Woodstock 50: A 1969 Flashback with Michael Lang, Henry Diltz

Jefferson Airplane at Woodstock, Aug. 17, 1969. Photo: Henry Diltz. Used with permission.
Jefferson Airplane at Woodstock, Aug. 17, 1969. Photo: Henry Diltz. Used with permission.

Fifty years ago this weekend, on Friday, Aug. 15, 1969, the three-day Woodstock Music & Art Fair finally got underway on farmer Max Yazgur’s sprawling spread in the rolling hills of upstate New York.

Co-producer Michael Lang, along with official photographer Henry Diltz, marked the festival’s 50th anniversary by comingling their verbal and visual recollections and more in a fat coffee-table illustrated scrapbook titled “Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music.”

The book meticulously documents everything from the festival’s concept and funding to the site’s preparation and stage construction, from the three days of performances and tons more drama in the audience and backstage to the short- and long-term cultural, social, political and environmental impact we still see today.

The duo appeared at a series of book signings, panel discussions and interviews for numerous films, TV specials and articles coinciding with the Woodstock 50th anniversary weekend in August 2019.

henry diltz and michael lang
Henry Diltz and Michael Lang were all smiles at a Woodstock 50th Anniversary event and book signing at the Morrison Hotel Gallery in New York on Aug. 9, 2019. Photo courtesy MHG.

“It’s coming out of my eyeballs, I tell you!” Diltz remarked with mocked drama in May during a personal call (we met in 1978, and collaborated on his 2011 book “Unpainted Faces” for Rare Cool Stuff Unltd.). “I’m averaging at least one, sometimes two interview requests a day.”

At the time, Lang was early in what was ultimately a failed bid to produce a Woodstock 50 anniversary concert. Diltz was again on board as Woodstock’s official photographer.

“I saw Michael back on my birthday, almost a year ago,” said Henry, who will be 81 years young on Sept. 6. “I said, ‘So, Michael, could I be your photographer again?’ He said, ‘Yeah, sure. Of course!’ So, that means I’m in. I can be his photographer, that means I have to have the golden pass, so I can follow him around everywhere and see what’s going on.”

IWoodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music coverf Woodstock 50 hadn’t been canceled just a few weeks before the scheduled dates, Diltz would have been the only photographer he or I know of that would have shot all four Woodstock festivals.

“Mind you, I never got paid for any of the Woodstocks,” he said. “Well, the first one, Michael gave me 500 bucks and a plane ticket. But I just go, and he gets me all the passes, everything I need, and I’m his guy. I donate my services and then I own all the pictures, but I share them with Michael. He can use all the pictures I take and I can as well. We have a perfect win-win relationship. It’s worth a lot more than getting a couple of grand.”

How were the festivals different, or the same, through Henry’s lens?

“First, there was no crowd-surfing in ’69. Only mud-sliding,” Diltz said. “There was not one person up in the air. No one had thought of it. It wasn’t invented in ’69.

“In ’94, you look out from the stage and see 30 people at a time being passed overhead,” he said. “Girls with their boobs hanging out, guys with their shirts off, legs up in the air. It was a madhouse of people being passed around.

“And then the same thing in ’99, except there were more topless girls on their boyfriend’s shoulders – there was a lot of that,” he said. “I’m standing onstage taking a lot of pictures with my telephoto lens, zooming into the crowd to find interesting things like that.

“Now, I can well imagine for Woodstock 50, it’s not going to be full of Baby Boomers, or peace and love hippies. It’s going to be Millennials,” Diltz said. “I’ve been to Bonnaroo the last few years, and it’s all Millennials, all college kids. So it’ll be cell phones up in the air, I think. Whether there’ll be crowd surfing or topless girls on their boyfriend’s shoulders, I don’t know. But I’m sure there’s going to be a sea of cell phones.”

Woodstock 50 lineup poster

“The other differences were, at the first Woodstock, there was one construction trailer backstage that had the blueprints in it, and maybe half a dozen cars were parked behind the stage. That was it,” he said.

“Ninety-four and ’99 had huge motor homes, like, 100, 200 of them, all parked backstage. Every act and every news organization had a big motor home parked,” Diltz said. “In ’94, the big thing was people on golf carts backstage with walkie-talkies. There weren’t cell phones yet.

