Agents Shift to 'Wait-And-See' Approach on Woodstock 50 as Michael Lang Tries to Revive Festival

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Woodstock 50

Many say their contracts are with Dentsu, but would prefer to see the founder end the event on his own terms before releasing their artists.

Representatives from the biggest talent agencies in music are shifting their tone on Woodstock 50, saying they'll give organizers a chance to save the festival before officially releasing their artists and booking them elsewhere.

Representatives from CAA, Paradigm and WME -- the three major talent agencies representing the bulk of the big names and headliners at Woodstock 50 -- tell Billboard that their contracts for the festival are with financier Dentsu, which announced it was pulling out on April 29 and cancelling the event. Agents tell Billboard that even though Dentsu's exit from the festival triggers a cancelation clause in their booking agreement, many are going to let co-founder Michael Lang make his next move before officially saying whether their artists are in or out.

"Until it's crystal clear legally, no one will do shit," explains one agent representing an artist at the festival, who said they wouldn't book replacement shows or issue the festival a breach of contract notice until there's a more definitive cancellation of Woodstock 50. The strategy is crafted to protect the $30 million that Dentsu already paid out to artists on the lineup, money they say they are entitled to keep if the band is willing and ready to play.

The risk is that their artists will get stuck playing a downgraded -- and possible dangerous -- Woodstock 50 festival, although most say the odds of that happening are slim-to-none, arguing the event faces too many obstacles and that eventually Lang will have to relent on his vision for the 50th anniversary celebration.

"He still needs a permit, he needs a new investor," one agent tells Billboard, adding, "and he now needs to find someone to produce the festival" since Superfly announced May 1 they "would no longer be participating" in Woodstock 50.

Reps for the Woodstock 50 LLC had already asked both AEG and Live Nation to bail out the festival with a $20 million cash infusion, days after tickets were supposed to go on sale, but both promoters passed on the proposal. Lang had given himself until Friday to raise $30 million for the festival which is needed for staging, production and site construction.

Lang also needs money to hire a new producer -- a financial analysis Woodstock 50 drafted and presented to Denstu on April 26 show that Superfly was to be paid a $3.3 million producer fee for a festival with an increased capacity of 92,500 and a production budget of $33 million. It's unclear what Superfly was actually paid to begin work on Woodstock 50, but the industry standard is typically a 50% payment up front before commencing work. A spokeswoman for Superfly would not address questions on payment. A source for Dentsu said they had received a copy of the financial analysis from Woodstock 50 and told Billboard it was "not an accurate budget" and "was not generated by Superfly or Amplifi Live." The source added that the event's permit application had only called for 75,000 fans.

"It just isn’t rooted in reality," they told Billboard.

Lang confirmed he presented the plan in an open letter to Dentsu president Toshihiro Yamamoto on Monday (May 6), writing he had "been working on value engineering the site to improve the economics. By Friday, April 26, 2019 we presented multiple plans illustrating a slight profit and substantiated these plans with supporting documents. However, for reasons not explained to us, it seemed to fall on deaf ears."'

But even if those plans get off the ground and Lang is able to put tickets on sale, most agents dont believe that enough fans will buy tickets or risk $450 on a show that's already been cancelled once.

What's more likely, agents say, is a legal battle between Denstu and Woodstock 50. Lang has retained well-known trial lawyer Marc Kasowitz and appears to be posturing for a protracted fight with the multinational company. In his letter, Lang told Yamamoto that the company has "has acted not only without honor, but outside of the law" and warned "the consequences of these unjustified actions are far‐reaching and mind‐bogglingly significant."

So far Dentsu officials have not backed down and one source close to the festival thinks Dentsu could try to stop the festival from taking place if Lang tried to stage the event at Watkins Glen International speedway, suggesting Dentsu could seek an injuction from a judge to stop Woodstock 50 if their hand was forced.

All those obstacles make it seem pretty unlikely that Woodstock 50 will ever happen, but -- in orrder to protect the $30 million their artists have been paid and not be seen as disrespectful of the Woodstock cofounder -- most agents would still prefer to give Lang the courtesy to allow him to wind down the event on his terms.

"Michael know he's got a very short window of time to pull this thing together," said one agent. "It's Woodstock. It's his legacy. It's the spirt of rock and roll. I'll let him figure it out without getting in his way."