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Woodstock Impresario Michael Lang Dead at 77

Michael Lang, the concert impresario who helped conceive the landmark, generation-defining 1969 music festival Woodstock, died Saturday night at Memorial Sloan Kettering hospital in New York. He was 77.

Michael Pagnotta, a rep for Lang and longtime family friend, confirmed the promoter’s death to Rolling Stone, adding that the cause was a rare form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Alongside businessman John Roberts and music industry promoters Artie Kornfeld and Joel Rosenman, Lang, who had previously promoted the 1968 Miami Pop festival, co-created the Woodstock Music and Art Fair the following year. Famously billed as “Three Days of Peace and Music,” the upstate New York festival drew up to 400,000 people to Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel, NY and featured dozens of rock’s biggest names, including Santana, Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Who, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and Jimi Hendrix.

Lang was only 24 when he helped conceive the festival, which would go on to become a massively influential counterculture touchstone. Over the years, Lang’s name became synonymous with the Woodstock brand, as the promoter helped helm subsequent iterations of the festival in 1994 and 1999. (When Pollstar asked Lang in 2019 what it’s like to be the “Woodstock poster child for eternity,” he replied, “Life is full of experiences, and not everything works out. But you keep trying or nothing works out … That’s always been my attitude.”) A 50th anniversary concert in 2019 was mired in controversy and legal issues and was canceled before it could go on.

Lang, a native New Yorker, moved to Coconut Grove, FL in the late 1960s and opened a head shop. “The climate is perfect, people are into a stimulating variety of artistic things and there was no place for them to get together,” Lang said in author Ellen Sanders’ 1973 book Trips: Rock Life in the Sixties. He applied that same ethos to music festivals, starting with the Miami Pop fest, which featured 25,000 people watching sets by Jimi Hendrix, John Lee Hooker, Chuck Berry and the Mothers of Invention, among others.

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