tv Oral Histories Artie Kornfeld Interview on the 1969 Woodstock Festival CSPAN August 18, 2019 10:01am-10:32am EDT
for greater equality. e 1960's live on because americans try to move past their petty concerns. woodstock became the icon for that for a lot of young people, this moment when they could rise above circumstances and anger and pettiness and create something wonderful even if that wonder only lasted three days but those three days clearly have lived on in the minds of those who were there and i think we all should take stock of woodstock. >> we thank you for your time. >> thank you. >> for those joining us on c-span 3's american history tv, more of the interview from 2014. a look back at the woodstock festival, something he helped to organize 50 years ago. coming up
mr. kornfeld: i wanted to be a baseball player. my mother always, i always loved music and my mother always had liked benny goodman for the lumbardos. the two brothers, they both had bands. she listened to big band music in my uncle of jazz. he was always listening to jazz. those were the influences i had. >> was your mother a performer? >> my mother became a very famous, she was the founder of the freedom rise. if you get my book, it will blow your mind about shirley kornfeld. she's the star in my family, not me. >> today, you are the star. mr. kornfeld: i am just a representative of a dream. >> capitol records was a new concept and you took a commanding position. how did that come about?
my good friend charles called berman, who just sold his stock in martha stewart, chairman of the board of records for 15 years, we met, if you read my book, we met by accident at queens college night school, and he had just taken over the job working for donnie kershner from evans kershner music. i had already had a record out when i was 16. i was signed when i was 16 so i had a record out, and it died and nothing else happened. i ran into charles and you read the book, you'll crack up, the story is hysterical how it all happened. we met, next day i go on with the demo i made and i play it for donnie kershner and they signed me. here i am signed to music, dauphin king, brian wilson, jan barry, great writers.
there i was. it was so simple. you wrote a song and you played it for donnie kershner, because ,f elected, you had a budget and those days, they were smaller studios. i'm trying to remember the names, but i don't even remember. to dick charles. that would make you the most. you get three hours, and and you do 10 songs in three hours. i don't even remember if it was two track at the time. we were cutting two track. what happened is jerry and carol put out locomotion, a two track demo, and then hey girl. freddie scott was the handyman and he sang hey, girl. i did a song called can i you
-- called tonight you are going to fall in love with me. he got so good at doing demos that a lot of us went into producing records. then you left capitol records. mr. kornfeld: before capitol i had run mercury and roulette. so it was the third drink. it was my biggest. i was the first vice president of rock in music business's history because that is the way the pr went out. canned rock -- vice president of rock and that was just coming in. it was about 1956. it is when i was hanging out with the movie crew and i signed quicksilver, stuff like that. that was the start of rock. >> i will talk to you later but
will be. mr. kornfeld: matthew is a total lunatic. he used to drink his own urine. he did, and he had his daughter do it, too, and he thought that was the key to a longer life. anyway, that is a private story. sorry, matt. he lived near malibu, so that's how i knew. >> what was that tipping point that said gee, i'm going to create the woodstock music arts festival? >> i was running capitol, i was very successful. i had no budgets. the president chairman of the board loved me. i probably signed the first year where i had no limits. nobody could say no to what i wanted to do. i was in the studio with debi at the time. axelrod was producing the walls, linda ronstadt, things were happening in the company. then one day, and i was known as
grabbing an open door for everybody, and my secretary said there is a kid out here with long hair. which i had never seen, so i did have bird summer who i produced three albums with. i knew the guys who wrote hair. said his name is michael. i said, does he have an appointment? she said, no. i said, ask him if he can come back tomorrow. she got back on the phone and said, he is from bensonhurst. i brought him in. his story is, i was sitting on my desk smoking hash. that is so bizarre because i had not even gotten high yet. he's the one who got me into grass. john sebastian gave me a joint one time. that was the extent of my drug experimentation. and languor had just got his headshot. the police closed them down in florida. i was already living in the
tallest building in manhattan, the penthouse apartment and still in my jeans and with my wife, i had a new baby. life was wonderful. and capitol paid for everything. this guy michael lang came in and we became friends instantly. he did not have money, so i supported him for a year and half and one night we were shooting pool, we were playing bumper pool and i was on the 40th floor, and i looked out over, it was the highest residential building at that time, and you could look at over the whole city. michael said you are tainted. you don't go to concerts anymore. i said michael, i've been doing this since 1956, and i've seen so many concerts, i've played so many clubs. i'm in the studio all the time and i write and you don't do that stuff. your way of getting connected to music is to go see it. mine is to make it.
