And another one bites the dust. Just 16 days before the legendary Woodstock festival was set to kick off its 50th-year celebration, it imploded.
The Woodstock Music and Arts Festival was built upon the ideas of hope and protest. In 1969, the USA was deep in the Vietnam War and Woodstock was intended to be a political movement with a strong anti-war message. Over 500,000 people from all over American, from all walks of life, to share a weekend of unity and music. This gathering was intended to illustrate the contrast of the war and hatred in Vietnam and the peace and love that could be.
Big names like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Santana took to the stage to unify the American public and bring peace, love, and music. It’s no wonder that the original founders wanted to bring that back to America in this time of uncertainty and unrest.
A muddy past
This isn’t the first revival of Woodstock that has run amuck. Woodstock ’94 was dubbed Mudstock after the rainy weather turned the festival grounds to a slippery mud bath. Woodstock 1999 turned violent with several allegations of sexual assault, rape, looting, and fires. Perhaps this year’s reincarnation ending before it could happen was a good thing.
Famous for the wrong reasons
The official cancellation of the festival on July 31st didn’t come as too much of a surprise. Since the festival was announced early this year, it has gotten a fair amount of publicity, and not the good kind. Headlines have suggested financial and legal troubles, artists dropping out left, right, and center, no ticket sales, location changes, and its possible cancellation.
allegations, festival co-founder Michael Lang continued to show unwavering
confidence in the festival.
The festival’s lineup was officially announced on March 19th. Big names from today’s music scene including Jay Z, Chance the Rapper, Miley Cyrus, The Black Keys, and the Killers shared the bill with original Woodstock artist Santana and other acts of the era like John Fogerty and Canned Heat. This festival would unify generations of music. Tickets were set to go on sale online Aprill 22nd.
Red flags everywhere
Even before ticket sales had commenced, red flags started to rise. Talk of the festival not having obtained permits for their intended location of Watkins Glen, New York, started to raise suspicion of its legitimacy. On April 5th, The Black Keys suddenly dropped out of the festival due to “scheduling conflicts”. And just three days before tickets were set to go on sale, an email was sent out to artists’ agents announcing the postponement of ticket sales.
That’s when things started to get a whole lot more confusing and messy. Woodstock investor group and partner Dentsu Aegis Network’s Amplifi Live made claims of missed production deadlines, trouble securing talent, and major infrastructure issues, finally stating “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.”
No money, no problem?
So it’s over right? Not quite. Woodstock 50 quickly hopped on the mic to discredit this cancellation, claiming legal action would be taken against the comment. “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.”
It’s now May
and the festival has no secure location, no ticket sales, and its major
investor has dropped out voiding all contracts of artists scheduled to perform.
A media frenzy ensues along with a legal battle between Lang and Dentsu.
The court adjourned ruling in favor of both sides. The show would go on but Dentsu owes Woodstock nothing. Investor Oppenheimer & Co. jumps aboard the Woodstock 50 train to help finance the festival. However, the partnership doesn’t seem to pull Woodstock out of the hole as Lang appeals the previous ruling between him and Dentsu demanding a return of $18 million.
It just gets worse…
Press on the festival dies down momentarily until June 11th when Watkins Glen rescinds the festival’s site license leaving the festival homeless. Simultaneously, CID Entertainment, meant to produce the event, pulls out, and the Department of Health rejects the permit application.
seemed like this was the end, but the Woodstock 50 crew presses on. Organizers
apply to hold the festival at Vernon Downs racetrack. With a capacity for
45,000, this location change would bring the attendance goal down by 100,000
people. But let’s not forget, no tickets have been sold as of yet and as anyone
could’ve predicted, the permit was denied.
Change of scenery
We are one month out from the festival. With no location, confirmed artists, or tickets sales, the chance of Woodstock happening is slim. But this festival has the resilience of the New York City cockroach. On July 25th, The New York Times announces “Woodstock 50 Festival is saved!”. Crossing stateliness into Maryland, the Merriweather Post Pavilion becomes the new festival site.
This is when artists start to drop out. Jay Z, John Fogarty, and Miley Cyrus made clean escapes followed by The Lumineers, Santana, Dead & Company, and the lot. Following these announcements, Woodstock 50 became a free show, asking patrons to make a donation to charity instead. Now a benefit concert, as of July 27th still no artists are confirmed to play.
The show must go on
The once three-day, glamping festival with an attendance goal of over 150,000 will now take place in Maryland as a one-day benefit concert. All artists, save Imagine Dragons, the Zombies, and The Killers have pulled out. But it’s July 30th and Woodstock 50 refuses to back down…until the next day.
In an official statement on July 31st, Michael Lang and Woodstock 50 finally accept defeat. “We are saddened that a series of unforeseen setbacks has made it impossible to put on the festival we imagined with the great line-up we had booked and the social engagement we were anticipating.” They asked any artists who had already received payment to donate 10% of that to musical charity HeadCount or another charity of their choosing.
It’s hard not to point out all the reasons why Woodstock 50 was just not meant to happen. The original festival, a movement and protest, was built on good nature and a keen desire for a better, more peaceful future. Stages were low key, the focus was on the music and not the production. In the spirit on the event, artist’s pricetags were slashed significantly and sheer attendance numbers left the organizers with no choice but to make it a free event.
Times have changed and corporate greed is alive and well. Although most performers were not confirmed, it’s safe to say that Jay Z wasn’t performing for the mere $18,000 (equivalent to approx. $120,000 today) headliner Jimmy Hendrix played for in 1969. But it’s not just the artists’ greed, it’s what we expect from a festival in this day and age. We aren’t satisfied with subpar production and a lack of miscellaneous activities to keep us entertained. We want what we pay for. And Woodstock 50 couldn’t deliver.
The last attempt to save the festival was to make it free. Not because of the overwhelming crowds, but the complete opposite. Sometimes, we just need to let a good thing die. Times, they are a-changin’; for better or worse, we’ll leave that to you.
Looking for more music festival fails? Find out what happened to Belgium’s VestiVille earlier this summer.