The festival economy has been shaky for a minute now, but any broad ailments it’s faced pales in comparison to the drama surrounding Woodstock 50. Since co-founder Michael Lang announced the multiday anniversary celebration of the 1969 original at the top of this year, the festival has been absolutely beleaguered with setbacks painfully reminiscent of both Fyre Festival and the issues faced in the lead-up to Woodstock’s previous installments — to the point where, just a few months before its staging and with nary a ticket sold, it’s still unclear whether it’ll happen at all.
If you’ve read a scrap of music news over the past few months, you’ve likely been aware of Woodstock 50’s troubles, but the steady trickle of news has also proved hard to parse for those only casually taking it all in. Fear not: What follows is a timeline of the financial and legal drama surrounding Woodstock 50 up to the latest news. We’ll update it as more news comes in, possibly right up to the day and date of the festival, if it even takes place.
Everything’s Just Peachy …
January 9, 2019: In an interview with Rolling Stone, Lang first announces his intentions to stage Woodstock 50 on August 16 to 18 in Watkins Glen, New York. During the chat, he promises an “eclectic bill” of current-gen and classic-rock acts along with distinctly un-Woodstock-like amenities like “glamping tents,” all while mentioning that he and the organizers are still mapping out the festival grounds as well as the capacity (estimated, at this time, to be in the six-figure range). “We’re going back to our roots and our original intent,” he claims while dismissing the apocryphal disaster that was Woodstock ’99. “And this time around, we’ll have control of everything.”
January 30, 2019: A few weeks after unveiling initial plans for Woodstock 50, Lang elaborates more to Billboard on both his general and specific goals for the fest. Lang mentions that the fest had been in the works for nearly two years, as he found it difficult to locate a suitable festival grounds in New York State, at one point going as far as to consider Colorado as its home. “We have an incredible production team who are highly experienced in putting together a lot of big festivals around the country,” he proclaims, again trumping up the generational diversity of the lineup as “probably more [of a mix] than any other festival’s ever had.”
February 8, 2019: “It’s a really big deal,” Danny Wimmer of music production and promotion company Danny Wimmer Presents exclaims to Billboard regarding his company’s involvement in Woodstock 50. The article briefly mentions that the lineup for the fest would be unveiled later in the month, which would end up being untrue.
…. Or Is It?
March 5, 2019: With a lineup announcement yet to be seen, there are already signs that Woodstock 50 is in some seriously deep shit. Let’s break it down: Because a major promotional company (think Live Nation or AEG) isn’t directly involved with the festival, the potential risk was considered great enough by major talent agencies to demand 100 percent of artists’ fees paid upfront. While some artists’ reps told Billboard that they’d received payment weeks previous to the beginning of March, others hadn’t seen a cent until millions of dollars were wired to various agencies on March 4, 2019.
A variety of red flags — the blown deadlines for the lineup announcement, the often stormy late-summer weather in New York State, and an untold amount of infrastructure-building required to prep the site itself — are cited throughout the report, which also features a typically optimistic statement from Lang: “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 19, 2019: The lineup for Woodstock 50 is finally announced, and it signals promises kept (for the time being) in terms of the touted generational diversity, with headliners like Jay-Z, Chance the Rapper, the Black Keys, and the Killers alongside acts from the original Woodstock era like Dead & Company, Santana, John Fogerty, David Crosby, and Canned Heat.
An on-sale date for fest tickets is set for April 22, a.k.a. Earth Day — but a same-day report in The Observer Review & Express points out that mass-gathering permit applications have yet to be submitted for the space, with conflicting opinions on the viability of the festival itself. Schuyler County administrator Tim O’Hearn, in particular, raises issue with the notion of six-figure attendance predictions: “It will be based on the capacity to pull this off. Attendance will be capped and probably at 100,000 or less, maybe way less. It needs to be a number the venue can safely support and then build the event around that.”
April 5, 2019: Another bad omen before the deluge: The Black Keys unexpectedly drop off Woodstock 50’s bill, just weeks before tickets go on sale. In a statement, the band cites “scheduling conflicts” as their reason for pulling out, going on to say, “The band wants to let fans know as soon as possible and before tickets go on sale.” Hmm, sounds like they’re trying to warn us about something!
Ruh-Ro, As They Say
April 19, 2019: Just three days before Woodstock 50 tickets are set to go on sale, an email goes out to agents stating that the on-sale date has been postponed, immediately triggering cancellation rumors. “There is currently a hold on the Woodstock 50 on-sale date,” talent manager Amanda Phelan — who’s also affiliated with aforementioned Woodstock 50 partner and talent-buyer Danny Wimmer Presents — writes in an email to agents representing acts booked for the festival. “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.”
