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Looking back at Woodstock, from the inside

July 23, 2009 |  1:36 pm

Michael Lang was one of the founders of Woodstock in 1969 -- he can be seen in the film on his motorcycle -- and he's been involved with the later, less seminal incarnations of the concert in 1994 and 1999. Now he's returning to the original festival in "The Road to Woodstock," a memoir co-written with Holly George-Warren.

While Woodstock was planned, much of it had to be improvised, including its location. Without enough time to set up fences or a proper perimeter, tickets became meaningless -- people just showed up. And who can blame them for driving for hours in rattling VW buses to see Jimi Hendrix, Joan Baez, Neil Young, Canned Heat, Ravi Shankar, Richie Havens and the Grateful Dead? OK, I'd skip the Grateful Dead -- and that's exactly what Jerry Garcia, in retrospect, would have recommended.

"I had a wonderful time... but our performance onstage was musically a total disaster that is best left forgotten," he says in the book. George Ducker, in today's L.A. Times, writes:

Among the joys of "The Road to Woodstock" are the voices. Jerry Garcia confesses that the Grateful Dead were too stoned to play. ...

Cultural moments are impossible to duplicate, but it's to Lang's credit that the mythology of Woodstock still evokes a wide-eyed sense of possibility, despite its often unsettling echoes in commercials for Coke and blue jeans and life insurance.

"In the past forty years," he writes, "Woodstock has been the elephant in the room of my life. To keep it in perspective, I have chosen to make the room much bigger."

Read the complete review of "The Road to Woodstock" here.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

-- Photo, left: Michael Lang in 1994. Credit: Tom Gorman / For The Times. Photo, right: Concertgoers in 1969. Credit: Associated Press