The Road to Woodstock + Woodstock Revisited

January 01, 1970

(Harper Collins)
www.harpercollins.com

(Adams Media)
www.adamsmedia.com

 

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

 

Brace yourself… the biggest onslaught of dewy-eyed nostalgia
and unabashed commercial pandering since the Bicentennial is well underway.  Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but with
the fortieth anniversary of the Love Generation’s supreme moment of nirvana
taking place this month (August 15-18, to be precise), Woodstock Nation will
pressed to resurrect the three days of peace, love, music, mischief and mayhem
that became a touchstone for baby boomers everywhere.

 

Amidst the flood of books that are certain to hit
bookshelves this summer, The Road To
Woodstock
will likely be the one that will attract the most attention. At
very least it offers the greatest potential in terms of firsthand recollection
and reminiscing, being that it’s written from the perspective of the man who
was ultimately responsible for guiding the festival through, from its uncertain
start to its somewhat tattered conclusion. 
In the critically-acclaimed Woodstock
documentary, Michael Lang was seen as the tousled-haired 25 year-old wunderkind
who wheeled around the site on his motorcycle and kept a clear head in the
midst of the chaos unfolding around him. 
In the book, he comes across as equally adept, clearly determined to
pull off the biggest concert event in history, a man/boy whose early
infatuation with John Coltrane convinced him that predetermined parameters were
meaningless and that great things can happen when the tethers are taken off and
spontaneity is given free reign.  It was
the ideal philosophy for coping with the chain of events that would eventually
lead more than 300,000 kids to Bethel
New York for the single most
impressive gathering of musical talent in Rock history.  After all, it took no small amount of
confidence and conviction to lock horns with the almighty Bill Graham, wary and
resistant local officials, and artist managers who demanded payment before
their acts would take the stage.  The
fact that Lang managed to persevere through it all became a credit to his
constitution.

 

The opening chapters retrace Lang’s back story, specifically
his early adventures in Greenwich Village and Coconut Grove, his spectacular
pre-Woodstock prototype via 1968’s Miami Pop Festival, and his initial
introduction to Woodstock’s
environs where he eventually settled. However, the bulk of the book deals with
the build-up to the event itself, specifically the massive amount of
preparation and planning.  Consequently,
music enthusiasts might be disappointed that only about a third of the
approximately 280 pages recount events that transpired during the actual
festival, and while a number of other perspectives are offered – from
musicians, partners and participants – more of that commentary conveyed
specifically over those three days might have served readers more.

 

Happily then, Woodstock Revisited tells the Woodstock
story from a more emotional and immediate point of view.  It gives a glimpse that avoids the usual
backstage perspective and tells it instead from the vantage point of the people
who journeyed there almost on a whim, young, wayward, adventure-loving thrill
seekers who were somewhat uncertain about the experience they were embarking
upon but still more than willing to immerse themselves into whatever they might
encounter.  At just over 200 pages, it’s
a quick, easy read, and while the glossary of terms at the end seems somewhat
perfunctory, it does add historical perspective.  Nevertheless, it’s the first hand accounts of
these intrepid souls that provide fascinating commentary, particularly for
anyone who wasn’t around to experience it first-hand.  After forty years, the amount of actual
recollection is impressive (how about that adage, “If you remember the ‘60s,
you weren’t there?”), but beyond the starry-eyed descriptions of rain-drenched
fields, drug-induced nirvana and wacky fellow travelers, it’s the context of
these tales that becomes most striking, offering a sociological glimpse of a
time now faded into the recesses of memory, when cultural upheaval seemed the
norm. 

 

In the introduction, editor Susan Reynolds writes:

 

“While each story in Woodstock
Revisited
focuses on the Woodstock experience, together they illustrate
America in the late sixties and how the baby boomer generation evolved,  These stories go beyond tales of being caught
in traffic or mired in the mud.  They
reflect what was going on in the minds of the hardy souls who traveled to Woodstock and thus what
was going n in our nation.”

 

If this isn’t the final word on why one should have been
there, then it’s just possible no amount of convincing will ever be enough.

 

Nevertheless, leave it to Lang for the final word.  “It was the time of all our lives,” he says
succinctly early on.  “For me, Woodstock was a test of
whether people of our generation really believed in one another and the world
we were struggling to create.”

 

Amen.  And too bad
those sentiments don’t resonate today. 
Consequently, those moved by the movie would be best advised to also
read the books. 

 

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