so when i said, what if you took a broadway theater and had, just made it free? we'll use my money because you don't have any. when we run out of money, we will close it down. we will try to get the biggest acts we can and make it free. he said well, i started to work on a thing in miami called miami pop but what happened is it rained and it folded. it was called a festival. that stuck in my mind, festival. then my late wife, may her soul rest in peace, said what if you took it outside? and then the bell went off. then i saw the field. i said yeah, well if we took it outside, michael, suppose we had hendrix and joplin and all these people. how many do you think would come? he said 50,000. i said 100,000. my wife said more than 300,000.
just like that. i swear to god, i looked up that and i saw the field, off that terrace and saw that field. i was spaced out. i was looking at a dream that had come true. i had seen it before. i had seen it the year before. because we talked about it for four months or five months, and then they wrote the book. michael didn't say a word. i did all the talking. i talked him into the $250,000. that was a start, you know? >> location, location, location. we were always going to call it woodstock even though there was not enough land to have it in. i had the band at capitol. one of my best friends was living up there, richie was living up there, everyone was up in woodstock or coconut grove, florida or sausalito in california. that was the way it was.
location, michael did a stupid thing. he went out and built a site on walk hill with no permit from the town. that wiped out the budget. i didn't even think i was going to sell tickets. i was shocked. when it was all over, we were in debt. $1 million it cost $2.4 million. was $250,000.dget michael went 600% over budget, i went 60% over budget. but i had too many people on the road still. i did not promote it very heavy. i planned it out. i knew how to promote records. i'd been writing songs so many years, and they were buying my songs. i knew my audience. i knew them, and i knew the program directors.
i got disc jockeys talking about it. it was really, like bruce, who lives here. he said woodstock was not your greatest promotion, tracy chapman was. he's right. woodstock was easy for me to promote. i knew exactly what to do and it wasn't me. i was a messenger, not the creator. i knew from whatever power i had tapped in on, i knew what to do. >> [indiscernible] mr. kornfeld: the real story is i'm sitting in my apartment and my cousin lived on 52nd street and had a neighbor who was a gay interior designer. his uncle was maxi asstor. the whole other thing is all lies. all lies. i get a phone call from the sky -- guy who says, mr. kornfeld, i
live next year cousin, lenore , and my uncle has a cattle farm in new york and he's going to lose it. he needs $60,000 desperately. i said, look, let me have his number. i said michael, there is a guy named max yasgur. there are witnesses to this story and it is in my book. people that heard the conversation, you know? mike went and met with max and made a deal for the farm. it was $60,000 originally. when i got up there, i could not believe it. i closed a movie deal and we went from warner bros. to get up there and michael says take the motorcycle. we are all over these farmers ' lands, 12 farms here, and we have 40,000 people on the land. i said why don't you get releases? he said you have to do that.
i said, michael of all, i don't , first ride motorcycles and second of all, you should have taken care of this. that is your part of it. i'm on the other side of the fence, in new york. i need people there. so i went from door-to-door to door, i drove the motorcycle and had the right to sign for woodstock ventures. if you had your whole whole life invested in this farm and all of a sudden everything was getting trampled, and you said i want $60,000, i wrote woodstock ventures owes $60,000 to be paid within 120 days. i did that to about 16 farmers. i went to every farmer. some were very nice. i wound up having coffee and pie. some came to the door with shotguns. that was my greeting to woodstock. after i got totally wasted with nikki garcia. >> i noticed one of the things
you were able to get the axe because you paid $12,000. mr. kornfeld: that is all [expletive]. that is not true at all. there is no set price on anybody. the first act signed was flagstone. his manager was a friend of mine, so people can say this and that, but i knew dave kaplan for 15 years before woodstock. he was in the music as this, and so was i. there was no set price on anybody. that is a fable. of the bands selected there, did you have your a-list and be -- b-list? mr. kornfeld: no. michael got in touch with bill graham and he got in touch with the whole san francisco group. in reality, sweetwater and nancy
nevins were the band to get a first deal out of san francisco. they never really happened, so that brought in santana, the dead, sweetwater, who am i forgetting? starship, the airplane at the time. that was that group, and then i was talking with managers i knew and producers, you know? i've put in bird summer because i produced him, and melody was a friend of mine. i got her a record deal and put her into woodstock. michael, we both had a friend named hector morales. when i was a singer, he got most of the acts. he was living in puerto rico and i don't know what he was doing for a living but whatever it