“No one knows what the hell is going on but there’s clearly a problem,” one unnamed agent tells Billboard regarding the postponement; but Lang continues to publicly view the uncertainties through tie-dye-colored glasses. “Woodstock is a phenomenon that for fifty years has drawn attention to its principles and also the rumors that can be attached to that attention,” he says in a statement to the publication, referring to cancellation fears as “just mere rumors.”
April 22, 2019: But why all the confusion? Pitchfork points to a possible (and very likely) reason: As of the previous Friday, the organizers had yet to acquire a mass-gathering permit from the New York State Department of Health — the application for said permit having been filed on April 15, just a week prior. Spokesperson Erin Silk tells the publication that the department was in “the process of completing its review” of the application, while a Woodstock 50 rep claims that ticket on-sale info will be available “in the coming days” as the organizers “refine logistical plans.”
Oh Shit! It’s Canceled! … Or Is It?
April 29, 2019: Woodstock 50 investors Dentsu Aegis Network, a Japanese advertising company, issue a statement suggesting that Woodstock 50 is, indeed, canceled. “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,” they claim in a statement. “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.” Billboard reports that, at some point during the previous week, a festival rep reached out to Live Nation and AEG to try to secure a $20 million investment — an offer both companies turned down. O’Hearn further confirms the cancellation to NPR as well.
April 30, 2019: Woodstock 50 organizers, however, maintain that everything’s still peachy and the festival will go on as planned. “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,” Woodstock 50 reps claim in a statement. “The bottom line is, there is going to be a Woodstock 50th Anniversary Festival, as there must be, and it’s going to be a blast.”
May 1, 2019: But can you throw a multiday music festival if none of the artists actually show? That’s the latest challenge facing Woodstock 50, as an agent confirms to Billboard that Dentsu Aegis’s cancellation statement effectively voids the contracts that the artists had signed with the festival itself. Production company Superfly issues a separate statement confirming that it, too, intended to back away from Woodstock 50’s further planning.
It also appears that the ability to even refer to the event as “Woodstock 50” is in jeopardy, as Billboard reports that Lang’s Woodstock Ventures holding company leased the Woodstock name to a separate holding company, Woodstock 50, LLC, which he isn’t part of. “We’re not even going to have a discussion with Lang until we see that every permit needed for this event has been secured,” a major agency head tells the publication. “I’d also like to hear how he plans to convince fans to buy tickets for an event that’s been already canceled.”
How’s Lang holding up, though? An interview with the New York Times reveals that he’s looking at legal action to ensure the festival goes on, with the fest’s lawyer — Marc E. Kasowitz, whose name you might recognize through one of his more famous clients, President Donald J. Trump — imploring “all stakeholders, including the entertainers” to carry on, further claiming that Dentsu had no legal right to cancel the festival. “We’re committed,” Lang insists, claiming that securing new investors will make for “a much easier process going forward … We’re not stopping now.”
May 2, 2019: Lang continues to hit back publicly against the press regarding reports of Woodstock 50’s many troubles. “Dave, my grip is right here and it’s fine,” he fires off to Billboard reporter Dave Brooks after his email newsletter the Real contained the headline “Lang Is Losing His Grip” earlier that day. Lang claims that the reports of Woodstock 50 performers’ contracts being effectively voided are untrue, while multiple talent agents reiterate to the publication that there’s “no chance” the artists will end up performing at the festival — if it even happens, that is.
May 6, 2019: So what’s it going to take to make sure Woodstock 50 — or whatever it ends up being called — is actually going to happen? $30 million, specifically. Sources tell Billboard that Lang has until the end of the week to raise that amount, while a spokesperson for Lang claims that firm CID Entertainment has stepped in to produce the festival — a claim that CID head Dan Berkowitz refused to confirm to the publication by press time.
Treachery! Theft! Bribes!
May 7, 2019: Lang sends a seething five-page letter to Dentsu Aegis accusing the agency of treachery. The letter alleges that the former investors “illegally swept approximately $17 million from the festival bank account” and effectively sabotaged the festival’s future by telling artists to drop out, demanding that Dentsu Aegis return the $17 million it allegedly took back to the festival itself: “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, let alone one that claims reform.”
May 8, 2019: In a slight change of tune, reps from Paradigm, CAA, and WME — major talent agencies that represent the bulk of Woodstock 50’s supposed lineup — tell Billboard that the current plan is to wait out the drama surrounding the festival before pulling their artists out for good. “Michael knows he’s got a very short window of time to pull this thing together,” one agent tells the publication. “It’s Woodstock. It’s his legacy. It’s the spirit of rock and roll. I’ll let him figure it out without getting in his way.”
