How Woodstock 50 Is Shaping Up to Be Fyre Fest 2.0
Financiers claim the 50th anniversary festival honoring Woodstock is cancelled. The festival’s lead organizer, meanwhile, claims the show will go on.
If Woodstock 50 fails to launch, it’ll be a twist of irony as the event honoring an infamously issue-plagued festival has itself become synonymous with behind-the-scenes woes—chaos that evokes a more Fyre-like festival.
Michael Lang, lead organizer of Woodstock 50, is adamant the anniversary festival will take place in August with the same lineup, same partners and at the same venue.
A source with Amplifi Live, the investment arm of lead financier Dentsu Aegis Network which canceled the festival on Monday, unequivocally disagrees. “He’d have to come up with a different name. Different talent. Different everything,” the source told The Daily Beast. “The festival is now ours, and then we decided to cancel it.”
This is just the latest in a back-and-forth battle regarding the future of Woodstock 50, the highly anticipated festival that was (and maybe still is) set to run August 16 to 18 in Watkins Glen, New York and features headliners Miley Cyrus, The Killers and Jay-Z. At the crux of the debate: Who owns Woodstock 50?
Lang, alongside hotelier Greg Peck and another partner, operate the Woodstock 50 LLC, which runs the festival’s website. “Dentsu has no legal right or ability to cancel it,” Woodstock 50’s lawyer Marc Kasowitz said in a statement Tuesday. Kasowitz is President Trump’s former longtime personal attorney.
The truth is a little bit more complicated, and it starts with permits. Event site Watkins Glen International Speedway is the official applicant and submitted final permits to several New York state departments and Schuyler County on April 15.
But they waited too long. The mass gathering permit by the Department of Health needed approval before Woodstock 50 could sell tickets. With a previously announced Earth Day ticket sale kickoff on April 22 looming, Lang claims the state was willing to issue a conditional permit assuming Watkins Glen secured a needed bond. While it’s unclear if the bond was issued—the speedway declined to comment for this article—the Department of Health did not rule on the permit, forcing Woodstock 50 to indefinitely postpone their kickoff with no explanation.
On Tuesday, a source for Dentsu denounced claims that permits are still being considered, stating they contacted all state and county offices to cancel permits. However, the Department of Health said the speedway’s permit is still pending and was never asked to be revoked. To which the Dentsu source replied, “I can only assume it’s government. It takes time to wind things down.”
The State Department of Health reconfirmed to The Daily Beast Wednesday a day after Dentsu’s claim that the speedway’s permit is still pending and they are in contact to “determine” next steps.
Slated performer John Fogerty took a jab at the permits debacle on Tuesday. “For Woodstock 75, we can all still get together and sing ‘Kumbaya.’ They should start working on getting the permits right now,” he told Rolling Stone.
Lang admits the entire festival got off to a late start. Contract settlements with the Japan-based Dentsu, as well as with event company Superfly and booker Danny Wimmer Presents all took an “extraordinary” amount of time. Danny Wimmer didn’t start booking until November, while festivals like Lollapalooza and Coachella begin up to a year in advance. The official announcement came January 9, 2019, seven months ahead of the festival weekend.
Following their Monday cancellation statement, a source for Dentsu claimed they told all major talent agencies the festival is a no-go. Billboard spoke with an unnamed talent agent who sided with Dentsu, saying the artist contracts are with the financiers and not Woodstock 50.
“It’s kind of a legal question as to what the control factor is,” Lang told The Daily Beast in response to Billboard’s story, claiming the contracts are with both Dentsu and Woodstock 50. “We feel that will be all worked out,” he said, noting his attorneys are reviewing contracts.
Lang claims he issued a notice to all agencies stating Woodstock 50 expects talent to perform in August. In actuality, he sent them the same letter emailed to the 207,000 people signed up for Woodstock.com notifications. The letter did not mention the artists or their expectation to perform.
The back-and-forth has left performers and their teams in limbo, though Lang believes “As far as we’re concerned, they refer to us.” Variety reported performers were paid in advance with money currently held in escrow.
A representative for Santana and David Crosby said, “We have no idea what’s going on. Until then, we’re not making any statements.” A source close to rapper Taylor Bennett believed the festival was cancelled. However, another band who asked not be mentioned by name due to the unclear legal obligations said, “Until we’re told the festival is absolutely canceled, we’ll play it.” Several publicists and managers did not return requests for comment.
Part of the confusion over festival control comes down to apparent party loyalty. While Woodstock 50 alongside Danny Wimmer Presents booked the talent, Billboard reported the contracts are with Dentsu.
Festival sponsors, on the other hand, are Lang’s people. “We’re moving forward until we hear differently from the organizers. It’s a really important thing what Michael Lang and his team are doing,” a spokesperson for Hiring America said. The veteran affairs organization is in preliminary stages of planning their on-site activities.
Event company Superfly, which has largely stayed quiet this week, was hired through Dentsu and continued to take their direction post-cancellation statement, even initially referring Daily Beast’s inquiries to the financial investors.
In a rare agreement, both Dentsu and Woodstock 50 state Billboard erroneously reported that unnamed festival organizers tried to fire event company Superfly. A source for Dentsu told The Daily Beast, “That is not accurate” and praised Superfly’s performance.
“There are points along the way where we discussed changing production partners, but we decided in the interest of keeping things on track to continue on,” Lang said, also denying Woodstock 50 tried to fire Superfly. Billboard has not issued a correction and did not immediately return The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
Yet a day later, Superfly officially cut all ties with Woodstock 50, following Dentsu’s lead. A spokesperson for the event company said Superfly will not be involved in any further festival planning. Woodstock 50 is talking to new vendors and investors this week, including CID Entertainment, which produces Bonnaroo and Mountain Jam, the latter which set to take place on the site of the original 1969 Woodstock.
The iconic farm has since become the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, where this year’s troubles first started. Bethel Woods rejected Woodstock 50’s request to hold the festival on their site. Their max capacity is 15,000, while Lang expects 75,000 attendees at Woodstock 50.
While still unclear why Dentsu pulled out, most reports are settling around Dentsu’s lack of confidence in securing a large enough audience. TMZ reported the investors requested 100,000 attendees. However, Lang is requesting capacity for 75,000. Smaller, he claims, than the 250,000 permitted for 1994 Woodstock and 220,000 for 1999 Woodstock.
The economic impact of Woodstock 50s’ possible cancellation has already hit Watkins Glen, NY. Scott Bell, general manager of Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel, has gone from entirely sold-out Woodstock 50 weekend to a few cancellations in just the past two days. “What the public and everybody misses is the amount of work that has gone into it to date,” Bell said.