Woodstock 50 Officially Canceled After Months of Problems

July 31, 2019, 7:36 PM UTC
Woodstock 50 Announces Festival Line-Up
Michael Lang speaks on stage at the announcement of the Woodstock 50 Festival Line-Up at Electric Lady Studio on March 19, 2019 in New York City. On July 31, Lang issued a statement saying the beleaguered festival was canceled. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Woodstock 50)
Kevin Mazur—Getty Images for Woodstock 50

Woodstock 50 is officially canceled. The organizers of the iconic music festival’s golden-anniversary celebration announced Wednesday that, after numerous problems and a last-ditch effort to hold the concert in Maryland, they were finally pulling the plug, an outcome that has seemed inevitable for months.

“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, the organizer of the event and the original Woodstock, said in a statement. 

Initially announced in March, Woodstock 50 was set to be a three-day event featuring dozens of acts, including Jay-Z, the Killers, Janelle Monae, the Raconteurs, Robert Plant, Miley Cyrus, and several artists who performed at the original concert, such as Dead & Company, Santana, and John Fogerty. The plan was for it to take place at Watkins Glen International racetrack in upstate New York on Aug. 16-18 with an expected 150,000 attendees per day, but things soon started to fall apart.

One of the first signs of trouble came when tickets did not go on sale on April 22 as promised. One week later, the festival’s chief financier Dentsu Aegis backed out of the deal, took nearly $18 million of its funding with it, and announced that Woodstock 50 was canceled. Lang and his team fought back, saying Dentsu had no right to cancel the festival outright, and the sides battled in court with a judge ultimately saying that the show could go on but Dentsu was allowed to flee with its money.

Dentsu’s official reason for pulling out was that Woodstock 50’s production side had missed certain milestones in the production process. These reportedly included the failure to get permits from the local authorities, issues regarding capacity, and a lack of infrastructure for the stages and camping, including poor planning of water access and proper sanitation. Watkins Glen officially dropped out of hosting Woodstock 50 in June after the organizers failed to pay them a site fee on time, which in turn led Lang to try to hold the concert at a racetrack in Vernon, N.Y. The town ultimately denied Woodstock 50 a permit and stuck to its decision after three subsequent appeals, leaving the festival without a venue in the upstate New York region.

Lang’s Hail Mary attempt at saving Woodstock 50 in late July was to move it to Merriweather Post Pavilion, an outdoor venue in Columbia, Md., with a capacity under 20,000. Because of the relocation, every artist booked for the festival was subsequently released from their contract, and Lang announced the event would be free, in a partnership with the voter-encouragement nonprofit HeadCount. But less than a week later, following departures of many of the lineup’s biggest names, it’s all over. 

As Lang noted in his statement, one of the issues stemming from the relocation was that many artists could not perform in Maryland because they were contractually beholden to play other shows in the region and thus couldn’t play at a competing venue. “Due to conflicting radius issues in the DC area many acts were unable to participate and others passed for their own reasons,” he said. “I would like to encourage artists and agents, who all have been fully paid, to donate 10% of their fees to HeadCount or causes of their choice in the spirit of peace.”

Currently, none of the artists from the original lineup have announced plans to play elsewhere that weekend, save for Santana and Fogerty, who will both perform as scheduled at the Bethel Woods Center, a venue on the site of the original Woodstock. 

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