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Put a Fork in Woodstock 50, Please (Column)

Dear Michael Lang:

Maybe this is stating the obvious, but it’s time to throw in the towel on Woodstock 50. The legacy of the 1969 festival that changed culture itself is tarnished, if not completely ruined; your multiple attempts to move the event to another location are laughable at this point; the lineup is in shambles, with Jay-Z and John Fogerty pulling out ahead of an avalanche of artists expected to follow suit in three, two…

Just stop. There’s no getting back to the garden this time.

In fact, you still owe us for Woodstock 99. Lest those of us who escaped the mayhem forget, it was another festival with a nonsensical lineup  – Jewel, James Brown, Sheryl Crow, Rage Against the Machine, Dave Matthews, Bush, Korn and Limp Bizkit were among the acts on the bill for the three-day mosh-pit – also held in upstate New York in mid-summer. I was there for all of 36 hours, melting under the mid-summer sun and finding little reprieve from a sweltering tarmac (read Jeff Cornell’s account here). Sensing that chaos was imminent following Bizkit’s plywood-surfing early evening set, I hopped a ride with a busload of volunteers and spent the night at a Greyhound station in Albany waiting for the next ride home.

Was my PTSD in any way comparable to the women who were assaulted sexually that night and the attendees seriously injured as the grounds were essentially torched and looted? Absolutely not. Those ticket-buyers are likely scarred for life, and it’s your fault.

It’s a wonder my love for Woodstock and all that it stood for didn’t totally disintegrate after that experience. I must have blocked it out, choosing instead to remember the 1969 album I knew from start to finish. That recording, purchased initially on vinyl, then a multi-cassette set and later a double-CD (cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching, Michael Lang) was hope itself. It signified a changing time, expanding minds and really good, if then unfamiliar, music. To this day, I can recite the anti-war lyrics of Country Joe McDonald’s “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag” – at least through the first chorus, then mumbling along with 500,000 hippies for the rest of the verses. There was purpose to the music and the gathering, along with the urgent sense that, outside of our insular suburban worlds, there was a greater cause than our own.

How disappointing to see that, in the end, that lofty notion would turn into a giant money-grab. And even worse, should some thrown-together version of Woodstock 50 actually take place at Merriweather Post in Maryland, as a pale imitation, it would devalue the Woodstock name and legacy even more.

You can pretend it’s still all about peace, love and art, but at this point, after six months of stop-starts (but mostly stops), we see through that façade. And we also look back to history: to a money-losing event that was first saved by a movie, then by grunge in 1994 and was a complete disaster in 1999.

Again, the obvious: in 2019, major music gatherings require months if not years of planning. If Woodstock 1969 were held today, you would have been sent to jail.

And finally, the unfortunate: at a time when there is so much progress to celebrate – gay pride, gender parity, legal marijuana – and so much at risk of devolving into pre-1960s racism, where are the Boomers? I used to have this theory: that if a person I meet was old enough to go to Woodstock in 1969, but for some reason didn’t, that person tended to be more of a curmudgeon than someone of the same age who did attend. That second scenario was a person who usually brimmed with positivity and enthusiasm for life. What I’ve since learned is that those Boomers we so admired lost their way, and that includes Michael Lang.

The dream is over, friend. Click stop on the Woodstock 50 countdown clock. It’s time to wake the f— up.

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