Not long after Woodstock 50 was officially announced, the commemorative music festival began to be plagued by financial and legal woes. Michael Lang, one of the cofounders of the original Woodstock and the lead promoter of Woodstock 50, has gone toe-to-toe with financial backer Dentsu Aegis Network in a very public (and messy) battle that’s leaving everyone wondering if Woodstock 50, which is scheduled for August 16 to 18, will happen or not.
The last few months are more tumultuous and wild than anything one could imagine happening in the late summer if Woodstock 50 actually stages an event, so to help make sense of all the drama, here’s a timeline of events that we’ll update as new information becomes available.
January 9, 2019: Woodstock 50 is announced
Woodstock 50 is officially announced as a three-day festival in Watkins Glen, New York, on August 16-18.
In a statement, Lang was adamant about Woodstock not being just another musical festival, but one that would hearken back to Woodstock ’69’s roots in promoting unity and love. “The original festival in ’69 was a reaction by the youth of the time to the causes we felt compelled to fight for–civil rights, women’s rights, and the antiwar movement–and it gave way to our mission to share peace, love, and music,” Lang said. “Today, we’re experiencing similar disconnects in our country, and one thing we’ve learned is that music has the power to bring people together. So it’s time to bring the Woodstock spirit back, get involved, and make our voices heard.”
March 4, 2019: Rumors of financial issues
Rumors of financial troubles begin to cloud Woodstock 50. Delays on the lineup announcement and other important details are reportedly due to “issues regarding the raising of money and venue capacity.” However, Lang issues a statement to Variety assuring that everything is on course. “There’s always been lots of rumors around Woodstock. We have excellent partners and an incredible talent lineup of over 80 artists, which will be announced within the next couple of weeks. We’re preparing a once-in-a-lifetime event.”
March 5, 2019: Woodstock 50 finally pays artists
“Because the event is not being put on by a major promoter like Live Nation or AEG, most major agencies consider it to be riskier than events like Coachella and Bonnaroo, and required Lang and Dentsu to pay 100% of the artist payments upfront before the lineup was announced,” reports Billboard. However, the official lineup of said artists has not been released. “While reps for some of the major headliners tell Billboard they were paid in full weeks ago, other artists had not been paid by last Friday, raising red flags with major agencies who expected the lineup to be announced in February and are now seeing it pushed into March.”
March 20, 2019: Woodstock 50’s lineup announced
The lineup for Woodstock 50 is officially announced, and it includes a mix of artists like Jay Z, The Killers, Miley Cyrus, and Chance the Rapper, as well as acts who performed at the original Woodstock including Dead and Company, John Fogerty, and Santana.
March 28, 2019: Locals raise concerns
Residents of Watkins Glen begin a series of town meetings raising concerns about “safety, traffic, vendors, and the influx of visitors in the area.” Lang had previously estimated Woodstock 50 attendance would be around 100,000, leading locals to demand a plan for such a large crowd.
April 5, 2019: The Black Keys tap out
The Black Keys, one of Woodstock 50’s headliners, backs out, citing “a scheduling conflict.”
April 19, 2019: Ticket sales are postponed
Woodstock 50’s talent management team sends emails to agents representing the acts stating ticket sales, which were supposed to begin April 22, will be postponed, setting off rumors that the festival will be cancelled.
“There is currently a hold on the Woodstock 50 on-sale date,” a Woodstock 50 manager says in the email obtained by Billboard. “We are waiting on an official press statement from Woodstock 50 regarding updated announce, ticket pricing, and overall festival information. We will get this information to you as soon as we receive it.”
April 23, 2019: No permit? No show
Woodstock 50’s permit from the Department of Health is reportedly still under review. According to the DOH, applications for a mass gathering permit must be made 15 days before the first day of advertising the event. The DOH received Woodstock 50’s application on April 15.
April 29, 2019: Dentsu “cancels” Woodstock 50
Dentsu Aegis Network, Woodstock 50’s primary financial backer, announces it’s cancelling Woodstock 50.
“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,” Dentsu said in a statement. “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.”
The statement goes on, “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.”
After Dentsu’s announcement, Lang issues his own statement denying Woodstock 50 is canceled.
“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,” he said. “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.”
News surfaces that just days before Dentsu pulled out, there was some major shuffling going on behind the scenes. According to Billboard:
Hoping to save the festival, organizers were planning to fire Rick Farman’s firm Superfly, hire Dan Berkowitz’s CID Entertainment to produce the festival, and raise $20 million in last-minute financing, sources tell Billboard, though a rep for festival-backer Dentsu has told Billboard that firing Superfly was never part of Dentsu’s plan. Organizers approached both AEG and Live Nation about making a $20 million investment in the troubled festival, but with time running out and infighting grinding festival production to a halt, both AEG and Live Nation passed on bailing the event out.
April 30, 2019: “You got the sense there was some shakiness to this whole thing”
One of Woodstock 50’s legacy acts, John Fogerty speaks out, saying he found out about the festival being canceled the same time the public did, when Dentsu made its announcement.
