Woodstock Festival co-founder Michael Lang dies aged 77

Michael Lang, one of the co-creators and promoter of the legendary 1969 Woodstock Festival has died at the age of 77.

His death on Saturday, January 8, was announced by family spokesperson Michael Pagnotta. He had been suffering with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and passed away at New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

“He was absolutely an historic figure, and also a great guy,” said Pagnotta. “Both of those things go hand in hand.”

The 1969 Woodstock Festival has been etched into musical history as one of the most iconic events of all time. Created by Lang, in collaboration with Artie Kornfeld, John Roberts and Joel Rosenman, the festival was created in the midst of the Vietnam war to represent “three days of peace and music”. An estimated 400,000 people attended the festival, which saw over 30 acts performed on the main stage, including sets from the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana, The Who, Janis Joplin, Joan Baez, The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane.

The festival is considered to have helped shape the template for future large scale music festivals. In 2009, Lang was quoted as saying: “A lot of them are modelled after Woodstock, Bonnaroo and Coachella in particular. There was a ritual that was created that keeps getting replicated.”

He also told Rolling Stone in 2009: “Woodstock came at a really dark moment in America. An unpopular war, a government that was unresponsive, lots of human rights issues — things were starting to edge toward violence for people to make their points. And along came Woodstock, which was this moment of hope.”

In 1994, Lang launched a 25th anniversary event that featured performances from the original 1969 line-up, including Carlos Santana, Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Joe Cocker, as well as contemporary artists such as The Cranberries, Nine Inch Nails, Green Day, Primus, and Red Hot Chili Peppers. The festival was held in Saugerties, New York, approximately 70 miles from the original site and would go on to be labelled ‘Mudstock’ on account of the severe storms that blighted the second and third days of the festival.

To mark the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, Lang announced that a commemorative event would take place in August 2019 at Watkins Glen, New York. A raft of high-profile artists were set to perform at the festival, including the likes of JAY-Z, Dead & Co., Chance the Rapper, The Black Keys, The Raconteurs, the Killers, Run the Jewels, Janelle Monáe, Santana, and many others. However, numerous issues facing the organisation of the festival led to its eventual cancellation. Among the problems encountered were the acquisition of work permits, investment and venue changes.

Outside of his work with Woodstock, Lang ran his own record label, Just Sunshine Records, which released records by Karen Dalton, Betty Davis and Missisippi Fred McDowell. He was also an artist manager for Ricky Lee Jones, Joe Cocker and a number of other artists.

Photo: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP