Michael Lang, the co-creator and organizer of the generation-defining Woodstock Music and Air Fair event in 1969, died Saturday. Lang also organized the follow-ups Woodstock '94 and the disastrous Woodstock '99. He made his final public appearance just before the coronavirus pandemic began as plans to stage Woodstock 50 stalled. Lang was 77.
The cause of death was a rare form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, family spokesperson Michael Pagnotta told Variety and Rolling Stone Sunday. Lang died at Sloan Kettering hospital in New York. He is survived by his wife, their two sons, and his three daughters.
Lang joined businessmen John Roberts and Joel Rosenman and music promoter Artie Kornfeld to stage the Woodstock festival at a farm in Bethel, New York. Almost 400,000 people gathered to watch Santana, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and dozens of other now-iconic 1960s acts perform. Lang was just 24 when he helped co-create the festival.
"There's a moment when Michael Lang changed the world," Lovin' Spoonful frontman John Sebastian told Rolling Stone. "At Woodstock, I was standing next to him when one of his minions way in the distance came running toward the stage and we thought, 'This can't be good.' He gets to Michael and says, 'The fence is down. Folks are coming over the top.' And Mike takes this long look over the whole scenario and almost to himself he says, 'Well, I guess we now have a free festival.' It was the original, 'What could possibly go wrong,' but he could pivot and see the light."
Carlos Santana called Lang a "divine architect of unity and harmony" who "gave birth to Woodstock, the festival that manifested three glorious days of peace and freedom." Land and Bill Graham, another legendary music promoter from the 1960s, "are now united in the light of our divinity and [our] supreme love," Santana told Rolling Stone.
Lang was a native New Yorker who became forever linked to the Woodstock name. He was involved in organizing the 1994 and 1999 festivals. There were plans to hold a 50th-anniversary event in Columbia, Maryland in August 2019, but the event was mired in controversy and behind-the-scenes issues that forced organizers to ultimately cancel the event. "I definitely feel lighter. It was just so bizarre, one thing after another," Lang told Pollstar in August 2019 after Woodstock 50 was canceled.
In 2019, Lang said he did not think the Woodstock 50 debacle hurt his legacy or the legacy of the 1969 festival. "It's not something I consider," he told Rolling Stone at the time. "What we did in 1969 was in 1969 and that's what has endured and will continue to endure. We're not going away. We're going to continue working toward the social issues we've always been supportive."