Well, as it turns out, peace and love can only get you so far in business. Following last week’s abrupt and disputed cancellation of Woodstock 50, the August anniversary revival of the original 1969 festival, co-founder Michael Lang is not mincing words. In a letter his legal counsel shared on Monday, Lang has lashed out at Japanese advertising juggernaut Dentsu, whose MKTG and Amplifi USA divisions pulled their funding for Woodstock 50 — effectively canceling it on their end — and left the festival’s fate, as far as Lang is concerned, in jeopardy. Though Lang keeps the five-page missive mostly professional throughout, the elements of shade are glaring.
“It is one thing if your company, Dentsu, wanted to back out of its commitment to Woodstock, because it would not make as much money as it had hoped, but to try to suffocate and kill Woodstock so that we could not have a festival for our golden anniversary without you is puzzling for any company,” he writes. “You must be unaware of what treachery has taken place by your company.”
After confessing that he had some reservations about whether Dentsu, as a large corporation, would be the right partner for Woodstock, Lang explains that he was ultimately persuaded by the “social initiatives” the company had done to seemingly correct past wrongdoings. (Among other incidents, Dentsu cut executives’ salaries for three months after an overbilling scandal and possibly secured Tokyo’s bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics via corrupt means.) But, according to Lang, Dentsu’s alleged actions after he agreed to work with them quickly raised red flags.
Lang writes that on the morning of April 22, when tickets were set to go on sale for Woodstock 50, New York State approved the necessary mass-gathering permit while noting certain stipulations Lang said he could meet. Still, Dentsu did not go through with the planned ticket sales.
“Your team blocked this sale for no apparent reason,” Lang writes. He then suggests that the reason was actually Dentsu’s incompetence in securing advertising. “Together, our organizations faced a question of cash flow since Dentsu had not been successful in selling sponsorships for the Woodstock Festival,” he adds.
Lang notes that he began to branch out to secure financing elsewhere to pick up the slack and, based on those conversations, was confident he could bring more money to the table. He says he also presented multiple plans to Dentsu after working on “value engineering” the Watkins Glen site to reduce costs and increase profits to demonstrate the viability of the festival.
“However, for reasons not explained to us, it seemed to fall on deaf ears,” he writes.
Three days later, on Monday, April, 29, things took a turn for the worse. According to Lang, Dentsu executives D.J. Martin, Charles Horsey, and Lucas Cridland wrote to the Woodstock 50 camp that morning to inform Lang and his team that they had taken control of the festival, which Lang now writes that they had no legal right to do. Then, 15 minutes later, the Dentsu team wrote to the Woodstock 50 team to say the festival was canceled. Dentsu also notified the press without giving Lang or the Woodstock 50 team a heads-up, Lang writes. By the time the two parties got on a call at noon, a resolution seemed impossible.
And in another blow, Lang says Amplifi illegally took $17 million from the festival bank account. “These actions confirmed my worst concerns about partnering with your company,” Lang writes. “[They] are neither a legal nor honorable way to do business.”
Lang also accuses Dentsu of going to Woodstock 50 vendors, performers, producers, and insurance companies to encourage them to back out of the festival while also promising compensation for their losses. What’s more, he says his team has substantial evidence that Dentsu, which is a major organizer of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, dangled the possibility of performing there to artists who complied in exiting Woodstock 50. (Previously announced Woodstock 50 headliners include Jay-Z, Miley Cyrus, the Killers, and more.)
Lang then delivers an emotional gut-punch:
The consequences of these unjustified actions are far-reaching and mind-bogglingly significant. Your company’s actions will impact all those who have been directly involved with the festival, including my colleagues. It will impact all of those who are indirectly involved with the festival, including the public who has been clamoring to be a part of this historic event. It will impact the local community that would have received a much-needed economic boom. Finally, and in many ways most significantly, it would effectively mean that Dentsu would be known as a company that had acted to attempt to destroy an American cultural icon.
But Lang writes that Dentsu’s actions have inadvertently “caused a groundswell of support” for Woodstock from diehards and confidently writes that this newfound momentum makes “having a successful event a virtual certainty.” He’s now asking that Dentsu “walk away peacefully” and stop its “obstructionist actions” so he can “deliver to the people a 50th anniversary festival.”
That ultimately may hinge on the return of the $17 million swiped from the festival bank account, of course, which Lang is demanding. Dentsu, however, does not sound like it has any intention of complying with that request.
In a statement to Vulture, a spokesperson for Dentsu has responded to Lang’s letter saying the company had a “contractual right” to take over the festival and cancel it. According to Dentsu, the $17 million in question was funding that the company invested, as Woodstock 50’s financial partner, and was the company’s to “recover” upon cancellation. The company also says that, despite what Lang’s letter claims, a permit for the festival has yet to be granted. Read its full statement below:
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 the original statement made last week.