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50 Years Ago, He Helped Save Woodstock With a Phone Call

50 Years Ago, He Helped Save Woodstock With a Phone Call

Posted: 2019/08/01

Garden City Park, NY: John Fogerty, Country Joe McDonald, John Sebastian, Dead & Company—you may think you're reading a list of those musicians and groups who performed at the original 1969 Woodstock Festival in Bethel, New York.

Sadly, this is a list of the acts—along, now, with rap legend Jay-Z and pop sensation Miley Cyrus—who formally announced that they will not perform at the much-beleaguered Woodstock 50 festival before it was officially called off yesterday (July 31, 2019). (For those who want a definitive Woodstock experience this summer, Rhino is releasing a vast 38-disc boxed set that captures for the first time every existing second of recorded sound from the 1969 show.)

Looking back all these years later, things were just as problematic for Michael Lang and the rest of his Woodstock Ventures team back in July 1969. It was around that time that the team found out their planned festival in Wallkill, New York had been suddenly rejected by the town's Zoning Board of Appeals. That was also the moment a former Brooklynite named Elliot Tiber called Lang on the phone—and within a few days, the Woodstock Music & Arts Festival of 1969 was safely delivered to the 600 acres of land owned by dairy farmer Max Yasgur.

The rest, of course, is history. Without the spirit and good intention of Mr. Tiber, though, it's very likely that Woodstock may never have happened as the world has come to know it—something worth remembering as this year's Woodstock festival continues to have trouble coming into its own.

All the wild and wonderful Woodstock stuff that took place during that legendary Summer of '69 is captured with humor and joy by Elliot Tiber himself in his first of three books, Taking Woodstock (co-written by Tom Monte). First published in 2007, this strongly reviewed and candid memoir won the attention of none other than two-time Oscar winning director Ang Lee, who made it into an acclaimed feature film just in time for the 40th anniversary of Woodstock in 2009.

Though Mr. Tiber passed away at age 81 in August 2016 (click here to read the New York Times obituary), his presence and role as "the gay man who saved Woodstock" remains a key ingredient in what made that first Woodstock so special fifty years ago. In addition, his role as a proudly gay man who fought back with many others against police abuse that same summer at the iconic Stonewall Riots was celebrated in recent weeks by Boston Review reporter Micki McElya, who wrote the following about Elliot in her article:

"Many [Stonewall riot] participants were activists in women’s liberation and the anti-war, anti-colonial, and anti-capitalist movements; many were also part of the student left and the counterculture. Elliot Tiber was at the bar when it was raided and joined in 'rioting,' for instance. As a closeted gay man from out of town, he felt liberated by the experience, which he took home with him to Bethel, New York. A few weeks later, with the entire festival in peril, he secured a permit and new location on a neighbor’s farm for the organizers of Woodstock."

Sometimes it just takes one person to help make things better. For all those who were involved in staging Woodstock the first time around in '69, Elliot Tiber was—and remains—that person.

Looking back, perhaps Michael Lang said it best in his remembrance of Elliot for the New York Times obituary:

"Elliot was part of the magic of Woodstock. Without his phone call bringing me to Bethel, Woodstock might never have happened, and for that I am eternally grateful."

Taking Woodstock in addition to Tiber's other two memoirs Palm Trees on the Hudson and After Woodstock, is available on Amazon and wherever else books are sold.