tv Oral Histories Artie Kornfeld Interview on the 1969 Woodstock Festival CSPAN August 16, 2019 2:44pm-3:15pm EDT
woodstock festival. aarti kornfeld talks about the historic attractedconcert that 3 million people to a dairy farm in upstate new york. he recounts details of how woodstock came together, signing the musical artists and the concept and business arrangements for the documentary film. mr. kornfeld is the author of "the pied piper of woodstock." greg peterson conducted the interview. it is about half an hour. artie: i wanted to be a baseball player. i always loved music and my mother always had liked benny goodman or the lombardos. the two brothers, they both had bands. what were the two guys who had bands? she listened to big band music and my uncle loved jazz. he was always listening to jazz. those were the influences i had.
greg: was your mother a pianist or a performer? artie: 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 was the star in my family, not me. greg: today, you are the star. artie: i am just a representative of a dream. greg: capitol records was a new concept and you took a commanding position. how did that come about? artie: my good friend 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 sign 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 cousin he -- because he was the boss. if you didn't like it, you got a budget. studios. -- in those days, we went to smaller studios. i don't even remember the names,
but we go to dick charles. you get three hours and you do 10 songs in three hours. that included the vocals, everything. 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 and then hey girl. freddie scott was the handyman and he sang "hey, girl." i did a song called "can i 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. greg: then you left capital -- artie: before capitol i had run mercury and roulette.
it was the -- i was the first vice president of rock in the music business history because that is the way the pr went out. vice president of rock and that was just coming in. it was about 1965 or 1956. it is when i signed quicksilver, stuff like that. that was the start of rock. he was 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. [laughter] he lived near malibu, so that's how i knew. >> what was that tipping point that said gee, i'm going to
create this company called the woodstock musical arts festival. artie: i was running capitol, i was very successful. i was on the east coast. 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 opened her for everybody. my secretary said there is a kid out here with long hair, so i dated bird summer who i produced three albums with. i knew the guys who wrote "hair." said his name is michael. does he have an appointment? ask him if he can come back tomorrow.
she got back on the phone, he's from bensonhurst. i brought him in. his story is, i was sitting on my desk smoking hash. and that is so bizarre because i hadn't 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. langer, 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. this guy michael lang came in and we became friends instantly. he didn't 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 see so many concerts. 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. went --d, what if we what if we took it broadway theater and had -- just made it to 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 would come? michael said about 50,000. i said no, there has to be 100,000. my wife said more than 300,000. just like that. i swear to god, i looked up that -- looked off that terrace and saw that field. i had seen it before. i had seen it the year before. we talked about it for four or five months. then we met john and joel. they wrote in the book, michael didn't say a word. artie did all the talking.
i talked him into the $250,000. and that was the start. >> location, location, location. artie: 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. 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 can 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 one minute -- $1.4 million in
debt. it cost $2.4 million. the initial budget was 250,000. michael went 600% over budget, i went 60% over budget. i had 2 million people on the weight still. i promoted it. i didn't 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. the real story is i'm sitting in my apartment and my cousin lived on 57th street and had a neighbor who was a gay interior designer. his uncle was max yasgur. whenever the tabloids say is all lives. all lies. i get a phone call from this guy who says, mr. kornfeld, i live next to your cousin and my uncle has a cattle farm in new york and he's going to lose it. he needs $60,000. i said let me have his number. i called michael. i said michael, there is a guy named max yasgur. this is a true story. this is the honest truth. there are witnesses to this story and it is in my book.
people that are the conversation. michael went and met with max and made a deal for the farm. >> how much was it, do you remember? artie: it was $50,000 originally. i couldn't 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 farm share and we got 40,000 people on the land. i said why don't you get releases? he said you have to do that. i said michael, first of all, i don't ride motorcycles and second of all, you should have taken care of this. that is you are part of the trip . i'm on the other side of the fence, in new york. so i went from door to door to door, i drove the motorcycle and had the right to sign for woodstock ventures. if you were from italy and you had your whole life invested in this farm and all of a sudden, everything was getting trampled.
if you said i want $60,000, i wrote down woodstock ventures owes $60,000 to be paid within 120 days. i did that to about 16 farmers. i went to every farm. some were very nice, i wound up having coffee and pie. some came to the door with shotguns. yeah. that was my greeting to woodstock, after i got totally and nikkih jerry hart garcia. [laughter] >> i noticed one of the things, you were able to get the axe because you paid $12,000. artie: that's all bull[bleep] that's not true at all. no. there was no set price on anybody. david's manager was a friend of mine. people can say how sly got this and that, but i knew dave for 15 years before woodstock.
he was in the music business and so was i. no, there was no set price on anybody. i don't know. that's a fable. >> the bands that were selected, did you have your a-list and b-list? artie: 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 first band to get a deal out of san francisco. that never really happened, so that brought in santana, the dead, sweetwater -- who am i forgetting? the starship. the airplane at the time. that was that group, and then i was talking with managers i knew
and producers, you know? i put in the summer because i produced him. melanie was a friend of mine, i got her a record deal and put her into woodstock. michael, we both had a friend named hector moralez. 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. no one ever mentions steve cohn, who was really the stage manager of woodstock. he was never mentioned. he was 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 talking down.