“Of course, there were no cell phones at Woodstock ’69,” he said. “If people wanted to meet their friends, they had to hand a little note up to Chip Monck, who would squat at the edge of the stage and read them. ‘Marcy says to meet her over at the Hog Farm at noon tomorrow,’ stuff like that.

“So, it went from walkie-talkies in ’94 to cell phones in ’99, and who knows what it’ll be for Woodstock 50?” Diltz said.

One could imagine the sky over the venue filled with drones carrying cellphones and webcams streaming the whole thing live. We’ll just never know.

“Woodstock’s 50th Anniversary has dominated my life for the past three months,” Diltz said in a Facebook post on Thursday morning, Aug. 15. “Here’s a short look at one of my favorite video interviews with Scott Hanson.” The clip includes dozens of Henry’s stills.

* * * * *

Flashback to August 1969: Performers

Friday, Aug. 15, 1969
Richie Havens
Swami Satchidananda (invocation for the festival)
The Incredible String Band
Bert Sommer
Tim Hardin
Ravi Shankar
Arlo Guthrie
Joan Baez

Saturday, Aug. 16, 1969
Keef Hartley Band
Country Joe McDonald
John Sebastian
Sha Na Na
Canned Heat
Grateful Dead
Creedence Clearwater Revival
Janis Joplin with The Kozmic Blues Band
Sly and the Family Stone
The Who
Jefferson Airplane

Sunday, Aug. 17, 1969
The Grease Band
Joe Cocker
Country Joe and the Fish
Ten Years After
The Band
Blood, Sweat & Tears
Johnny Winter featuring his brother, Edgar Winter
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Neil Young
Paul Butterfield Blues Band
Jimi Hendrix

* * * * *

Wavy Gravy and Michael Lang at Woodstock, August 1969. Photo: Henry Diltz. Used with permission.
Wavy Gravy of the Hog Farm Collective and Michael Lang at Woodstock, August 1969. Photo: Henry Diltz. Used with permission.

Flashback to 1969: Richie Havens Launches Woodstock

As Michael Lang recounts in “Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music,” the festival got started late on Friday, Aug. 15, 1969. By several hours.

At dawn, stage crews were still hustling to get all the sound, lighting and band equipment wired as some 400,000 rock ‘n’ roll fans – most but not all young hippies – began streaming into the festival site on Max Yasgur’s farm.

Meanwhile, most of Friday’s performers and gear were still ensconced at a Holiday Inn about seven miles away, partying, eating or sleeping while waiting for transportation to the site. But as the morning slipped away, the two-lane country roads into the festival site were increasingly jammed with people and cars.

Some local residents freaked out about the invasion of the Great Unwashed from all over the planet who tromped through their yards and crashed in their barns.

Other locals seized the opportunity to cash in by selling the tourists food, beverages, ice, souvenirs, parking, shower/bath facilities and more.

By mid-morning, the roads into the area were impassable. People drove in as far as they could, on both sides of the two-lane road, then abandoned their cars to walk the rest of the way.

Woodstock, looking from the rear of the crowd toward the stage, Aug. 15, 1969. Photo: Henry Diltz. Used with permission.
Woodstock, looking from the rear of the crowd toward the stage, Aug. 15, 1969. Photo: Henry Diltz. Used with permission.

Noon came and went. By then, the only way to get performers and equipment to the site quickly, or at all, was by helicopter. Fortunately, Lang and organizers had the foresight to rent several choppers.

The audience, after slowly packing the hillside in front of the stage, began spilling out around the fringes of the field and into adjacent pastures, as far as the eye could see. The swelling crowd was increasingly restless for the show to start.

Lang had to act.

Richie Havens was a Brooklyn-born singer/guitarist and a rising star on the Greenwich Village folk scene. He was scheduled to go on fifth but wound up going on first, only because he and his two band members had the smallest entourage and the least gear to shuttle from the motel to the helipad backstage.

“The festival was late – there should have been music starting at 5:30 that morning,” Havens told this writer in 2009 (we’d been acquainted since 1994 when he recorded an album for Rhino/Forward and it was my honor to handle the PR).

Once Havens and his band arrived backstage, he said Lang and his stage crew begged the trio to go on first and get the festival off the ground.

“Are you kidding?” Havens told him.

“‘No, it’s OK, please go on,’ they said.