We’ll See You in Court
May 9, 2019: Kasowitz makes the legal threats against Dentsu Aegis legit by filing a court order against the former investors; a hearing is scheduled for May 13, and a gag order against Dentsu Aegis is handed down by the court until then. Meanwhile, at least one major act is still confirmed for Woodstock 50: Imagine Dragons. “All I can say is that we were excited to perform and we’re [still] excited to perform if it takes place,” front man Dan Reynolds tells Billboard. “As far as I know, it still is [taking place]. I haven’t received a phone call telling us it’s been cancelled. I’ve seen articles telling both ways. Long story short, you probably know more than me. I have no idea.”
May 10, 2019: An in-depth recounting of the years leading up to Woodstock 50 from Billboard reveals that most agents and promoters had tried to talk Lang out of holding the fest at Watkins Glen for years before the fest’s unveiling because the site itself proved too “risky.” In recent months, a spate of infighting regarding issues ranging from attendance capacity to ticket prices caused unresolvable tensions between Lang, Superfly, and Dentsu Aegis; most notably, Billboard confirms their viewing of a January 8 email sent to Dentsu Aegis by Lang’s business partner, Greg Peck, in which he tells the former investors, “Essentially, we have no practical control to stop you from cancelling the festival for virtually any reason you see fit.”
May 13, 2019: The day of the previously scheduled hearing, Dentsu Aegis hits back publicly at Lang and his legal counsel, claiming in a memorandum that his “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 memorandum also accuses Lang of misappropriating “thousands” of dollars in funds, as well as ignoring requests from Dentsu Aegis to refund money related to artist cancellations. “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,” Kasowitz tells Billboard in a statement later that day.
And We’re Back, Baby! … Maybe?
May 15, 2019: A day after the hearing adjourns, New York Supreme Court justice Barry Ostrager hands down a judgment favoring both parties, sort of: the show — specifically, Woodstock 50 — can still go on, technically, but Dentsu Aegis isn’t responsible for returning the alleged funds that Lang claimed were illegally removed from the fest’s account. “We have always relied on the truth and have never lost faith that the Festival would take place,” Lang says in a statement, despite still not officially acquiring new investors — or money — to ensure the festival can continue as planned. “I would like to thank all of the talent and their representatives for their patience and support. Woodstock 50 will be an amazing and inspiring festival experience.”
May 17, 2019: Investment bank and financial-services firm Oppenheimer & Co. comes aboard to “complete the financing for the festival,” a vague statement that doesn’t confirm whether the festival will be fully funded or eventually acquire the mass-gathering permit required to, y’know, sell tickets. “We are thrilled to be onboard for this incredible weekend of music and social engagement,” a press release from the firm reads — which, yeah, we’ll believe it when we see it.
May 22, 2019: And it doesn’t even look like the new blood has improved Woodstock 50’s financial status: Lang files an appeal against the previous ruling in favor of Dentsu, demanding that the company return the remainder of the funds they allegedly removed from the festival’s bank account. Kasowitz’s filed appeal seeks “a preliminary injunction in aid of arbitration requiring (Dentsu) to return $18 million withdrawn from a dedicated festival account and allowing Petitioner to use those funds for appropriate expenses.” Until a five-judge panel rules on the appeal, Dentsu Aegis is ordered to place the $18 million in escrow; they’re given until Friday, May 24, to deposit the money.
Yeah, Back … to Square One
June 11, 2019: After a few weeks of quiet on the news cycle, Woodstock 50 faces its most substantial setback to date: Watkins Glen announces that it’s terminated the festival’s site license, leaving Woodstock 50 essentially without a location or venue to hold the festival. To make matters worse, CID Entertainment pulls out of its agreement to produce the fest, and the Department of Health rescinds its permit application. Sounds like there’s definitely no way Woodstock 50 is happening, right? Once again, not according to the festival. “We are in discussions with another venue to host Woodstock 50 on August 16-18,” festival principal Gregory Peck insists in a statement, adding that the fest “[looks] forward to sharing the new location when tickets go on sale in the coming weeks.” Uh, we look forward to it, too?
June 13, 2019: More details emerge on how Woodstock 50 lost Watkins Glen as the festival site — specifically, because they couldn’t pony up the dough. Billboard reports that the speedway’s president Michael Printup made several attempts to procure a $150,000 payment that was due on May 15, and Woodstock 50 failed to pay up in the end.
This post has been updated throughout.