“They postponed announcing the tickets, and I remember reading a while ago that they didn’t have some of the permits,” Fogerty says. “That just blew my mind. You’d think it would be the first thing you’d do and not the last thing. You got the sense there was some shakiness to this whole thing. But the first Woodstock happened more by people wishing for it to happen than any effort of great organization.”
May 1, 2019: Woodstock 50’s “death knell”
Billboard reports that despite Lang insisting Woodstock 50 will go on, the artists who signed up to play are no longer contractually obligated to do so.
According to Billboard:
Representatives from two major talent agencies with headliners booked for the anniversary event said Dentsu’s decision to pull out of the event voids their contract and releases them from playing the festival. “The artist contracts are with Dentsu, not with Michael Lang or Woodstock 50,” an agent with artists booked for the event tells Billboard.
Woodstock 50’s production partner Superfly severs ties with the festival, which sources say is “catastrophic” and “a death knell.”
May 7, 2019: The $17 million question
Lang accuses Dentsu of pilfering $17 million from Woodstock 50’s bank account. He also claims that Dentsu tried to convince artists that if they dropped out of the festival, they could possibly perform at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, where Dentsu is a major organizer.
Dentsu fired back with this statement to Variety:
As financial partner, we had the customary rights one would expect to protect a large investment. After we exercised our contractual right to take over, and, subsequently, cancel the festival, we simply recovered the funds in the festival bank account, funds which we originally put in as financial partner. Further, tickets cannot go on sale for an event prior to obtaining a mass gathering permit, which has still not been granted. Beyond that we stand by our original statement that we made last week.
May 9, 2019: Woodstock 50 takes Dentsu to court
Woodstock 50 organizers file a court order against Dentsu, asking for the return of the $17.8 million they claim was “pillaged” from the festival’s account.
The New York Supreme Court grants Woodstock 50 a gag order against Dentsu. “We are grateful for the judge’s order, which prevents Dentsu and Amplifi from continuing their baseless attack on the Woodstock festival and its owners, and we look forward to procuring additional relief on Monday,” said Woodstock 50 attorney Marc Kasowitz.
May 13, 2019: Dentsu fires back
Lawyers for Dentsu fire back against Woodstock 50 organizers in a scathing rebuttal.
Amplifi Live [Dentsu’s investment arm] worked nonstop for the last 10 months and invested millions of dollars to put on the Woodstock 50th anniversary festival in Watkins Glen this August. But Woodstock 50 LLC’s and Michael Lang’s misrepresentations, incompetence, and contractual breaches have made it impossible to produce a high-quality event that is safe and secure for concertgoers, artists, and staff. The production company has quit, no permits have been issued, necessary roadwork has not begun, and there is no prospect for sufficient financing. As much as the parties might wish it otherwise, the festival contemplated by their agreement cannot happen and allowing it to go forward would only put the public at risk. The injunction sought by W50, even if there were a legal basis for it, cannot change that.
A rep for Woodstock 50 issued a reply via Billboard:
While Dentsu has used its filing to sling mud, nothing in its court papers changes the fact that Dentsu has no right under its agreement with Woodstock 50 to either cancel the Festival or abscond with nearly $18 million of the Festival’s money. We look forward to addressing that in court this afternoon.
May 15, 2019: A hollow victory
A judge rules Dentsu didn’t have the right to cancel Woodstock 50 but that they don’t have to pay back the $17.8 million festival organizers say was taken from their account. To date, no acts, other than the Black Keys, have pulled out so Woodstock 50 has a lineup but depleted funds to pull off a festival three months away.
June 10, 2019: A one-two punch
Watkins Glen International, the proposed venue for Woodstock 50, terminated its contract with festival organizers.
Woodstock confirmed the cancellation in a statement, with a promise that the show will indeed go on: “We confirm that we will not be moving forward with Watkins Glen as a venue for Woodstock 50. We are in discussions with another venue to host Woodstock 50 on August 16th—18th and look forward to sharing the new location when tickets go on sale in the coming weeks.”
However, not long after the venue pulled out, Woodstock’s producer CID Entertainment issued a statement to Billboard saying that they also would no longer be involved with the festival: “CID Entertainment had been engaged to provide enhanced camping, travel packages and transportation for Woodstock 50. Given developments, we can confirm that CID is no longer involved in Woodstock 50 in any capacity.”
June 25, 2019: Hope for a new venue
With less than 50 days until the festival, Woodstock 50 organizers apply for a permit at racetrack/hotel/casino Vernon Downs in Vernon, New York as a possible venue. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Lang said he wasn’t “gearing up” for the festival’s potential demise. “That’s not how I approach things anyway,” he said. “I’m kind of an optimist. And yes, it definitely helps in this case.”
July 11, 2019: Permit denied…again
Vernon Downs denies Woodstock’s application.
“Time does not permit me to cite all the deficiencies,” said town building inspector Reay Walker.
July 26, 2019: You’re free
Immediately after both Jay Z and John Fogerty pull out of the festival, Lang releases all artists from their contracts. Festival organizers find a new venue with Merriweather Post Pavilion in Maryland and attempt to turn the concert into a smaller charity event with free tickets and a suggestion for attendees to donate to their favorite charities.
July 31, 2019: RIP Woodstock 50
Woodstock 50 organizers finally pull the plug on the festival.