“I went, ‘Oh, no!’ and disappeared for a while. When I came back, they went, ‘We weren’t kidding – please!‘”

Havens looked out at the hundreds of thousands of faces, more than he’d ever seen in one place. He could not see the back of the crowd. What if they didn’t dig his unplugged act? He’d really be putting his career on the line for a friend.

“I was like, ‘Look, Michael, if they throw anything at me, you’re gonna owe me! I’m saving you, you know that, don’t you?'” Havens said.

“We did go on, played our 40 minutes, then turned around and walked off.”

Richie Havens opens Woodstock, Friday, Aug. 15, 1969. Photo: Henry Diltz. Used with permssion.
Richie Havens opens Woodstock, Friday, Aug. 15, 1969. Photo: Henry Diltz. Used with permission.

The audience roared their approval as Havens headed backstage, where Lang, festival MC Chip Monck and the stage crew – still needing more setup time – asked him to take an encore.

“They said, ‘Richie, four more?’ ‘OK, four more songs,’ I said and went back on. Well, they did that six times, until I didn’t have a song left to sing. I sang every song I knew, that I could play.”

Havens’ two-hour forty-five-minute set included “High Flying Bird,” “Handsome Johnny” (co-written with Lou Gossett Jr.) and finally, for his final “encore” – with no songs he knew left unsung – “Freedom,” a powerful anthem of despair and redemption, made up on the fly based on the traditional “Motherless Child.”

The crowd erupted. The only thing they threw at him was love and peace signs. It was a defining moment in Havens’ career, for Woodstock, and for what the counterculture media would soon tag “the Woodstock Nation.”

“Richie Havens, as the person who started the whole weekend off, was unbelievable in the way he connected with the audience,” Lang wrote in “The Woodstock Experience,” a comprehensive and expensive signed, limited-edition book he and Diltz produced with London-based Genesis Publications celebrating the festival’s 40th anniversary in 2009 (and now sold out).

“No one wants to start so it was not a surprise that (Richie) was hesitant, but I finally convinced him,” Lang continued. “I said, ‘You have to, we have to get this started!’ He set the exact right tone for the weekend – that we were in this together and what a miracle this was.”

In our call, Diltz characterized Lang as “unflappable” at the first Woodstock.

“There he was, like a little cherub, with his curly hair and his bare feet, on the motorcycle,” he said. “And up on stage, people would be running up to him, ‘Oh, God. Michael, this is happening over there, and this isn’t happening over there. Oh, my God. What do we do?’ And he’d just smile, and say, ‘Okay. We’ll take care of it. Okay, fine.’ He was just like the calm at the center of the storm. He’s always been that way.”

Once underway, Woodstock took on a life of its own.

In front of the stage, out in the audience, getting and staying spaced on psychotropic and/or psychedelic drugs was a primary pursuit for many concertgoers, interchangeable with food as a priority.

1969 marijuana famineThe summer of 1969 was also the first time the counterculture experienced a marijuana famine due to skyrocketing demand, decreased production and increased heat from the new Nixon administration, as reported in the Aug. 22, 1969 edition of LIFE magazine.

There was not a lot of alcohol at Woodstock, either; it was not very popular with hippies at the time. Nor was a batch of brown acid that sent a bunch of people to the medical tent.

Backstage, many among the crew were fueled by cocaine. Some of the performers, notably John Sebastian, Santana, and The Grateful Dead, were tripping on psychedelics when they took the stage, with varying effects on the performances.

John Sebastian at Woodstock, Aug. 15, 1969. Photo: Henry Diltz, used with permission.
John Sebastian at Woodstock, Aug. 15, 1969. Photo: Henry Diltz. Used with permission.

* * * * *

Woodstock and Camille: Just Missed ’em

We all know what an epochal moment in rock ‘n’ roll and pop culture history the first Woodstock was. And I just missed it.

My family had moved from Miami to L.A. the summer before, and after graduating high school in June ’69, and no desire to go to college right away, I wanted to go back to Florida to visit the reprobate friends I should have graduated with.

So, in the first week of August 1969, still 17, I set out on my first cross-country hitchhiking adventure from L.A. to Miami and back. Lots more about that in a separate flashback.

But fast-forwarding about 2,300 miles or so to Tallahassee, a few minutes after I stuck out my thumb on U. S. 90, heading east another 165 miles east toward Jacksonville and U.S. 1-Interstate 95, four Florida State University students picked me up.

