Michael Lang, Co-Creator of Woodstock Music & Arts Festival, Passes Away at 77

January 9, 2022
Michael Lang, Co-Creator of Woodstock Music & Arts Festival, Passes Away at 77

Image by Henry Diltz // via Woodstock’s Instagram

Michael Lang, best known as the Woodstock Music & Arts Festival co-creator, has passed away following a battle with a rare form of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, family spokesperson Michael Pagnotta shared. He was 77. 

A Brooklyn, N.Y. native, Lang dropped out of New York University in 1967 and headed south to Florida, where he started promoting concerts and events in the Miami area. His first break came in 1968 when he co-produced the Miami Pop Festival, which drew a crowd of 25,000 people and featured the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, John Lee Hooker and more. The event was cut short due to rain, but Lang’s future was decided.

Soon after, Lang moved to Woodstock, N.Y., and met Artie Kornfield. The two conceptualized a major concert event and recording studio in the small upstate town. Drawing the attention of John P. Roberts and Joel Rosenman, the group began organizing what would become the most well-known music festival in history. 

The plan was set into motion after securing a location, Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel, N.Y., for August 15-18, 1969. Woodstock Music & Arts featured three legendary days of rain-soaked live music. The storied event featured Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, The Who, Carlos Santana, Jefferson Airplane, Joe Cocker and more. Though there had already been other rock festivals in the preceding years, Woodstock turned the idea of a summer musical campout into an American pastime.

Lang’s career in the music industry continued. He went on to open and operate Just Sunshine Records, which released more than 40 albums. He also managed Joe Cocker, Rickie Lee Jones, Will DeVille, and others. Lang went on to produce Woodstock Music & Arts ‘94 and ‘99. An ill-fated 50th-anniversary event–slated to mix musicians from the original festival with more modern acts–was scheduled to take place in 2019 but was ultimately canceled.

“When you see photos of Michael he was always smiling–always–no matter what was happening,” says Relix publisher Pete Shapiro, who knew Lang and operates institutions that emerged in Woodstock’s long shadow like The Capitol Theatre, LOCKN’ and the four Brooklyn Bowl venues. “In the time I spent with him that smile was always there as well. It never faded. It never went away, even during times where he was stressed. I will always remember that–I have never seen anyone else who smiled like Michael Lang did.”

Michael Lang is survived by his wife, vocalist Ann Lang, and the pair’s five children. Lang will be remembered as a pioneer of live music and the festival scene.