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.
Here We Go Again
June 25, 2019: Suddenly, Woodstock 50 — if it happens at all — is looking a lot smaller than anticipated: Town of Vernon supervisor Randy Watson tells the Poughkeepsie Journal that the organizers have submitted a permit application at the Vernon Downs racetrack. Kasowitz provides a separate statement to the paper that “Woodstock 50 is proceeding with the planning of the festival and looks forward to holding the festival at another venue with its new partners.” Capacity would now be at 45,000 to 50,000, down from the much bigger 150,000 attendance goal the festival originally had in mind.
July 8, 2019: A Vernon town-board meeting is held on the fate of Woodstock 50 where Oneida County head of Emergency Services Kevin Revere calls the festival a “recipe for disaster.” Oneida County sheriff Rob Maciol proposes that the festival be delayed from August 2019 to August 2020 as a safety precaution. “No matter how good the plan looks on paper, to implement this plan in 39 days is impossible to ensure the safety of the public,” he says. It’s reportedly expressed at the meeting that “the overwhelming consensus is that the residents do not want Woodstock 50 in their backyard.” Woodstock 50 president Greg Peck responds in a statement, “We appreciate the honest feedback from the Town of Vernon and will continue to address their comments as we enter the final planning phases for Woodstock 50. We are confident that this careful planning and consideration of community concerns will result in a safe, world-class Festival.’’
This Ship Is Sinking Fast
July 9, 2019: Things are back to looking as dire as ever. Variety reports that Woodstock 50 has been denied a permit to hold the festival at its hopeful new venue, Vernon Downs. Oneida County administrator Anthony Picente Jr. confirmed that “what they have submitted to date has not met many of the requirements,” and that chances of the festival taking place are “highly unlikely” — at least not in Oneida County. According to Picente, planning had been “chaotic,” with a major roadblock being that Vernon Downs does not have camping facilities. Woodstock 50 was meant to be a three-day camping festival, but to accommodate the new venue, producers reportedly proposed that instead it be three one-day events, with all 65,000 attendees (the new adjusted attendance goal) exiting at each day’s end and returning the next. “We could have done this with a year or 16 months advance, but to do it in three to six weeks is really a near impossibility from a public safety and health standpoint,” Picente says. Festival organizers have five days to appeal the ruling. Woodstock 50 has yet to comment. As it (barely) stands, Woodstock 50 is seemingly still scheduled for August 16–18 … but tickets have also still yet to go on sale.
July 16, 2019: Vernon’s town board upholds its original decision to reject Woodstock 50’s permit for Vernon Downs, denying the festival’s appeal in a unanimous vote. And the death knell just keeps on ringing: Virgin Produced, the festival’s adviser, confirms to Pollstar that it is officially pulling out of all involvement with the festival following the latest permit denial. “It has become apparent that time has expired,” CEO Jason Felts says in a statement. Meanwhile, festival co-founder Michael Lang is seemingly starting to admit and accept defeat. In response to Vernon’s appeal decision, he says he will not take the matter to the courts via a lawsuit. “We wouldn’t want the town to suffer,” he says in a statement. The festival also ominously adds in a statement, “We want to thank the artists who stood by us.” Still, no formal cancellation has been announced by Woodstock 50. And following the latest appeal loss, organizers reportedly tell local news station WFXV that they will reapply for a permit on July 17. Lang, of course, maintains a sliver of hope after the decision, saying, “There’s a crack. We’ll know more tomorrow.”
July 17, 2019: The desperation settles in. Woodstock 50 issues a rather succinct statement to Pitchfork saying it’s “considering all options at this point.” Any takers?
July 25, 2019: In a true case of divine intervention (clearly the work of the Devil), the New York Times reports that Woodstock 50 is “saved”! If this is what saved looks like, anyway: More than just switching venues after failing to secure permits, Woodstock 50 is jumping states entirely — the festival will now be held at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland, according to the festival’s producers and Bloomberg. Somehow, the original festival dates (August 16–18) remain unchanged, which means that in just three weeks, the historic festival long planned to mark its golden anniversary return to upstate New York will have to shift gears to the DMV and just hope that expected attendees can keep up.
What’s more, the festival does not appear to have a secured lineup. Although it was originally announced with a lineup of Jay-Z, Miley Cyrus, Halsey, Chance the Rapper, and dozens more, the Times reports that “none of them have been confirmed for the latest iteration of the event.” Per the Times, “On Thursday, producers were still negotiating with artists’ agents,” but the paper adds that, owing to the state change, the artists “may have a right to refuse to play.” (It’s also worth noting that the artists have already been paid and “would likely be able to keep those fees even if they do not perform.”)
