It was supposed to be the golden anniversary of the most famous rock concert in history, the event that crystallized in mud the free-love 1960s and the drawing power of a new generation of music stars.
But on Monday, Woodstock 50 appeared to be all but dead. According to a statement from the festival’s primary investor, the event — planned for Aug. 16 to 18 in Watkins Glen, N.Y., with acts including Jay-Z, the Killers and Dead and Company — was off.
“It’s a dream for agencies to work with iconic brands and to be associated with meaningful movements,” the investor, an arm of the Japanese advertising giant Dentsu, said. “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,” the statement continued, “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.”
The agency believed that production milestones had not been met and was concerned about delays in acquiring permits, as well as a reduction in the originally planned capacity, from 100,000 visitors a day to 75,000.
But while Dentsu’s statement ricocheted around the news media, Michael Lang, the promoter of Woodstock 50 and one of the primary forces behind the original festival in 1969, denied that the event was kaput.
“They do not have the right to unilaterally cancel the festival,” Lang said in an interview shortly after Dentsu released its statement, which Lang said caught him by surprise.
A stronger statement by the festival’s organizers, quoted by the Poughkeepsie Journal website, said, “Woodstock 50 vehemently denies the festival’s cancellation,” and said they would seek a “legal remedy.”
Lang said that all acts had already been paid in full, leaving open the possibility that he could rescue the festival with another backer. He is no stranger to last-minute saves. The 1969 Woodstock festival lost its original venue, in Wallkill, N.Y., and relocated to Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel, N.Y., just weeks before it took place.
It was unclear what prompted the timing of Dentsu’s announcement. The company declined to make any further comment. Several major music agents and acts booked for the event said they had not received any notification of cancellation.
The list of performers also includes Miley Cyrus, the Raconteurs, the Lumineers, Chance the Rapper, Imagine Dragons, Halsey, Robert Plant and some who had played the original event, like Santana, Country Joe McDonald and John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Woodstock 50 was announced in January as an ambitious and principled celebration of the original event. Organizers envisioned a three-day camping festival, for approximately 100,000 people a day, with what Lang said would be music as well as representation by activist organizations.
“We want this to be more than just coming to a concert,” Lang said at the time. “And hopefully a lot of the bands will become part of this effort to get people to stand up and make themselves heard, to get and out vote. And if they don’t have a candidate that represents their feelings, to find one — or to run themselves.”
But from the start, Woodstock 50 drew skeptics throughout the industry, who doubted that such an event could be successful in an era now dominated by big festivals and tours promoted by giant companies like Live Nation and AEG.
Through permit applications, the organizers had also quietly reduced its intended capacity to 75,000.
The lineup was announced last month, but the on-sale date for tickets — April 22, Earth Day — came and went with no more information. According to news reports, the organizers had applied for but not yet received a mass gathering permit from the New York State Department of Health. Without that permit, no tickets could be sold.
Woodstock 50 was to have been the most prominent event among a series of anniversary celebrations throughout the Northeast, including a series of events at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, located on the site of the original Woodstock festival.
Another event, Woodstock Experience 2019, has a lineup including a number of artists who played the original festival, like Melanie, Ten Years After and Jefferson Starship, an offshoot of Jefferson Airplane. It is to take place in West Jefferson, N.C., Aug. 9 to 11, and then in Palm Bay, Fla., Aug. 16 to 18.
Its slogan: “Keeping the spirit of Woodstock alive.”
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