I wanted to be cynical about The Road to Woodstock. Heck…I even tried to be cynical about Michael Lang’s book. But, in the end, "the man behind the legendary festival’ and author of the book The Road to Woodstock: The Man Behind The Legendary Festival got to me, too. His charm, positivity and tenacity are well-documented in the book by co-workers, artists and musicians, managers and even Max Yasgur’s widow. Lang’s approach is more “will do” than “can-do,” and it’s clear the force of his personality was a major reason that the counterculture pulled off “three days of peace and music” on a scale that was unheard of. As one volunteer put it, the scale made it really “more of a military operation.”
I’d heard about the rain. I’d heard about the traffic nightmares, the trash and the bad acid. But I had never heard of the detailed planning, infrastructure and deal-making that went into Woodstock, and most of Lang’s book deals with just that. The promoters of the festival would ultimately take a financial bath and Lang would disastrously divest himself of the Woodstock brand and subsequent licensing opportunities. There are roadblocks and hurdles galore — both physically and metaphorically — including bad weather, bad luck, bad trips and bad vibes. However, the much-ballyhooed and predicted “bad behavior” would, ironically enough, come from the “establishment,” such as the New York police department, who pulled out of security at the last minute; and the forefathers of the originally-intended site in the town of Wallkill, who led Lang and his cohorts down a utopian road before bowing before town pressure and yanking the rug — and license— out from under them, also at the last minute.
Much of the book is about the vision, culture and business of Woodstock, but the music becomes more the focus as the festival unfolds. There’s insight from many of the artists who performed there, and the end of the book features a complete set list from all of the musicians who performed, as well as a “Where Are They Now” section, that covers all the major players, musically, financially, philosophically and otherwise. Good stuff.
The cover of the book features John Sebastian of The Loving Spoonful bedecked in a tie-die suit standing alone with an acoustic guitar, before a mass of people on the first day of the festival. And that’s one image — both literal and otherwise — of Woodstock. Conversely, the back cover features a lone figure, who I presume to be Michael Lang, on horseback, with one of Yasgur’s pristine fields rolled out before him. That’s the story of this book; a man with a vision, and The Road to Woodstock: From the Man Behind The Legendary Festival is a very entertaining and worthy ride.
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