The Turbulent Saga of Woodstock 50: A Timeline
The ever-evolving saga of Woodstock 50 has been turbulent, to say the least. After co-creator of the original Woodstock concert Michael Lang announced plans to put on a 50th anniversary concert back in January, the festival has been fraught with financial troubles, legal issues and general mass confusion, teetering between collapse and success day to day.
To help guide you through the series of unfolding events surrounding Woodstock 50, here's a timeline of everything that's happened so far.
Jan. 8, 2019 - Greg Peck says he'd cover half of Superfly's fee if festival is a flop
A day before Woodstock 50 is announced publicly, Lang's main festival partner, Gregory Peck, writes an email to a chief executive at MKTG saying he's willing to cover half of production company Superfly’s fee (estimated to be $3 million) if Woodstock 50 turned out to be a financial flop.
Jan. 9, 2019 - Michael Lang publicly announces the 50-year anniversary concert
In celebration of Woodstock's 50th anniversary, Lang announces he is putting on a 50-year tribute concert at the Watkins Glen International speedway. However, the weekend of the concert -- Aug. 16-18 -- coincides with another tribute festival the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts announced the previous month, taking place on the site of the original Woodstock and produced by Live Nation.
In a press release, Lang says the original Bethel site is "wonderful, but much too small for what we’re envisioning.” His event claims to be the "only authorized commemoration of the iconic 1969 festival," and advertises three stages and 60 bands.
"The Woodstock 50th Anniversary will be about sharing an experience with great artists and encouraging people to get educated and involved in the social issues impacting everyone on the planet,” Lang said. “It’s so inspiring to see young people today channeling their passion into causes they care about. That’s something that’s always been a part of Woodstock’s mission, and it’s a big focus at the 50th festival.”
Feb. 12, 2019 - Unauthorized bookings
After Amplifi Live -- the holding company of the festival and a subsidiary of Dentsu Aegis Network -- directed festival officials to not commit to any further offers or payments with talent until further notice, Woodstock 50's Susan Cronin acknowledged that "2 full batches of talent" had been booked anyway.
Feb. 28, 2019 - Lang fights to get capacity numbers up to 100,000-150,000
After the production team at Superfly calculated the event could only support 65,000 attendees, Lang sends an email to DJ Martin, chief commercial officer of Dentsu.
"Superfly will not be permitted to adjust this down to 65,000. There is no rational reason to do this. Not from a safety point of view nor from a customer satisfaction point of view," he said in the email, later adding, "We are surprised by the lack of concern by Superfly for the financial viability of this endeavor, to the point where, as they see it, a little discomfort by some getting to the site, is cause to eliminate 35,000 potential attendees."
March 4, 2019 - Festival wires full payment to artists after a delay
While representatives for a number of major headliners said they were paid weeks ago, other performers report they had not been paid as of March 1.
Following reports the event was facing financial difficulties, one agency boss tells Billboard that as of March 4, all of their artists had been paid in full. A source also confirms that Superfly has received full payment.
March 19, 2019 - Woodstock 50 reveals its lineup
The festival unveils a massive lineup with over 70 acts including Jay-Z, Chance the Rapper, The Killers, The Black Keys, Miley Cyrus and Halsey. The exhaustive list also features artists like John Fogerty, David Crosby and Santana, who performed at the original Woodstock.
Tickets for the anniversary festival are also announced to go on sale on Earth Day, April 22.
March 29, 2019 - Superfly writes breach letter
Production company Superfly issues a breach of contract letter to Woodstock and Dentsu that outlined how the two companies were acting in violation of their original agreement by repeatedly claiming the event would host 100,000 attendees. In writing, Superfly articulates a number of concerns and reasserts that the festival capacity is approximately 65,000 people.
April 5, 2019 - The Black Keys back out
The Black Keys cancel their Woodstock 50 performance about two weeks before tickets are scheduled to go on sale, citing an unnamed "scheduling conflict."
April 10, 2019 - Superfly issues a second warning, says capacity is "closer to 61,000"
In a letter addressed to Martin, Lang and Peck, Superfly says Woodstock and Dentsu have "still failed to cure the breach surrounding capacity" and voice other concerns involving event safety and a "lack of a cohesive plan by the Festival organizers."
Superfly's letter reveals Woodstock and Dentsu responded to Superfly's March 29 letter saying they agreed to "a 'capacity target' of 65,000 to 75,000 people," which Superfly writes is "not a sufficient assurance such as to cure the breach."
Superfly adds that after viewing the festival site for the first time after the snow melted, the actual total capacity is actually "closer to 61,000 attendees." The production company continues saying it will not move forward with the event if it believes any "major decision... is not in conformity with Superfly's reasonable estimation" that an over-61,000 capacity would be "unsafe" or "result in a less than 'first class' Festival-going experience."
April 19, 2019 - Tickets postponed, Lang dismisses cancellation "rumors"
An email goes out to agents announcing Woodstock 50's ticket onsale is postponed, prompting speculation the event might be cancelled. Lang dismisses the concerns, telling Billboard they are "just more rumors."
