Is Woodstock 50 About to Make Its Last Stand?

George Holz
Michael Lang

The outcome of a pending appeal is make or break for the anniversary festival that seems to never give up.

Michael Lang has been told to stop talking.

The mercurial promoter behind Woodstock 50 and the co-founder of the original 1969 festival has been instructed by the team now trying to pull off the event to stop making statements to the press and city officials, directions he's largely followed for the last few weeks. His previous claims that his email account was hacked by the media or that investor Dentsu pulled out because "the Japanese have a lot of pride and are careful with their image" weren't seen as helping the festival that's now in survival mode after an inspector in Vernon, New York, denied an application to stage the anniversary festival Aug. 16-18.

Organizers are appealing that decision and sources tell Billboard that the event has finally gotten its act together. Woodstock 50 apparently has new investors and has gotten about 25 acts from the original festival lineup committed to perform, a claim Billboard has not independently verified. More than 500,000 people visited the website when the lineup was announced in March and more than 1,600 people per week are joining its email list, which so far, has been sent out a single email on April 30 announcing the festival had not been canceled. There were even rumors that a very well known CEO would put their stamp on the event and announce its revival with a dramatic media stunt. Lang was not out, but he was no longer out front. Professionals were finally taking over, led by Jason Felts who helped produce the KAABOO festival series and had brought on his own team of consultants who knew what they were doing. 

The festival now has to confront the permit denial issue, which is an existential threat from a festival brand that seems to constantly face existential threats. Tomorrow, organizers will refile their application for a temporary event permit after city officials denied the permit without comment or opportunity, other than saying it was incomplete and filed too late. According to one source, local laws in Vernon say the application needed to be filed 120 days before the start of the event, which would mean it was due April 18 when Woodstock 50 was still a sketchy idea but still had its original financial backers, a venue in Watkins Glen New York and Superfly as a producer.

A source tells Billboard the 120-day rule is for a mass gathering permit, which is only needed for camping and that Woodstock 50 organizers had abandoned the camping idea in order to qualify for a temporary event permit, apparently at the recommendation of a local official. They had also reduced attendance, from 65,000 to 35,000. Organizers had been meeting with Vernon Downs officials and had been working on tabletop exercises with law enforcement and felt things were going well. But a public forum held Monday, with more than 100 people in attendance, seem to turn the political tide for the event. Sheriff Robert Maciol told the crowd, “It is impossible to ensure the safety of the public at this point,” according to a report from Syracuse.com. “If you’re asking me right now, I’m not confident in saying the public will be safe.”

Less than 24 hours later the permit application was denied, and "political forces," as one source described them, were now working against the event and Vernon Down's billlionaire owner Jeff Gural. If they lose the appeal, organizers might be able to sue the town and show it broke the law, although Woodstock's record in court is 0-3 and the festival might run out of time before they could get a judge to sign off on a plan to stage a festival against the city's wishes. 

“Any emergency management director will say there isn’t enough time to do this properly,” explained Kevin Revere, the emergency management director for Oneida County, according to Syracuse.com. “The less time you have to plan this stuff, the margin of error goes up tremendously.” 

What happens next is anyone's guess and there will be plenty of people trying to tell their side of the story because there's something special about the Woodstock brand that the people working on the festival now want to protect. Maybe Lang will end his self-imposed silence and speak out. After all, if the appeal fails and his team is forced to give up, there won't be anyone to stop him.

Festivals 2019


THE BILLBOARD BIZ
SUBSCRIBER EXPERIENCE

The Biz premium subscriber content has moved to Billboard.com/business.


To simplify subscriber access, we have temporarily disabled the password requirement.