Two guys and two girls with dee-lahtful Southern accents in a funky white Econoline van were driving all the way to I-95. Fantastic. From there, Miami was (is) due south about 350 miles.

As they drove, they shared some really bad weed and told me they’d be heading north on I-95 to this big music festival called Woodstock that was happening in upstate New York the next week.

“Wanna go with us?”

I’d read all about it, of course, and the four of them seemed friendly and harmless enough. I gave it serious thought. It did sound exciting. But when we reached I-95, I opted out. I’d been on the road about five days, had some great adventures and a few close calls, but was ready for a bath and a 24-hour nap, not another week or two on the road.

“Thanks, but I think I’ll head south to Miami,” I told them. “My friends are expecting me.”

Which was true. My pals Steve, Jeff T, Joe, Bill, Big Al and Jeff K all thought I was insane and were as anxious for me to arrive safely as I was. And once there I did have some wild times in Miami and on Miami Beach with them for the next few weeks.

But as you’d figure, I’ve wondered “What if?” for the last 50 years.

Especially when hearing the recollections of friends like Henry Diltz, who was not only at Woodstock, but also in the eye of the hurricane.

Speaking of which, as Woodstock was rocking upstate New York, deadly Hurricane Camille was flattening the Gulf Coast and flooding the Deep South. I saw this scene below with my own eyes on the beach in Gulfport, Mississippi, while hitching home from Miami to LA in September ’69.

The aftermath of Hurricane Camille. Large ships were no match for Camille. Image ID: wea02405, NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS) Collection. Location: Mississippi, Gulfport. Photo Date: 1969 August 17. Photographer: NOAA Central Library Historical Collections.

* * * * *

Henry Diltz has generously recounted many memories of Woodstock in our conversations over the years. A consummate storyteller, he’s also recapped many Woodstock flashbacks in his famous slideshows (like the Hendrix at Woodstock story at 8:19 in my video of his 2011 “Unpainted Faces” slideshow, part 3).

“I have about 400 slides and about 40 proof sheets,” Diltz said of his Woodstock ’69 archive. “There were 14 proof sheets that went missing. I think I’ve got the main stuff. I’ve got all the building of the stages and some of the acts – The Who, Jefferson Airplane, CSNY, a bunch more.

The Who -- John Entwistle, Roger Daltrey, Keith Moon, Pete Townshend -- Aug. 17, 1969. Photo: Henry Diltz. Used with permission.
The Who — John Entwistle, Roger Daltrey, Keith Moon, Pete Townshend — Aug. 17, 1969. Photo: Henry Diltz. Used with permission.
Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane, Woodstock, Aug. 17, 1969. Photo: Henry Diltz. Used with permission.
Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane, Woodstock, Aug. 17, 1969. Photo: Henry Diltz. Used with permission.
Graham Nash and David Crosby of Crosby, Stills & Nash at Woodstock, Aug. 17, 1969. Photo: Henry Diltz. Used with permission.
Graham Nash and David Crosby of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young at Woodstock, Aug. 17, 1969. Photo: Henry Diltz. Used with permission.

“I have one shot of Jimi Hendrix,” Diltz said. “I remember when I had three or four of them, and they got lost over the years. I used to send them to people to get printed. Back when I was trusting. Back before scanning and the slide was the original, there was no negative. I remember talking to people on the phone and they’d say, ‘Oh, look. Send it to me. I promise I’ll send it back.’ But then they would never send it back. But I just have the one quintessential shot of Jimi.”

Jimi Hendrix and members of backing band The Electric Church onstage the morning of Monday, Aug. 18, 1969. Photo: Henry Diltz. Used with permission.
Jimi Hendrix and members of backing band onstage the morning of Monday, Aug. 18, 1969. Photo: Henry Diltz. Used with permission.

And when Hendrix ended his early-morning set – for the 40,000 or so people still on the muddy field, in varying degrees of wakefulness and sleep deprivation, coming down from an exhilarating and exhausting weekend – he found the perfect groove to match the mood, and begin the long way home.

* * * * *

Prequel: Lang’s Road to Woodstock Started in Miami

Michael Lang already had a taste of rock festival producing by the time he got to Woodstock, as he details in his 2009 book “The Road to Woodstock” (with Holly George-Warren, HarperCollins).

