Road to Woodstock runs through Sunken Meadow
The road to Woodstock runs through Sunken Meadow State Park.
It was there, in a badly played round of golf, that Joel Rosenman, son of a Cold Spring Harbor orthodontist, and John Roberts, met.
Rosenman had come home to Long Island for the summer before embarking on a law career. One weekend, his younger brother Douglas announced he was coming home with Roberts, his graduate school fraternity brother. "Douglas said, 'Why don't the three of us play golf together?' " recalled Rosenman, now a 66-year-old Manhattan resident. "We met at Sunken Meadow State Park."
Despite Rosenman's bogeys, he and Roberts hit it off. Within two years, they had ditched their careers, become roommates, and written a sitcom script about two young venture capitalists.
Then they became those characters, their most prominent - though not most lucrative - investment being the Woodstock Music & Art Fair. It would grow in the collective memory to mythic proportions, and for its 40th anniversary next weekend, the festival is generating more interest among nostalgic baby boomers than at anytime since the summer of '69.Varying versions of ideaHow the festival idea took flight remains the subject of varying versions by those involved. One thing participants agree on is that it was launched at a Feb. 6, 1969, meeting hosted by the relatively straight-laced Rosenman and Roberts at their apartment with two hip Brooklyn-born would-be promoters: Michael Lang and Artie Kornfeld. Lang who ran a Miami shop and had promoted a small rock festival there. Kornfeld, a graduate of Levittown Division High School, had been a vice president at Capitol Records and a successful songwriter and producer.
Lang and Kornfeld were seeking financing for a music studio in Woodstock. The money men weren't interested "because we were in the process of building one in Manhattan," Rosenman recalled. But they were excited that Lang thought he could get Woodstock artists to perform at an opening day party for the studio. "We proposed that we skip the recording studio idea and just get Bob Dylan and have a concert," Rosenman said.
Lang, 64, and a Woodstock resident, remembers it differently. After moving from Miami to Woodstock, he said he attended concerts called Sound-Outs held on a farm where people could camp overnight. He writes in his new book "The Road to Woodstock" that he conceived of expanding the scale and shared his dream with Kornfeld.
Woodstock Ventures is bornHowever the idea was hatched, the four created Woodstock Ventures, rented office space and hired staff. Lang envisioned a three-day event attended by 200,000 - far more than had attended any other festival but still less than half the ultimate crowd. His preferred venue was Woodstock but officials there wanted nothing to do with it. So the promoters kept the name and made a deal to use an industrial park in Wallkill in Orange County.
As the partners offered double the normal fees to persuade acts to play in the middle of nowhere for neophyte promoters, Wallkill grew increasingly hostile. A month before showtime, local officials refused to issue a permit.
The next day, Lang got a call from Elliot Tiber, whose parents owned a rundown motel in White Lake in Sullivan County, offering use of the property. When Lang took a look and discovered the site was a swamp, he said Tiber suggested a local real estate salesman might find someplace suitable. The salesman drove Lang - without Tiber - by Max Yasgur's spread, Lang met the dairy farmer and arranged to lease some of his property. The amount paid remains in dispute. Sam Yasgur, Max's son, agrees with Lang's version.
Tiber claims he called Yasgur, arranged a meeting and went along to facilitate. Tiber's account became "Taking Woodstock," a book that is the basis for the Ang Lee movie that opens this month.
Because of the last-minute move to White Lake, three days before the music was scheduled to begin, Rosenman said the promoters faced a critical choice: Finish the stage so there could be music or build ticket booths and complete fences to recoup their investment. "It was either bankruptcy or a riot," he said.
Concertgoers arriveRosenman, who decided to sleep on it, woke the next morning to find 50,000 concertgoers sitting on what had been an empty field the night before. The choice had been made for them: it would be a free concert for those who had not already purchased tickets. [The promoters would emerge from the weekend $1.4 million in the hole, Rosenman said, and would not see any profit through royalties until 1982.]
Despite the difficulties and the investment losses, Woodstock still resonates positively with those who helped make it happen. "It was a reaffirming event that made one feel that there was a world out there that could actually survive and become harmonious," said Lang. "It reflects a lot of what's going on today."
For Kornfeld, the 40th anniversary isn't necessarily something to celebrate, "with the world and our country in the shape it's in." Still, he sees the spirit of Woodstock in the election of Barack Obama and other encouraging signs. "Time magazine called it "the greatest peaceful man-made event in the history of mankind," and that is what Woodstock really represents."