-- 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 n you took too much time with that , a big chance for a riot. you could not let people set there for 45 minutes between acts. when i watched this crew work i was mesmerized and i wanted to kiss every single one of these guys working. -- without the turntable and they were doing changes in 20 minutes. that was amazing. it is not true that jimi hendrix wanted to close the show because he was the headliner. -- you heard my interview
with the percussionist. uphe said to me when he came the stage i said what did you said if i could have closed at 910 supposed to to have a million people he said, i was so tired and worn out i did the best i can come a it was only average and it was. it was only average. that is what he failed and that is what i felt. i was really busy doing the word-of-mouth, i was meeting likethe black hansen -- panthers, sds, i was traveling the country. making deals with them. the only deal was medical and
legal assistance and we will give you food if you don't have any. they accepted it. when they showed up, no problem. you don't read that much [inaudible]ct that >> it is in my book. i know what i had to do. like michael said to me on the phone, when -- we went 600% over. we did not know what we were doing. it, phyllis no opportunity for a lot of sound checks. >> michael's crew came through. michael -- it took the two of us and my wife to come up with the
idea and it did take michael's staff because he got the best he could get. lights, steve was an incredible stage manager. john morris was a pro. everybody was top-drawer. so he was, he covered himself. i was proud that it held. when the rain hit it was so terrible, it was a threat and that is when the miracle happen. when the rain hit, the amerco happened. we had the threat of being in jail for the rest of my life if someone died and everyone in the field was so up about it and my friend barry fish, he is a lawyer. never missed a case, he was a while he was in
country joe and the fish. chanting no more rain and the rain did stop. i wanted to see what they were doing so i wanted to enjoy it. i went to the shops because the one that said smoke shop, that is one of my best friends from college i played basketball with. >> >> i think that is true. it is just a fact. if i did not produce, [inaudible] i spent 80 grand and i produced his act. when i was getting ready to go to woodstock three or four days before, so i called and
about want to talk to you that crazy thing you are doing upstate. i said yes i am. that is when we went over and sat [inaudible] his book was out. as a matter of fact in my book there is a note stating it happened. it was handwritten. it was over. my age when i had to -- when i was producing the c owsills. let's forget it, [inaudible] documentaries are doing nothing. and then i said out of nowhere,
what if it is a disaster? and 100,000 kids die, this would be the biggest movie in history. they started laughing like crazy. said what dome and you think? let's get a couple of secretaries, we sat there for another 10 hours. i signed it, i called michael. we had 18,000 photographers and no film. i gave him a check for 100,000, he bought the film and flew back up and shooting. that is how the movie happened exactly. had a lot of angles. >> we had six cameras. >> just the mere fact of the film, it was major. >> we did -- michael was
involved in that part. we saw [inaudible] and the splitians screen concept, that fascinated us. we saw some of his work here was working on and that was it. >> it took a while for it to,, editing?t caught up in >> they had to get to the battle. michael and i -- if i would have more money, they knew i made the deal and my deal was 50% of the they said you won't have to advertise. you advertised so much we don't have to spend a dime on advertising and it was 50-50.
they wanted to look good to their father's friends. was million dollars. theme were going to say to for three months the movie and we had 90 days to get the 400,000 we needed. we did not know, they said they had to keep out of it and stay neutral. they were negotiating in bad faith. one ofnt to college with the board and they were negotiating the whole time. -- weey wanted was the would stick to the 50%. that is what happened. -- he was miler
-- i did not have the 50 grand and i said to michael, instead of this hitting the papers, let's take the 75 grand and let's just walk. that is what i did. into it, there were all the records i did, you know. >> have you watched the movie today? times inhed it three 45 years. think the 40th director's cut
was much better. no, it is watching my child grow up. on tv, i have a copy, i only played it twice. 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 on ebay about five months ago. music it to the foundation which was a mystic is this foundation that helps kids who are born to crack mothers and stuff like that. we raise about $200 million a year. we make about $6 million in a weekend. board, i gave a lot of my income to that charity. of woodstock.per did you like that? >> yeah.
predicts woodstock, follow me, i am the pied piper, i will show you where it is at. i was talking to the generation, a, bait, what are you trying to prove? it is your mind that is tricking you so form a line. woodstock, 45 years ago. generation, what is the message they walk away with? , it wouldbeen working have to keep the feeling of woodstock and it would have two get it to college. show, 150,000 to
200,000. everything in the archives is 300,000 hits. my interview has 2.4 million hits. talkingichael got -- got one million listening live, just me and michael talking. 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. , there was to italy a documentary festival, 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 and korea and all those kids were not. one kid, i was speaking to one college and soul in this kid comes from the back with a rolex , 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. down, he wasing tall and that is unusual for a korean but it is 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 down, 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? he >> yeah, that is why i do my radio show every week area do think at 72 it is easy from -- to sit from 10 to 11 and try to come down in two hours?
i have great acts on. the shows are good. i know what to ask. >> what is the legacy of woodstock? >> the legacy is in 500 years when they forgot about the beatles, if there are people still living, they were members this event. time magazine made woodstock number two of the top events of mankind when they said it was the greatest peaceful man-made event in history of all mankind and it was second to man landing on the moon. legacy of artie kornfeld is what? >> that i am sitting with you right now. 45 years later. >> i am so thrilled. >> i hope what i do next year will be my legacy. yeah. >> thank you. >> my pleasure.