UPDATE: A statement from Woodstock 50 organizer Michael Lang says the festival will continue.
Dear Woodstock Friends
It seems in a way that history is repeating itself. In July of 1969 we lost our site in Walkill and with only a month to go we managed to move to Bethel. Woodstock was going to happen no matter what!
This time around, Woodstock’s new hometown, Dix & Watkins Glen, NY and New York State have been really wonderful. I went door to door to talk to the neighbors. Some remembered Summer Jam back in ’73 and were worried about history repeating itself. But they opened their doors to us and we talked it out. Many of those people have reached out over the last 24 hours with messages of hope and encouragement.
The venue, Watkins Glen International, have been totally supportive and professional.
Yesterday, our financial partner, Dentsu-Aegis, made the decision to pull out and informed us that they were cancelling the festival at the same time they let the press release go public.
We have yet to understand why they would try to prevent the festival from happening by seemingly undermining us in this way. It is one thing to decide for oneself that it is best to move on, but it is entirely another thing to try and close the door on us.
Yesterday, I couldn’t help but relive that moment 50 years ago – it was “ déjà vu all over again”!
Supporting the principles of activism and sustainability are too important to be derailed by shortsighted partners.
We continue our work with NYS, Schuyler County and various parties to keep things on track.
Woodstock never belonged to Dentsu, so they don’t have a right to cancel it.
Woodstock belongs to the people and it always will.
We don’t give up and Woodstock 50 will take place and will be a blast!
Thanks for Listening, Michael
The 50th anniversary of “Three Days of Peace, Love and Music” is apparently disintegrating into something quite different, with multinational digital communications and media company Dentsu Aegis Network announcing it has “canceled” Woodstock 50, which was to take place at Watkins Glen International race track in upstate New York Aug. 16-18.
“It’s a dream for agencies to work with iconic brands and to be associated with meaningful movements,” Dentsu told the Poughkeepsie Journal. “We have a strong history of producing experiences that bring people together around common interests and causes, which is why we chose to be a part of the Woodstock 50th Anniversary Festival.
“But 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. As a result and after careful consideration, Dentsu Aegis Network’s Amplifi Live, a partner of Woodstock 50, has decided to cancel the festival. As difficult as it is, we believe this is the most prudent decision for all parties involved.”
While it’s not known if funder Dentsu has the ability to unilaterally cancel the Woodstock 50 festival, organized and staged by Woodstock 50 partners Michael Lang and others, its is the “money side” of the equation, which makes the withdrawal of its financing a near-fatal blow.
Michael Lang, one of the co-creators of the original Woodstock festival in 1969, is the putative “face” of the anniversary show, but his Woodstock 50 Partners have also been working with Superfly to produce the show and with Danny Wimmer Presents acting as talent buyer.
Dentsu has reportedly already spent $30 million on artist fees and other costs, according to Billboard, which also reported that Lang & Co. are considering legal options against their now-former financial backer.
Because of the nature of the festival – promoters with little experience staging an event the size of Woodstock 50 – agents insisted their clients’ artist fees be paid in full in advance, and sources tell Pollstar all were, but noted in some cases payments were made later than agreed to.
But sources with knowledge of the situation expressed concern that offers weren’t made to artists including headliners Jay-Z, Dead & Company and Imagine Dragons until late December while ticket onsales that were to begin April 22 are still on hold apparently due to permitting issues..
One source told Pollstar that the permit filing was late, as organizers squabbled over what the capacity should be: 70,000, 100,000 or 150,000 on a racetrack site that would include camping. Permits are required to be approved before tickets can go on sale.
Complicating factors organizers faced included dealing with logistics of bringing so many people, bands, and equipment into a semi-rural area as well as contending with local politics.
And one year to date prior to Woodstock 50’s scheduled opening day, Watkins Glen was flooded and water systems onsite were contaminated, forcing the cancellation of Phish’s Curveball festival, underscoring the fact that mid-August Northeastern U.S. weather can be fickle as well.
Woodstock 50 issued a statement late in the day on today (April 29) saying it would soldier on somehow.
“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,” the statement says. “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.”
Those directly connected to the festival declined to be identified because of the unclear status of the festival and the legal ramifications a cancellation presents.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” said one senior executive at a major concert promotions company when asked about Woodstock 50’s possibly pulling the plug. “I always felt the economics were super ambitious. When you’re a long-standing legitimate promoter, you work on a bit of good faith with vendors and your contracts, but don’t have to pay up front. And they were paying some talent $2-3 million each. But with everyone insisting they got paid up front, it had to put a lot of pressure on the financial operations.”
“There was a lot of ambition associated with this,” the same senior exec continued “He needed 150K (people) to be successful and he didn’t have permits for it. You got to cut down talent budget or you have to at least dream smaller or mathematically correct.”
The same promoter contrasted Coachella, the industry’s most commercially successful festival, with the planned Woodstock 50 event noting that the Coachella Valley is nearly always sunny and there’s many millions of people within driving distance of the site in metropolitan areas that include Phoenix, Las Vegas, San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles. He also noted Palm Springs’ superior tourism infrastructure which includes hotels, condos, rooms, grocery stores, restaurants and gas stations. While this part of Upstate New York has little in the way of infrastructure and is likely to have rain on one of the festival’s three days while people are camping.
“Woodstock was a fond memory for a lot of people from a certain generation,” the exec said, “but it was a different day and time. Culturally this generation wouldn’t understand what that was about or what this is. We don’t live in the Woodstock Generation anymore. Peace and love and everything – we just don’t’ live in that world anymore. It’s a very commercial time. If you want me, you pay me and you better treat me well.”
Another promoter exec was less sanguine about Woodstock 50’s predicament.
“The industry has to quit taking big the checks from people without the experience to pull something like this off,” the executive told Pollstar. “Why are agents taking these checks? They’re pulling the wool over people’s eyes. The artists may get paid, but what about the fans? There is a shame to this.”
A veteran agent, who also declined to go on record, advised artists to not spend their payment because “this whole situation may end up going in court.”