"Woodstock is a phenomenon that for fifty years has drawn attention to its principles and also the rumors that can be attached to that attention," Lang said in a statement.
April 21, 2019 - NY Department of Health asks for $1 million bond, Martin refuses
Before selling tickets to the public, Woodstock 50 needed a conditional mass gathering permit from the New York Department of Health. However, the department's commissioner Howard Zucker said he'd only issue the permit if the festival put up a $1 million performance bond guaranteeing it would meet the department’s demands.
In an April 21 email to Peck, Lang and others, Martin says Dentsu couldn't approve of the expense "given the uncertainty regarding the viability of the festival."
April 29, 2019 - Woodstock investor pulls funding, Lang says festival is still on
Officials with Dentsu announce Woodstock 50 is cancelled because they fear the event wouldn't be "worthy of the Woodstock brand name while also ensuring the health and safety of the artists, partners and attendees."
However, just hours after Dentsu announced the festival was cancelled, Lang sends an email to the Woodstock mailing list saying not to fret: Woodstock 50 would continue as planned, even without its financial backer.
"Woodstock never belonged to Dentsu, so they don’t have a right to cancel it. Woodstock belongs to the people and it always will," Lang wrote in the statement. “Woodstock 50 will take place and will be a blast!"
May 1, 2019 - Superfly also pulls out
Two days after Dentsu announced it was pulling its funding, production company Superfly confirms it is also backing out of the event.
“Throughout our engagement our team provided counsel and recommendation on the necessary elements required to produce a safe and first-class experience," a spokesperson for the company told Rolling Stone. "Following the decision of one of our clients, Dentsu, to cancel the event, we will no longer be participating in ongoing related activities.”
May 2, 2019 - Lang hires former Trump attorney
Lang hires attorney Marc Kasowitz, a partner at New York-based law firm Kasowitz Benson Torres and former personal outside attorney for President Donald Trump.
May 2, 2019 - Lang's spokesperson says CID Entertainment will now produce Woodstock 50
A spokesperson for Lang tells Billboard that Dan Berkowitz and his firm CID Entertainment would replace Superfly as the festival's producer but CID Entertainment does not confirm. A representative for Lang and Peck reportedly approached Live Nation and AEG about investing in the festival, but both turned the offer down.
May 9, 2019 - Woodstock 50 files injunction against Dentsu over $17.8M withdrawal
Kasowitz files an injunction on behalf of Woodstock 50, calling for Dentsu to return $17.8 it allegedly "misappropriated" from a bank account used by anniversary event organizers.
In addition to the large sum, Kasowitz asks Dentsu officials to "cooperate with W50 in connection with W50’s continued planning of the Festival, including providing reasonable consents and approvals" and "produce all records relating to the removal of funds from the Festival Bank Account" and all "communications between Dentsu and any person or entity involved in the planning or production of the festival."
May 13, 2019 - Dentsu lawyers push back
Ahead of the afternoon hearing, Dentsu's attorney Marc L. Greenwald pens a lengthy memorandum of law in opposition to the emergency injunction, calling out Woodstock 50's and Lang's "misrepresentations, incompetence, and contractual breaches."
"The production company has quit, no permits have been issued, necessary roadwork has not begun, and there is no prospect for sufficient financing," Greenwald wrote. "As much as the parties might wish it otherwise, the festival contemplated by their agreement cannot happen and allowing it to go forward would only put the public at risk."
May 13, 2019 - Woodstock 50 and Dentsu go head-to-head in court
Kasowitz repeatedly expresses the historical and sentimental significance of Woodstock 50 before New York Supreme Court justice Barry R. Ostrager cuts in to say, “I thought I was going to hear testimony about whether the plaintiff breached the contract, or if the defendants breached the contract, and I think that’s what we should be doing."
Peck was the only witness (of three) to make it to the stand before the court adjourned for the day, pushing the hearing into a second day.
May 14, 2019 - Hearing continues into a second day
Justice Ostrager adjourns the case, saying he will issue a ruling within 24 to 36 hours.
May 15, 2019 - Judge gives the verdict
Justice Ostrager ultimately rules Dentsu acted outside its authority in cancelling Woodstock 50 but says the Japanese financier does not have to return the $17.8 million.
Lang releases a statement shortly after the decision declaring victory, but Woodstock 50's fate still remains up in the air without needed funding to secure permits and run the festival.
May 17, 2019 - Woodstock 50 enlists Oppenheimer & Co.
Two days after the ruling, Woodstock 50 officials announce they have recruited investment bank and financial services firm Oppenheimer & Co. to act as a financial advisor and "complete the financing for the festival." It is not specified how much money the firm is actually providing for the event.
