The Pied Piper of Woodstock: Artie Kornfeld and the Birth of an Iconic Film
By Mark A. Moore
Author of The Jan & Dean Record
I had the fun of serving as an editor on this book for Artie Kornfeld, co-creator of the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair in August 1969, and one of Jan Berry’s Screen Gems songwriting partners .
The story of Woodstock is legendary . . . “3 Days of Peace & Music” during the turbulent height of the Vietnam War . . . but it took some eleventh-hour scrambling to bring everything together.
Three days before the festival—which was destined to become one of the biggest cultural events of the twentieth century—Artie approached Freddy Weintraub, vice president of East Coast production for Warner Bros., at Freddy’s office in the Pan Am Building in Manhattan, New York City. Artie and Freddy were old friends and colleagues. Among other industry connections, Freddy had managed Leon Bibb, an artist that Kornfeld had produced when Artie worked for Mercury Records.
With the festival on the cusp of happening, the creators needed money for a film to document the event.
Weintraub owned the Bitter End Café in Greenwich Village, and had already heard the growing buzz about Woodstock from many of the performers. By the time Artie showed up, Freddy had begun to realize that the festival could be something special.
Warner Bros. had just received new management, and executives Steve Ross and Ted Ashley were now in charge. Energized by Artie’s drive and enthusiasm, Weintraub pitched the project. Ted was initially reluctant to roll the dice on a festival documentary. Kornfeld argued that he had already advertised the festival “to the hilt.” Moreover, a good director and crew were on hand and ready to go. Freddy felt so strongly about the film’s potential, he threatened to quit—and that was enough to get complete approval. The asking amount was $350,000 (not a huge sum for a movie).
In a whirlwind 30-hour period, Weintraub, Kornfeld, and the vice president of business affairs at Warner Bros. worked out a contract . Thanks to the connections of an old friend and colleague, Artie had secured the money for the Woodstock movie. He called co-creator Michael Lang and told him to have director Michael Wadleigh flown to the heliport on the Pan Am Building, so he could sign the contract. Wadleigh flew in with a crew member and left with a check for a hundred grand to get started. The rest is history.
“I never knew that Michael Lang had hired someone to film him prior to the festival, so he could document from beginning to festival opening,” writes Kornfeld. “I never knew about Michael’s famous motorcycles and horse scenes until I saw the movie.”
Woodstock was released in March 1970 and went on to gross $50 million at the box office.
An engaging and conversational memoir, The Pied Piper of Woodstock covers Artie’s entire career in the music business. From the highest of highs to deep personal tragedy, Artie’s story is a crucial companion to Michael Lang’s The Road to Woodstock. Both books were published in 2009 to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of the legendary music festival.