Is Woodstock 50 Canceled? Investor Pulls Out, Organizers Remain Committed
Plans for a festival celebrating the 50th anniversary of Woodstock are in turmoil. A major investor in the big event says it's canceled, and issues with the lineup and tickets are plaguing the fest, but organizers say they remain committed to making Woodstock 50 a reality.
On Monday (April 29), officials from Dentsu Aegis Network, a multinational media and digital marketing firm that was funding the festival, announced Woodstock 50's cancellation in a statement. "Despite our tremendous investment of time, effort and commitment, we don’t believe the production of the festival can be executed as an event worthy of the Woodstock Brand name while also ensuring the health and safety of the artists, partners and attendees," the company told Billboard.
"As difficult as it is, we believe this is the most prudent decision for all parties involved," the statement added. Sources told Billboard that there were concerns about "the capacity of the festival, site readiness and permitting issues." Billboard also reports that Dentsu Aegis Network had already spent more than $30 million on the festival.
However, shortly after Dentsu Aegis Network issued its statement, Woodstock 50 organizers "vehemently denie[d]" the cancellation in a statement (quote via the Poughkeepsie Journal) and noted that they would be seeking "legal remedy" regarding the news. A longer statement reads, in full:
We are committed to ensuring that the 50th Anniversary of Woodstock is marked with a festival deserving of its iconic name and place in American history and culture. Although our financial partner is withdrawing, we will of course be continuing with the planning of the festival and intend to bring on new partners. We would like to acknowledge the State of New York and Schuyler County for all of their hard work and support. The bottom line is, there is going to be a Woodstock 50th Anniversary Festival, as there must be, and it's going to be a blast.
On Tuesday night (April 30), Marc E. Kasowitz of Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP, legal counsel for Woodstock 50, issued an additional statement: "This confirms that Woodstock 50 is proceeding with the planning and production of the festival. Dentsu has no legal right or ability to cancel it. All stakeholders, including the entertainers, should proceed with the understanding that the event will take place as planned, and if they have any questions, they should reach out directly.”
Don't consider the problems quashed, though: According to Billboard, performers' contracts are with Dentsu Aegis Network, not other Woodstock 50 stakeholders, which means they're now void. Woodstock 50's lineup, announced in mid-March, includes Brandi Carlile, Sturgill Simpson, Margo Price, the Lumineers, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, Maggie Rogers, Anderson East, Larkin Poe, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, Jade Bird, Amy Helm, the Marcus King Band, John Craigie and many more. In early April, one of the festival's headliners, the Black Keys, pulled out of the event, citing a scheduling conflict.
Additionally, Billboard learned that, days before Dentsu Aegis Network announced Woodstock 50's cancellation, organizers -- it's unclear who, exactly, though both Dentsu Aegis Network and Woodstock co-founder and producer Michael Lang say it wasn't them -- went looking for $20 million in funding. Both of the entertainment companies AEG and Live Nation passed.
Organizers of the festival were also, according to Billboard, planning to fire its current production company, Superfly, and hire CID Entertainment for the job. On Tuesday, a Superfly representative confirmed to Rolling Stone that Woodstock 50 and Superfly had ended their working relationship.
Billboard adds that Woodstock 50 organizers had not yet secured state and county permits for the festival, which is due to take place in Watkins Glen, N.Y., on Aug. 16-18. New York State law requires that an event have a conditional permit before beginning ticket sales, and thus, the original Woodstock 50 ticket onsale date of April 22 was postponed.
When ticket sales were pushed back without another onsale date announced to both artist management and the general public, rumors began swirling that the festival was in trouble, but organizers denied those reports. However, tickets for Woodstock 50 have not yet gone on sale, nor has a new onsale date been announced.
The original Woodstock festival took place Aug. 15-17, 1969, at a dairy farm in the Catskill Mountains in New York State. Artie Kornfeld, Lang and John P. Roberts founded the event. In addition to Lang, there are five other partners, the identities of which are unknown, in Woodstock 50.
In 1969, Woodstock also faced permit and finance troubles: The festival lost out on several potential event sites before taking place in Bethel, N.Y., and the fest lost more than $1 million. Then, on the three days of the event, organizers faced an unexpected influx of fans and rainy weather. Anniversary festivals in 1994 and 1999 had to contend with bad weather too, as well as violence.
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