was, he was in puerto rico and he had a lot to do. i mention in my book, no one ever mentioned him. also, no one ever mentions steve cohn, who was really the stage manager of woodstock. he is mentioned in my book. the pressure on him was so intense that he flipped out and i had to sit with him for four hours and talk him down. he lost it. the pressure got to him. he couldn't take it because when the rain hit, michael's stage wouldn't turn anymore. so to change the act, because if you took too much time with that many people, big chance for a riot. you couldn't have people sitting there for 45 minutes between acts. so when i watched his work, i was mesmerized and wanted to kiss every single one of these
guys working. i even started to lift myself. i saw what they were going through because without the turntable, and they were doing changes in 20 minutes for big-name acts. that was amazing. that was really amazing. no, it is not true that jimi hendrix wanted to close the show because he was the headliner because if you listen, go into the archives of the arctic kornfeld show, and you'll hear my interview with the percussionist and the band of gypsies. they'll tell you the story of jimi hendrix. jimi said to me when he came up the stage, i said, what do you think? they were friends of mine years before woodstock and jimi said if i could have played at 9:00 when i was supposed to to have a million people, i did the best i can. i was so tired and worn out. it was only average. which it was because i'd heard
him play before. and it was average. that's what he felt and that is what i felt. >> were there bands you couldn't entice? >> no. i don't know what michael was doing. i was really busy doing the word of mouth. i was meeting with the black panthers, the weatherman, sds. i was traveling the country and making deals with every group. the only deals i made is will -- we will give you medical assistance, legal assistance if you are busted and we'll give you food if you don't have any. >> making deals with every group. ? mr. kornfeld: with all of those groups, and they accepted it. when they showed up, no problem. >> obviously, there is a fear they could take advantage of that situation. mr. kornfeld: you don't read that because i don't have a pr i wrote about it in my book. i knew what i had to do, and i
said michael, you went 600% over. and he said, you know i did not know what i was doing, you know? about thathink concert, there was not a lot of opportunity for sound checks. mr. kornfeld: no, when the rain hit, michael's crew came through. michael did pull his weight. it took the two of us and my wife to come up with the idea and it did take michael's staff, because he went and bought the best he could get. chipmunk was doing the lights, doing sound, the best in the world. steve cohen was an incredible stage manager. john morris was a pro. everyone's top drawer. he covered himself. i was proud that it held. when the rain hit, it was so terrible. it was such a threat to everybody and that is when the
miracle happened. when the rain hit, the miracle happened because we had threat of being in jail for the rest of our life and committing manslaughter if someone died, and everyone on the field was just so up about it and when my barry the fish, who was a lawyer now, and he has never lost a case and is a public defender, and he is very great lawyer. so he started chanting no more rain, and the rain stopped. i even did the mudslide. >> did you? mr. kornfeld: i did. i wanted to see what they are doing so i enjoyed it. i walked up on the field. i didn't go to the top. i walked to the shops. the one that said smoke shop, that was one of my best friends from college i played basketball with. >> the movie, which is iconic, you were instrumental in making that happen. mr. kornfeld: according to the
president of warner bros., i was the only reason it happened. honestly, that's true. being away, it is just a fact. if i didn't produce, when i was at mercury, they came through with an act from candida and i -- canada, and i spent $80,000 and produced his act. when i was getting ready to go up to woodstock three or four days before, i read in variety, freddy weintraub becomes vice president of films for warner brothers. called freddy and he says you're not going to talk to me about that crazy thing you are doing upstate. i said, yes, i am, freddie, and you owe it to me. and that is when we sat for 35 hours and he even wrote about it in his book. his book is out. freddy weintraub's book. as a matter of fact, in my book, there is a letter from freddy weintraub. it states how the woodstock movie happen.
it was handwritten, after 35 hours, it was over. ted ashley came in. ted ashley was my agent when i was producing the castles. so i had ted and freddie, and they both owed me. after 35 hours, they said let's forget it. we are almost bankrupt at a warner bros.. movies are not doing anything and documentaries are doing nothing. and after 30 hours, out of nowhere, we said, what if it is a disaster and 100,000 kids die? this thing will be the biggest movie in history. they started laughing like crazy. freddy just turned to me and said, ok, ted, what do you think? let's get a couple of secretaries down and we sat there for another 10 hours and wrote a handwritten contract. i signed it, called michael and they were up there with no film, with 18,000 photographers and no film. i gave him a check for $100,000.
he went to new york, bought the film and started shooting the woodstock movie. that's how the movie happened exactly. >> how many camera guys did you guys have? mr. kornfeld: i think about six cameras. >> at the time, it was major league. mr. kornfeld: michael was involved in that part. we saw the amazing stuff, the barbara koppel stuff. we saw the documentarians'work. the split screen concept fascinated us. we saw some of his work that he was working on and that was it. >> it took a while for it to come out. did it get caught up in editing? mr. kornfeld: no was the battle. , first they had to get through the battle. i can't say anything because legality is involved but michael and i got screwed very bad.
