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Wednesday, August 12,2009

Woodstock up

Books, memorabilia mark fest’s 40th

by Bill Castanier

Woodstock may have been staged on Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm 40 years ago this week, but the real cash cows are being milked for this year’s milestone anniversary. The iconic festival of peace and love is now awash in nostalgia, commercial bric-a-brac, movies and the mini-concert tour “Heroes of Woodstock” which recently made a stop at Soaring Eagle Casino in Mt. Pleasant.

As would be expected, the re-mastered CDs and DVDs have been on the shelves for some time, wrapped in glam packaging that would make Janis Joplin smile. There is the director’s cut of Warner Bros.’ legendary documentary movie, “Woodstock,” which includes what producers are calling “never before seen performance footage” and 22 of the original 32 artists and groups.

Chain retailer Target’s “Summer of Love” promotion features an entire line of touriststyle clothing and memorabilia. (Someone should have told Target the Summer of Love was actually in 1967.) For collectors, there are tie-dyed T-shirts, blankets, beach towels, clothing and the ultimate in throwaway Woodstock trash and trinkets: paper plates.

Also, there is a new movie out this week, which has turned a relatively unknown Woodstock factoid into a clever feature film. Ang Lee’s “Taking Woodstock” follows the coming-of-age and coming-out of Elliot Tiber, without whom there probably would be no Woodstock memories, just bad acid. Tiber’s parents owned the rundown motel where the promoters of Woodstock held court. But more important, he had a permit for an outdoor concert, which provided the legal underpinning for the festival.

Tiber has coauthored a book by the same name on his Woodstock experiences, which was first published in 2007 and printed in paperback form this summer. The latest run of Tiber’s book joins a class of 20 freshly printed books covering nearly every aspect of the fest.


Michael Lang — whom you may recognize from the movie as the hippie on the motorcycle with curly hair — has put his version of Woodstock in his new book, “The Road to Woodstock.” Lang was one of the four young (not one was older than 26) festival promoters, and the most gregarious and visible during the event.

Lang and co-writer Holly George-Warren have put together a highly readable, insider’s look at the festival, jammed with details and the extraordinary efforts it took to put on the show and keep it together for three days.


Lang tells his version of how the event came together and came down, but it’s only his side of the story, since the remaining promoters are not overly friendly. The New York Times had great difficulty even getting Lang and co-promoter Joel Roseman together for a photo shoot. The money man, John Roberts, died in 2001.


Another new and notable entry on the Woodstock shelf is Pete Forntale’s “Back to the Garden.” Fontale, who was a DJ at rock station WNEW in New York City in ’69, has compiled more than 100 interviews for his book, which features contributions from the likes of Jann Wenner, Richie Havens and Sly Stone, as well as some notable rock writers.

He leans toward the music of the festival, drawing on the memories of others to give an unusual perspective on the sounds of Woodstock.

Even the Yasgur family has gotten into publishing. There’s “Max B. Yasgur: Woodstock Festival’s Famous Farmer,” by Sam Yasgur, and for the younger set, there is the picture book “Max Said Yes!,” by Abigail Yasgur.

While browsing, you’ll no doubt notice the requisite coffee table books, like “Woodstock Vision: the Spirit of a Generation,” “Woodstock: Three Days that Rocked the World” and “Woodstock Peace Music and Memories.”

One of the best books on Woodstock remains Roseman and Roberts’ hard-tofind “Young Men With Unlimited Capital.” The book, which was first published in 1974, offers a rambling look at the months leading up to Woodstock and the event itself as told by the two promoters, while the concert was still fresh in their minds. The book offers a highly entertaining, first person look at how it came together.


The other member of the foursome, Artie Kornfeld, has his own memoir, “The Pied Piper of Woodstock,” due out this fall.


Time magazine, of course, has weighed in with a retrospective on 1969. So along with Woodstock and the Moon landing, there are bummer segments on the Manson murders and Ted Kennedy’s Chappaquiddick. (Don’t buy it for its Woodstock essay, which reads like a Wikipedia entry).


Although not a book, The New York Times has published a commemorative edition of the actual newspapers that covered the 1969 Woodstock, later festivals and the lives and deaths of some of the Woodstock performers. It’s interesting to see the evolution of the coverage by The Times during the festival and its aftermath, especially when compared with 40-year-old memories. The Times has also included a line-up and play list that helps to keep everything straight.


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