June 3, 2019 - Speedway president says payment is overdue
Woodstock 50 was supposed to deliver $150,000 -- the second half of the $300,000 licensing fee -- to Watkins Glen by May 14, the same day as the major court battle between Woodstock 50 and Dentsu. The request was not fulfilled and on June 3, Speedway president Michael Printup sends a certified letter to Peck and Lang informing them "the final payment has not been received and WGI is officially terminating [the licensing agreement]."
Peck refused to accept the letter and Printup consequently informs Peck of the termination via email on June 7.
June 10, 2019 - Woodstock 50 loses venue, producer and permit application -- yet remains optimistic
Less than an hour after Watkins Glen International speedway announced it would no longer host the concert, CID Entertainment issues a statement saying it is ending its involvement with the event and the New York State Department of Health separately says its permit application is being rescinded.
In response to the news, Woodstock releases the following reaction statement: "We confirm that we will not be moving forward with Watkins Glen as a venue for Woodstock 50. We are in discussions with another venue to host Woodstock 50 on August 16th-18th and look forward to sharing the new location when tickets go on sale in the coming weeks.”
June 21, 2019 - Woodstock 50 Loses Appeal to Recover $18.5M from Japanese Financier
Woodstock 50 suffers its third legal defeat in just two months, after a panel of New York appellate judges deny an appeal by festival organizers seeking to force Dentsu to return $18.5 million in festival funds.
June 24, 2019 - Virgin Executive in Talks to Produce Woodstock 50
Billboard learns Virgin Produced CEO Jason Felts is in talks with Woodstock 50 organizers to help produce the event. Felts has had plenty of experience producing festivals -- Virgin Produced is responsible for putting on the popular KAABOO festival in Southern California, Texas and Cayman Islands, respectively.
Felts has not announced whether he will produce the revived Woodstock 50, but is currently serving as a consultant to determine the event's feasibility, due diligence needs and operational and financial assessment.
June 24, 2019 - Woodstock 50 Applies for Permit in Vernon Downs
Town of Vernon Supervisor Randy Watson tells the Poughkeepsie Journal that Woodstock 50 has applied for a permit to hold its concert Aug. 16-18 at Vernon Downs, about 35 miles east of Syracuse, New York. In that permit, the proposed capacity was 45,000-50,000 people -- far smaller than the 150,000 planned for at Watkins Glen International.
June 26, 2019 - Woodstock 50 Organizers Haven't Contacted Artists to Discuss New Site
Managers, agents and publicists for the acts set to play Woodstock 50 tell Billboard that Lang and Peck have not reached out with any updates on a potential new site for the festival.
Several sources say Watkins Glen's announcement about cancelling Woodstock's 50 license to use the site gives artists legal cover to pull out of the event, since the Woodstock 50 contract specifically states the event will be taking place at Watkins Glen International, not two hours away.
"Each artist will have to make a decision about whether this is something they want to take on now that so much has changed," one source tells Billboard. "Often, the artist will feel compelled to play because they don't want to disappoint their fans, but in the case of Woodstock 50, no one has bought tickets yet, so there's not really anyone to disappoint."
July 2, 2019 - Staging Woodstock 50 a 'Significant Challenge': Official
A key local official says hosting the Woodstock 50 anniversary festival on short notice “could pose a significant challenge.” Oneida County executive Anthony Picente released a statement Tuesday noting the challenge of preparing for the health and safety of residents and concert goers with the event just over a month away.
July 9, 2019 - Woodstock 50's Vernon Downs Venue Permit Denied, Festival Plans Immediate Appeal
After a Vernon code enforcement officer denies an application for the festival to hold its event at a Vernon Downs because the application was incomplete and filed too late, organizers say they're appealing the decision.
Billboard also learns organizers have reduced the festival's estimated attendance from 65,000 to 35,000 attendees due to the limited time they will have to sell passes.
July 11, 2019 - Woodstock 50 Appeals Permit Denial for Second Location
Organizers for Woodstock 50 file an appeal with the town of Vernon, New York, after their initial permit application for the anniversary festival was denied. They say they hope the town will work with them to host the event at Vernon Downs.
Meanwhile, according to sources, Lang has been told stop making statements to the press and city officials, while new investors and producers work to get the event back on track. They also say about 25 acts from the original festival lineup are committed to perform -- a claim Billboard could not independently verify. Still, the festival's future is still dependent on the appeal passing.
July 16, 2019 - Woodstock 50 Location Permit Appeal Headed to Local Planning Board
Woodstock 50 organizers are denied a third appeal by the Vernon Planning Board.
After the denial, Virgin Produced, who previously advised the Woodstock team announced they have "officially concluded its consulting role with respect to the company and the proposed festival."
In part of a statement made to Billboard, Woodstock 50 organizers say, "Woodstock 50 is disappointed that the Town of Vernon has passed up the opportunity to hold the historic 50th Anniversary Festival by denying our robust and thoughtful proposal. We regret that those in Vernon who supported Woodstock have been deprived of the once-in-a-lifetime chance to be part of the rebirth of a cultural peace movement that changed the world in 1969 and is what the world needs now."