Inside Media: The Road to Woodstock
Guest: Michael Lang
By Lesette R. Heath, special programs coordinator
On the final day of the 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Fair, The New York Times published the editorial "Nightmare in the Catskills." The next day, the paper did an about-face, printing a piece saluting the festival’s spirit.
"I think it was the only time they’ve ever reversed an editorial opinion," said Michael Lang, the executive producer of Woodstock.
While the festival was heavily promoted as a weekend of peace, love and music, the news media, according to Lang, wanted to focus on the negative — from reports about traffic jams and lack of supplies, to rumors about food and water shortages and utter chaos.
Lang tells a different story.
"The media got everything wrong from the beginning," he said. He pointed out that Times reporter Barnard Collier was one of the few reporters there, but he had trouble filing his story because it was too flattering.
"His editors were telling him, ‘No, we don’t want that story. We want a negative story. We know [the festival] is horrible,’" Lang added.
The media changed their tune a few days after Woodstock ended.
"Once the kids started coming home, then word started getting out on what an amazing thing had happened," Lang said.
Over the years, Woodstock would come to define the 1960s counterculture, mark a new era in music journalism and elevate the careers of music icons Carlos Santana, Jefferson Airplane, Richie Havens, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hindrix, among others.
While Lang believes there could never be another Woodstock, he agreed that President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration was very similar in mood. For the venerable concert promoter, both events symbolized a sense of hope.
Woodstock occurred during "this really weird, dark time that we were living through," Lang said. Obama’s inauguration, "whether you were for or against him, it was certainly a change and a diversion from the path that it looked like we were taking."
Lang signed copies of his book, "The Road to Woodstock," after the program.
"Inside Media" is produced by the Newseum and is open to all visitors. Seating is on a space-available basis.
"Woodstock at 40," the Newseum’s newest exhibit, is on display through Dec. 31, 2009.