The public announcement that the seemingly-left-for-dead Woodstock 50 had secured financial backing from a major investment bank in Oppenheimer & Co. appears to be a shot in the arm for organizer Michael Lang and the dozens of artists scheduled to play Watkins Glen in August for the iconic event’s 50th anniversary.
While tickets are not on sale yet and the site may not be completely permitted or its capacity determined, Oppenheimer brings some established financial muscle to the event that was seemingly canceled when financial partner Dentsu Aegis Holdings announced it was canceling the whole thing, which was (and still is) to take place Aug. 16-18 in Watkins Glen, near the of the original Woodstock in 1969.
However, co-founder Lang soldiered on and got a court ruling saying that while Dentsu didn’t have the authority to cancel the event, it was not on the hook to pay back about $18 million.
Undeterred, on May 21, Woodstock 50 filed a petition in New York Supreme Court seeking a mandatory injunction ordering Dentsu to return the $17.8 million to the festival bank account and “to cooperate with W50 in the continued planning of the festival,” according to documents obtained by Pollstar.
Billboard reported that at a hearing today Dentsu was ordered to put the money into a trust while the court determines the next course of action. A public statement from Woodstock 50 lawyer Marc Kasowitz read:
“Today, in an important step, Justice David Friedman of the Appellate Division, First Department, issued an order requiring that Dentsu and Dentsu Aegis deposit into escrow by Friday at 5:00 p.m. the $18.5 million that Dentsu swept from a Woodstock 50 Festival account. Justice Friedman issued this order pending the decision of a five-judge panel on Woodstock 50’s motion to return the funds to the Woodstock 50 Festival account.”
Armed with Oppenheimer as a partner, Woodstock 50’s supporting documents filed May 21 include the that organizers have a “world class technical production company” on board. Lang previously told Pollstar that Woodstock was in talks with Dan Berkowitz’s CID Entertainment, who did not respond to Pollstar’s request for comment.
An experienced producer is likely necessary to get the financial backing of an established investment house, as financiers for events like this first take into account the track record of the backers and producers as well as brand goodwill and other factors.
“From a traditional financing standpoint, first we look at who is promoting it and running it and making the decisions, then we’d look are there any kind of corporate guarantees or personal guarantees? Are there high-net-worth individuals backing it that would provide a guarantee?” said First Tennessee Bank Sr. VP Bryan Bolton, adding he has no inside knowledge regarding any Woodstock 50 bank deals.
“There are other ways we can mitigate risk,” Bolton added, saying that depending on who else is involved, a festival like Woodstock 50 could be viewed as a startup. “If the borrower or the guarantors, there’s things called a liquidity maintenance agreement where they would keep a certain amount liquid, that’s another way to mitigate that risk.” He also added that the intellectual property, goodwill and merchandising power of the Woodstock brand is likely valuable, which could be used as collateral in a bank deal.
Woodstock 50’s vast lineup, which was curated with Danny Wimmer Presents and includes Jay-Z, Santana, Robert Plant, Dead & Companyu, Chance the Rapper, Sturgill Simpson, Leon Bridges, Miley Cyrus, Imagine Dragons, Halsey, Courtney Barnett, Vince Staples, John Fogerty, David Crosby, Margo Price and The Killers, apparently remains intact, as booking agency sources have told Pollstar the artists were paid their deposits and that the event is still on, at least to their knowledge.
“We’ve lined up artists who won’t just entertain, but will remind the world that music has the power to bring people together, to heal, to move us to action and to tell the stories of a generation,” Lang said in a recent statement. “We look forward to putting on an incredible festival. Words cannot express how appreciative Woodstock 50, the artists, the fans and the community are to Oppenheimer for joining with us to make W50 a reality.”
Pollstar has reached out to Lang and Berkowitz for further comment.