if i would have had more money, we would have won the case. warners wanted me and michael out because i made the deal. my deal was 50% of the gross minus negative. they said, we won't have to advertise because you advertised it so much we will have to spend a dime on advertising. it was 50-50, us and warner bros. john and joel were rich kids. all they wanted to do was look good to their father's friends. so we raised $1 million with albert grossman, who is a good friend of mine. and the night we came to sign, we were going to sell for them for three months, the movie, and we had 90 days to get the other 400,000 we needed. we didn't know, when i went to warners, they said they had to keep out of this and stay neutral. they were negotiating in bad faith, which was john's family.
one of john's brothers went to college with one of the board , and they were negotiating the whole time because they knew all they wanted was the $1.4 million back. they knew michael and i would stick to the 50% and that is what happened. theodore keele, broke the new york times strike, the litigator, he was my lawyer after i realized my lawyer wasn't heavy enough. i went to ted keele and he said we got them. he said i'm doing this pro bono, but it will take another $50,000 because i've got to get investigators to investigate this because i have the proof now that they lied to you, that they cheated you and it is going to revert back that you want 50% of the music. i didn't have the $50,000. i said to michael instead of this hitting the papers and ruining the name of the concert, let's take a $75,000 and walk. that's what i did. you know?
i walked from that and i walk right into eye of the tiger, rocking in the free world, all the records we did. >> is it hard to watch the movie today? mr. kornfeld: hard to watch the movie? >> when you had that bad blood? mr. kornfeld: i've only watched it three times in 45 years. is it hard to watch it? i think the director cut is much better, the 40 directors cut. no, it is like my baby. it is like watching my child grow up. it is easy to watch it. i've seen it on tv. i have a copy. i've only played it twice. i had 75 platinum albums and i gave them all to charity to be auctioned off. i have nothing on my wall, but i did see my woodstock sign sold for 9500 dollars on ebay about five months ago.
i gave it to a foundation, which is a music business foundation that helps kids who are born to crack mothers and stuff like that. we raise about $200 million a year, it is that big. i run a golf tournament and we make about $60 million in a crack mothers and stuff like that. weekend. i was on the board. i give a lot of my income to the charity. >> the pied piper of woodstock, that moniker, do you like that? mr. kornfeld: yeah. i wrote the pied piper, and it d piper and the pied piper almost almost predicts woodstock. follow me, i am the pied piper, i will show you where it is at. "you with your masquerading and you always contemplating what to do in case heaven has found you, can't you see it's all around you?" i was talking to the generation, hey, babe, what are you trying to prove? it ain't true that your life has kicked you. it is your mind that is tricking you so form a line. >> today, woodstock, 45 years ago.
what is the generation, what is the message they walk away with? >> i have been working on college for years now because i knew that the future -- if america was going to be saved i was going to have to get into college. is the numberow one internet show in the world. 150,000 to 200,000. everything in the archives is -- has over 300,000 hits. my interview has 2.4 million hits. me and michael talking got one million listening live, just me and michael talking. i am seeing what i dreamed about. i am seeing what i dreamed about that this generation, i said it , will take three or four of five generations but woodstock will hang around. why did i know? when i moved to italy there was
a documentary festival. they flew us over. it was first class. these kids were so into woodstock. when i went to korea, these kids were so into woodstock and i spoke at 12 colleges in 15 days in korea and all those kids were nuts. one kid, i was speaking to one , and this kidul comes from the back with a rolex watch saying, i love you. i want to give you a gift, i want to give you a gift and he is waving a rolex watch. i am wearing my 19-year-old swiss army watch that i wear and now i am wearing my $12 watch because i am not into that kind of stuff. he comes running down, he was tall and that is unusual for a korean, it was really touching so i hugged him and i said i don't need your watch, brother, i just love you. we were walking back and he was all excited that he came up. this guy out of nowhere comes
running. i thought he was going to stab me. he was waving this watch. there was a translator there so i had no idea what he was saying anyway. >> do you still get the juices flowing with that kind of reaction? >> yeah, that is why i do my radio show every week. do think at 72 it is easy from -- to sit from 10 to 11 and try to come down in two hours? the shows are always good because i know what to ask and i have great acts on. >> what is the legacy of woodstock? >> legacy of woodstock? thategacy of woodstock is in 500 years when they forgot about the beatles, if there are people still living, they were -- they will remember the greatest peaceful event. time magazine made woodstock number two of the top events of mankind when they said it was the greatest peaceful man-