Woodstock Founder Michael Lang Vows Show Will Go On -- But Talent Agencies Say Artists Won't Play

George Holz
Michael Lang

Lang sets out to save Woodstock -- without financing or commitments from artists.

The artists booked to play Woodstock 50 are not obligated to Michael Lang's event, Billboard has learned.

Representatives from two major talent agencies with headliners booked for the anniversary event said Dentsu's decision to pull out of the event voids their contract and releases them from playing the festival. "The artist contracts are with Dentsu, not with Michael Lang or Woodstock 50," an agent with artists booked for the event tell Billboard.

That stands in contrast with an email Lang sent out yesterday to fans saying that despite the loss of the festival's main financial partner, "Woodstock 50 will take place and will be a blast!"

Lang's call to revive the festival came a little more than 24 hours after Dentsu Aegis Network announced it was canceling the Aug. 16-18 festival at Watkins Glen International speedway over concerns about site readiness, capacity and the amount of money needed to pull off the event which was expecting as many as 150,000 fans. Dentsu Aegis — a subsidiary of the Japanese conglomerate Dentsu — had sunk $30 million into the festival's massive lineup and was now walking away from its foray into the live music space.

"It is one thing to decide for oneself that it is best to move on, but it is entirely another thing to try and close the door on us," Lang wrote. "Woodstock never belonged to Dentsu, so they don’t have a right to cancel it," he wrote in his signoff. "Woodstock belongs to the people and it always will."

He's half right. Dentsu does not own the Woodstock name nor does it control the Woodstock 50 brand. But "the people" don't own it either. Lang and his three partners (and their families) at Woodstock Ventures own the name. Confusion over who actually controls Woodstock is helping fuel Lang's claims that Woodstock will still happen, but it is highly unlikely an event will take place that bears any resemblance to the three-day festival headlined by Dead and Co., Jay-Z, The Killers, Miley Cyrus and all the artists on the bill. 

All the artists booked for Woodstock 50 were contracted with Dentsu, or Amplifi Live, a holding company controlled by Dentsu. The moment a spokesperson for Dentsu issued a statement to Billboard announcing the festival had been canceled, all the artists who had agreed to play the festival were released from their contracts, several agents familiar with the agreements tell Billboard

That means artists like Halsey and Imagine Dragons have no obligation to play any event Michael Lang produces, even if he calls it Woodstock 50 — which itself is unlikely. Lang and his partners co-own the Woodstock name through the Woodstock Ventures holding company, which they then leased to a separate holding company called Woodstock 50 LLC, which was created Aug. 31, 2018 according to records from the NYS Department of State. It's unclear who controls Woodstock 50 although Billboard has confirmed that hotelier Greg Peck with Crescent Hotel is one of the board members of Woodstock 50 and that some investors in the group are represented by Beverly Hills attorney Alex Weingarten.

While the details of Woodstock Venture's licensing agreement for the name Woodstock 50 are unknown, it's unlikely that Lang can use the name Woodstock 50 for the event he is trying to create out of the ashes of his original vision. In fact it appears he's already stopped using the Woodstock 50 name — he signed off the letter as Woodstock Ventures.

The confusion around the festival's very existence will likely make it difficult for Lang when booking any artists represented by major agencies.

"We're not even going to have a discussion with Lang until we see that every permit needed for this event has been secured," said one major agency head who represented a number of acts playing the festival. "I'd also like to hear how he plans to convince fans to buy tickets for an event that's been already canceled."

Woodstook 50 was always a tough sell for consumers — the site is located four-and-a-half hours away from New York and has very little surrounding hotels, home rentals and infrastructure. Phish's Curveball festival — which was scheduled to take place exactly one-year before Woodstock 50 was to be held — had to be canceled at the last minute after a massive storm caused contamination in local drinking wells.

Would fans be willing to risk $450 on a camping festival on the site a year later? Not after Fyre Fest. Several agents Billboard spoke with said the release of rival documentaries on Fyre Festival -- Netflix's Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened and Hulu's Fyre Fraud -- have made consumers extra-cautious about buying tickets to destination events.

"It seems in a way that history is repeating itself," opened yesterday's email to fans, referencing the last minute relocation of the festival in 1969, while seemingly missing the irony that millennials were now more likely to link the Woodstock brand with Billy McFarland's failed Fyre Fest than three historic days of peace, love and music. 

"The guy was trying to pull a scam. They never focused on the music, it was more about hanging out with models," Lang told Billboard in a Jan. 30 interview where he laid out his vision for the anniversary event. "That’s not Woodstock, that’s people stealing from others."

On that final point, Lang is right. McFarland is convicted of defrauding dozens of investors to the tune of $26 million and no one is accusing Lang of stealing money from anyone, although its unlikely his backers at Denstu will recover the $30 million it spent on talent for the festival. And like Fyre Festival, that means Woodstock 50 is likely to end up in court and potentially be bogged down by years of litigation.

"It was 'déjà vu all over again!'" Lang wrote in the close of yesterday's email, again seemingly ignoring the irony percolating around his new designation in the history books. If only he could have actually pulled the event off -- the dueling documentaries would have been amazing.

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