Concert producers are updating Woodstock for 1994

May 06, 1994|By Gary Graff | Gary Graff,Knight-Ridder News Service

Michael Lang has seen the commercial, the Pepsi spot that depicts a Woodstock anniversary concert.

Aging hippies cavort in a field, grayer and more portly than they were during the days of peace, love and skinny-dipping. Some are wearing suits and talking on cellular phones. The musicians can't remember what they were doing 20 years ago.

It's not the kind of Woodstock Mr. Lang wants to stage in 1994.

"We have no intention and no interest in doing an oldies show," says Mr. Lang, 49, a co-producer of the original Woodstock in 1969 and of the upcoming 25th anniversary festival Aug. 13-14 in Saugerties, N.Y., 100 miles north of Manhattan.

"We want a festival that's relevant to this generation, not the last one," says John Scher, another co-producer of Woodstock '94. "We're looking for a cross-section of everything, from acoustic to hip-hop to middle American music to hard rock to some country."

The Woodstock folks aren't yet ready to say who will be making that music, however. So far, only three acts have confirmed they'll be there -- hard rockers Aerosmith and Alice in Chains, and Woodstock veterans Crosby, Stills & Nash.

There's plenty of speculation, though: strong candidates include Pearl Jam, Metallica, Nine Inch Nails, the Rollins Band -- even the Rolling Stones as part of their upcoming North American tour, although the band denied it Tuesday. Other participants from the original Woodstock will also be involved, according to Mr. Lang, so long as they're "still viable and touring and credible in their own right."

L Read that to mean the Grateful Dead, Santana and Joe Cocker.

Among the returnees will be Wavy Gravy, once leader of the hippie commune the Hog Farm and an emcee at the first festival.

It will probably be mid-May before the full 30-group lineup is announced.

For now, Woodstock Ventures and its partner, PolyGram Diversified Ventures (PGV), are concentrating on the mammoth task of putting the festival together. Saugerties officials granted the permits less than two weeks ago, and organizers are scurrying to turn almost 1,200 acres of upstate New York farmland into a city within a city for an estimated 250,000 music fans.

It's a $7 million job that will result in a very '90s setting, with all the high-tech and consumer comfort amenities concertgoers now enjoy. Organizers are installing a 2 million-gallon water tower, a plumbing system, 2,700 portable toilets and an electrical power grid. They're building two main stages, a marketplace and a mall for interactive technology displays. There may be separate performance tents for blues, jazz and folk.

The organizers expect to use about 350 acres for the festival itself, with the rest used for parking and camping. Mr. Lang says tickets should be in the $125 range, and the first batch to go on sale -- probably in mid-May -- will be for bus and train packages to the site.

"With the place we have and the preparations we're doing, we'll be able to support, at minimum, a great weekend in the country with a lot of good music," says Mr. Lang.

But he and his cohorts know Woodstock means more than that. The first festival was a cultural landmark often spoken about in reverent tones. There were problems -- hasty planning, nearly debilitating rainstorms and tens of thousands of gate crashers who forced Mr. Lang and his partners to make it a free festival. One person died at Woodstock, and lore has it another was born.

But Woodstock's legacy is of a peaceful, positive and potent gathering of the late-'60s youth counterculture.

"It was kids realizing that they had value in society, that they were not kids who should be seen and not heard," says musician Graham Nash. "Things were happening to young people that were very adult -- the Vietnam War, which they were in danger of being drafted into, and things the administration was doing that they didn't like -- but they were still being treated like kids.

"Woodstock was their event, their coming of age. After that, they were able to say: 'We are a political force. We have our own destiny. We can affect the direction of the world.' "

Still, the Woodstock '94 organizers and participants are trying to downplay any expectations that the event itself will transcend the music.

"It is something we've thought about," Mr. Lang says. "I believe a lot of people are coming to find that sense of community and that vision they heard about at Woodstock."

Mr. Scher, who's 43, says the similarities between today's youth and the Woodstock generation make the time ripe for another edition of the festival.

"There were issues in the summer of '69 that were of grave importance to our generation," Mr. Scher says. "Now, for the first time in 25 years, I think there are social issues that are just as significant to this generation of [young] people -- AIDS, homelessness, unemployment."

They are issues, says Scher, that call "for a gathering of the tribes." And the crowd will determine what the gathering accomplishes.

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