New directions

Fifty-one years ago this weekend, a big festival took place that redefined this area. Last year, that Woodstock Festival was set to be commemorated with an anniversary fest. It didn’t happen as planned.

Rolling Stone recently published a comprehensive piece on what went wrong, fascinating reading for anyone who’s been inundated with the original 1969 event’s mythology and wonders how things have changed this last half-century. It’s a sad accounting for all who touched in on the would-be commemoration’s slow demise.

I spoke exactly a year ago with events promoter Michael Lang, who comes off as a naively optimistic wheeler-dealer in Rolling Stone’s complex narrative. “I’m getting together with some of the old crew, spending some time together over the weekend,” Lang explained at that time from the Thruway he was once said to have helped close.

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He wouldn’t get specific about who “the old crew” might mean. A somewhat familiar woman’s voice chimed in, “We’re having a good time already. We should all be contemplating our navels this weekend.” She wouldn’t give her name. Lang giggled as she, then he, echoed an old Stephen Stills’ song, “Love the one you’re with.”

Covid’s arrival pushed any thoughts of a proposed Woodstock 51 event from everyone’s mind. But the Black Lives Matter movement raised a different Lang memory for me.

It was the late autumn of 2011, just under a month after Occupy Wall Street was forced out of Zuccotti Park. Michael and his wife joined a meeting we’d put together with several activists who had proclaimed themselves among the leaders of Occupy. Michael listened as others spoke about the importance of their movement, and he then suggested the time would be ripe for a moment-defining event, perhaps on tribal lands somewhere. You could work with the sovereignty-allowed reservations.

The activists scoffed, more comfortable in their own trajectories at the time. Lang moved on. The times moved on.

Nine years is an eternity, 50 years a generational shift. Someday something new will prove cathartic for a generation again, as first Woodstock and then Altamont once did for another generation. I suspect it will come from a new direction.

Anyone seen Beyonce’s “Black Is King” yet?


Read more installments of Village Voices by Paul Smart.