Another, uh, key detail: The Times points out that there’s a glaring scheduling conflict with one of the dates; the Pavilion’s calendar shows Smashing Pumpkins–Noel Gallagher scheduled there for August 17 — in the middle of the same weekend Woodstock 50 will supposedly be going on. “Festival organizers and representatives of the amphitheater had no immediate comment,” the Times says of that issue. Meanwhile, on Woodstock 50’s website, tickets are still listed as “available soon.” Fun!
July 26, 2019: As suspected, Woodstock 50’s artists are jumping ship. The AP reports that closing headliner Jay-Z has pulled out of the festival, though no announcement has yet been made; ironically, Jay-Z will host his own annual Made in America festival in Philadelphia just two weeks after Woodstock 50, for its eighth year (he’s not set to play that either). John Fogerty, who played the original Woodstock with Creedence Clearwater Revival, also announces he’s pulling out of the festival and will instead appear at a separate event at the original Woodstock site. “John Fogerty knows where he will be for the anniversary weekend of Woodstock,” his reps say in a statement. “At only one site … at the original one — the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts.” It continues, “As [Fogerty] says in his song ‘Who’ll Stop the Rain,’ written upon returning from Woodstock — ‘NO MORE CONFUSION ON THE GROUND.’”
July 27, 2019: Uh, suddenly, Woodstock 50 is a benefit show? Benefiting whom, no one knows. TMZ reports that the latest plan is for the festival to release its tickets (now a limited number, apparently) for free, encouraging ticketholders to donate to their favorite causes instead. Naturally, the festival will still need to recover some money from this fiasco and, to do so, TMZ says Woodstock 50 will still sell VIP tickets for anyone willing to make the festival their charity case. (No word on if they’ll be asked to donate to other causes, too.) Fans can reportedly expect to get instructions on ticket “sales” by the end of the week. Naturally, though, that’s the least of the festival’s problems: As TMZ notes, “it’s still very unclear who will perform at Woodstock” and that “final plans are still very much in motion.” Merriweather Post Pavilion operator Seth Hurwitz confirmed to Pitchfork that the idea for free tickets has been floated, but that everything is still seemingly up in the air. “That was the last thing we heard, too,” he said. “We’re still waiting to hear who is playing, but that’s not our job. They do still have a venue if they have a show.” That’s a big if!
July 30, 2019: And the hits just keep on coming. Reps for the Raconteurs, Lumineers, Santana, Country Joe McDonald, Dead & Company, and the Lovin’ Spoonful founder John Sebastian all confirm to Rolling Stone and Pitchfork that they’ve pulled out of the festival. “I’m not interested in getting on a ship that’s sinking, and I don’t see any indication that this ship is not sinking,” McDonald tells the Baltimore Sun. Sebastian adds, “I was with them all the way until the location changed. And it pisses me off, because I feel like a blood brother with Michael [Lang], and I would love to be able to join him.” Meanwhile, in even more dire news, Rolling Stone reports that 17 days out from the festival, “organizers have yet to submit a permit application” in Howard County. Hurwitz previously said, “If the bands come, we’ll produce the show.” As of July 30, Hurwitz tells Rolling Stone there have been “no updates on my end.”
Variety adds that headliner Miley Cyrus has also pulled out from the festival, along with other details about what this thing may look like if hell freezes over: The plan, reportedly, is for it to now be a one-day festival and that “a broadcast partner has been contacted.” Variety also reports that “four or five” acts have agreed to play, confirming one of them is 2019 Rock Hall inductees the Zombies. Their manager, Cindy da Silva, swears the band’s loyalty to the festival never wavered: “I’ve always believed it would happen, which might sound kooky, but we’re at a messed-up moment in time right now and the spirit of Woodstock is something that we need,” she tells Variety.
Wave the White Flag
July 31, 2019: Pour one out for what almost (never) was. Woodstock 50 officially accepts defeat, announcing in a statement the festival’s cancellation (for good this time). “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,” Michael Lang writes. He confirms that the new plan was to have the festival be a benefit concert for the voter-registration charity HeadCount, but that it all fell apart due to losing the lineup. He continues, “We released all the talent so any involvement on their part would be voluntary. Due to conflicting radius issues in the DC area many acts were unable to participate
and others passed for their own reasons.” Woodstock 50 is now asking all artists originally booked — who’ve also already been paid — to donate 10 percent of their fees to HeadCount or “causes of their choice in the spirit of peace.”
In an additional statement, festival principal Greg Peck blamed original investor Dentsu Aegis for “throwing a wrench in our plans.” He claims that “some great artists came aboard over the last week to support Woodstock 50 — but time simply ran short.” Merriweather Post Pavilion operator Seth Hurwitz also said, “While we were able to quickly eliminate the venue portion of the challenge to present Woodstock, it was just too late in the game.”
This post has been updated throughout.