In Memoriam: Elliot Tiber, Playwright with Key Role in Woodstock

Woodstock as we know it may not have happened if it were not for Elliot Tiber.

In July 1969, Michael Lang and Artie Kornfeld of Woodstock Ventures found themselves without a venue for a music festival. Described in detail in Robert Stephen Spitz’s “Barefoot in Babylon,” the town of Wallkill had just revoked their permit, and Lang and Kornfeld turned to Sullivan County for an alternate location. Elliot Tiber happened upon the news that they were in search of a location, and while the backyard of the family’s El Monaco Hotel in White Lake, NY would not suffice, the farmland belonging to his friend Max Yasgur was available.

More importantly, Tiber was the President of the local Chamber of Commerce, and had a permit in hand for an arts festival that summer, an annual event held at the motel. But Woodstock would be well beyond what Tiber could have expected when he first met Michael Lang.

Elliot Tiber passed away on August 3 in Boca Raton, FL from complications from a stroke. He was 81.
ELLIOT_TIBER_PHOTOSBorn in Bensonhurst on April 15, 1935, Tiber was a graduate of Hunter College, attended the Pratt Institute and taught creative writing at New School University, fine art at Hunter College, and art design history at the New York Institute of Technology.

A gay rights activist and playwright, Tiber wrote the screenplay for the 1976 film “Rue Haute”, which was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film (Belguim) at the Oscars the next year. He was a critical component to the original Woodstock, sharing his life story, and detailed recollection of August, 1969 in Taking Woodstock, later a 2009 movie of the same name by Ang Lee. Tiber wrote also wrote two memoirs, Knock on Woodstock and After Woodstock.

His book Taking Woodstock is part journey through growing up in Brooklyn during the school year and heading to White Lake to the El Monaco Hotel his family ran in the summer. This was following the heyday of the Catskills, and business was far from optimal. Back at home, Elliot came of age during the Stonewall Riots in Greenwich Village, leading him to come out while at the center of the largest music gathering in history at that point.

elliot tiber

Tiber told Publishers Weekly in 2011 “Coming out in the summer of 1969 was the most dangerous yet liberating thing that ever happened to me.”

The second half of “Taking Woodstock” focuses on Elliot and the small arts festivals he held in town each summer, and as head of the local Chamber of Commerce, he held a permit that Woodstock Ventures would later use to shift their festival from the planned location in Wallkill, NY to Bethel, NY.

Michael Lang said to the New York Times: “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.”

Mr. Tiber told The Miami Herald “When I talk about Woodstock, or when I talk to my friends, it’s like time hasn’t passed … Then yesterday I got out of the shower and thought, ‘My God, I look like my mother.’”