lang said.
“He just wanted to give us the opportunity that
he felt we deserved.”
Woodstock was originally supposed to take
place in the town of Woodstock, New York.
When that fell through, Lang said that Joel
Rosenman and John Roberts found an industrial park in Wallkill. That fell through as well.
“The town decided that they were being
invaded by all these hippies and passed a
law, the terms of which we couldn’t meet,”
The law had been hastily invented,
specifically to stop the promoters from holding
the festival there.
“I think it was ‘Local Law Number One,’”
Miraculously, the eventual site was found
the very next day. Lang was on his way to
look at a different site, and on the drive there,
he saw Yasgur’s field and thought it was
perfect. Lang had a meeting with him that
could best be described as a “cold call,” and
a deal was made.
Woodstock Ventures may have been up
against the clock, but in truth, both parties
needed each other.
“It was a bad summer for [Yasgur’s] hay
crop,” Lang said. “He had the biggest dairy
farm in the area and he needed to buy hay, so
he needed some money.”
Lang said that they agreed to rent the
property for $50,000.
There are many other people whose involvement was instrumental in making Woodstock happen. You can read more about them in “Woodstock: 50 Years of Peace and Music,” (Copyright © 2019 by Hourglass Press llc. Text copyright © 2019 by Daniel Bukszpan (An Imagine Book, Published by Charlesbridge.))
Featured Image Credit: James M Shelley / Wikimedia Commons.AlertMe