A native New Yorker, Lang attended NYU in the mid-1960s, then moved to Florida, went to college in Tampa, and in 1966 bailed from academia to hang out in Coconut Grove near Coral Gables, south of downtown Miami, the hippest section of town since the Beat era.

The Grove also hosted one of the first head shops in town; there sprouted Lang’s idea to promote and produce a big music festival bringing all the new psychedelic rockers together.

Lang was inspired by the June 1967 Monterey International Pop Festival staged by Mamas & Papas leader John Phillips and the group’s producer Lou Adler, among others — which featured Jimi Hendrix as the headliner.

So, in early 1968, Lang got some friends and financial backers on board, hired the engineers at Criteria Studios to handle the sound, and produced the first Miami Pop Festival at Gulfstream Park race track in Hallandale, just north of Miami, on May 18 and 19, headlined by – The Jimi Hendrix Experience.

(This writer, then a 16-year-old North Miami High School junior, attended Saturday with friends including Charlie Mallicote and Jeff Thaw; tickets cost $5 per day.

We saw and heard Hendrix, Redding and Mitchell swoop into the backstage area in a helicopter, jump out, climb onto one of the flatbed truck trailer stages, plug in and rip. It was loud, intense, often brilliant, sometimes painful, absolutely sensational, unlike anything we’d ever seen or heard. That performance was worth the price of admission alone.

We high school kids in the audience figured Hendrix was in some altered state, but we had no clue the trio had been dosed with STP just before they went on stage. Mitchell later said the Gulfstream experience “was straight out of ‘The Twilight Zone,'” as Lang notes in his book.

And Sunday it rained.)

For Lang, Miami proved to be a rehearsal for the bigger show. He learned some hard lessons.

Like John Lee Hooker’s manager insisting on being paid in cash before John Lee would take the stage (which would happen at Woodstock when the Airplane’s manager demanded cash up-front).

Or how rain on the second day of a two-day festival can bum your financial trip.

Or how much the Establishment press wanted to mock longhairs who were into peace, love and music and wanted to share the experience with other like-minded humans.

Broke and spent, Lang and his girlfriend moved to Woodstock that summer. The scene was more artist-friendly than Coconut Grove had become. Miami cops by then were harassing and busting hippies for sport.

In Woodstock, Lang envisioned an even bigger event the following summer. All he had to do was line up the backers and find a venue…

* * * * *

Special thanks to Henry Diltz and the Morrison Hotel Gallery for permission to include some of his historic Woodstock photos.

Henry Diltz (right) and Stephen K. Peeples, Studio City, summer 1980. Photo: Ruth Peeples.
Henry Diltz (right) and Stephen K. Peeples, neighbors in Studio City, summer 1980. Photo: Ruth Peeples.

This article is an extremely updated version of a 40th-anniversary flashback written by Stephen K. Peeples for The Signal, first published August 15, 2009.

Santa Clarita journalist and Grammy nominee Stephen K. Peeples was raised by career newspaper journalists and music-lovers in Miami and Los Angeles. He was the original, award-winning producer of “The Lost Lennon Tapes” radio series for Westwood One from 1988-1990. He earned a Grammy nomination as co-producer of the “Monterey International Pop Festival” box set (Rhino/MIPF, 1992) with Lou Adler and Geoff Gans. Peeples’ first music industry gig was as an Associate Editor at Cash Box magazine in Hollywood in 1975. He went on to be a record company Media Relations-PR executive for Capitol Records (1977-1980), Elektra/Asylum Records (1980-1983) and Rhino Entertainment (1992-1998). He was Rhino’s first web editor (1996-1998), then elevated to content editor of Warner Music Group websites (1998-2001). In the Santa Clarita Valley just north of L.A., Peeples was the award-winning Online Editor for The Signal newspaper’s website from 2007-2011, and wrote-hosted-co-produced SCVTV’s WAVE-nominated “House Blend” local music show from 2010-2015 (on-demand online and still airing in reruns). He is now a News Editor at SCVNews.com and mining his personal archives. For more info and original stories, visit https://stephenkpeeples.com/For exclusive behind-the-scenes interviews, subscribe to his YouTube channel.

Article: Woodstock 50: A 1969 Flashback with Richie Havens, Henry Diltz
Category: News and Reviews
Author: Stephen K. Peeples
Article Source: stephenkpeeples.com