According to rock festival legend Michael Lang, his new plans to establish a permanent facility to host regular and traveling rock festivals at the Winston Farm site in Saugerties are hinging on two elements, though neither seems poised to stop what he’s got in mind.
Meanwhile, Saugerties town officials are working to set up a date, in the coming weeks, to formalize their role in developing and okaying Lang’s plans, expressing comfort with what’s being proposed and hoping it eventually gestates into something permanent, maybe on a scale similar to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
Lang — who was one of three young men who put together the massive Woodstock Festival of 1969, along with its reunion concerts in 1994 and 1999 (along with earlier and later festival achievements that included a series of Miami Rock Festivals, and a hand in the infamous Rolling Stones free concert that’s become known simply as “Altamont”) — has heard positive feedback from Winston Farm owner Jeremy Schaller, who’s been in talks with Saugerties Town Supervisor Kelly Myers, and members of the Saugerties Town Board. He says the nature of what he’s got in mind, and all the work he had done to the Winston Farm site 18 years ago in anticipation of the Woodstock ’94 bash there, make his permitting needs much simpler than anything he’s done before.
Lang is setting up a facility that will have parking and camping areas onsite at the 850-acre Winston Farm, which was once proposed for a county-wide dump, and later talked about as a possible site for a gambling casino. There’s a road system already in place, pedestrian footbridges that need replanking, ample electricity and a water piping system the impresario is planning to have checked out and either refurbished or replaced in the coming year. That site will be made available to existing festivals, in the 15,000 to 30,000 range, as well as smaller events, which will make the actual applications for mass gathering and other permits from town, county and state facilities.
“The town seems ready to endorse the idea,” Lang said, seated on the verandah at his Willow home this past week, following a flurry of business meetings in previous days. “Things are still very early but everyone’s enthusiastic, including the local business community I’ve been meeting with. Everyone recognizes that the proposed size and scale of things is very manageable. The remaining big challenge at the moment is time…putting things together.”
Which led to the second item Lang spoke about negotiating at present, largely off record.
He mentioned several existing summer festivals he’s in talks with, each of which is expressing interest in moving from current locations to Winston Farm for next summer. As well as a trip he’s making to Ireland at the end of this month to visit an interesting festival there. And specific mention of The Big Chill, an England-based festival that’s been bringing in visual, spoken word and other arts for a different sort of experience over the past 20 years.
Summer festivals are big business these days. The current biggies — including Bonnaroo in Tennessee, Coachella in California, and Glastonbury in western England — draw crowds between 60,000 and 150,000 each year. The small specialized events, including the likes of Truck and All Tomorrow’s Parties — each of which landed in the Catskills for a time — tend to stay in the 5,000 person range, thriving on their intimacy.
Lang notes how the festival schedule became overcrowded in England in recent years. The problem, he felt, was that festival organizers underestimated much that was needed to get such an endeavor up and running, as well as the longevity one needs to build a brand. Staying in one location that’s accommodating, he added, was a real plus…and a rarity — which provides the business attraction to what he’s proposing for Saugerties.
“We won’t be doing this under the Woodstock name,” Lang said, pointing out that he was working on an enterprise moniker that could recognize the farm location being used, as well as the town of Saugerties. “But we did take our first cuttings of the fields there this past week, with plans for several more in the coming year.”
“All of us on the town board support the ideas we’ve heard. And we’ve been trying to get together with Michael,” Saugerties deputy supervisor James Bruno said this week of the plans for Winston Farm Lang’s hatching. “We’re very receptive. We don’t want to have a casino, although I have to say I’d really like a SPAC-like (Saratoga Performing Arts Center) facility there.”
Much of the team Lang plans on using to get Winston Farm back in shape as a festival venue will be the same he used back in 1994. That includes Michael Stock and Ken Graham doing site work, and Phil Gitlin handling permits and planning logistics. Festival contractors will be able to use on-site mobile officers Lang’s company will provide, along with any offsite parking or camping that might end up being necessary. Security can be contracted, or brought it.