Woodstock organiser and co-creator, Michael Lang, has died at the tender age of 77. Lang passed away following complications from a rare form of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. His spokesperson, Michael Pagnotta, revealed the news to the world.
“We are very sad to hear that legendary Woodstock icon and long time family friend Michael Lang has passed at 77 after a brief illness. Rest In Peace,” Pagnotta wrote in his statement on Twitter.
Woodstock featured performances from The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Joe Cocker. Billed as ‘Three Days Of Peace And Music’, the festival offered the American counterculture a creative avenue from which they could escape the news of the Vietnam war.
Footage from the festival was released as a film and was heralded as a new form of rock music documentary. Editor Martin Scorsese used it as a template for his probing concert film, The Last Waltz.
Deservedly proud of the event, Lang offered this tidy explanation in 2019, in an effort to define the importance. “Woodstock offered an environment for people to express their better selves, if you will,” Lang told Pollstar. “It was probably the most peaceful event of its kind in history. That was because of expectations and what people wanted to create there.”
Shortly after Woodstock, Lang began managing Joe Cocker, and he even holds a walk on appearance during the ‘You Can Leave Your Hat On’ video. Many remembered Lang as a deeply original man, yet one who could see the beauty behind the chaotic.
“There’s a moment when Michael Lang changed the world,” the Lovin’ Spoonful John Sebastian recalled. “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.”
Lang was only 24 when he helped organise the festival, but it cemented his fame and legacy. He helped helm subsequent variations of the festival, as he did in 1994 and 1999. But there’s something about the original that lingers in the lives of those who witnessed or performed there. To guitarist Carlos Santana, “Michael Lang was a divine architect of unity and harmony.”
Michael Lang is survived by his wife Tamara, their sons Harry and Laszlo and his daughters LariAnn, Shala and Molly. As of the time of writing, more tributes are pouring in.
See the official statement, below.