The Japanese-owned advertising firm Dentsu that pledged $49 million to stage the Woodstock 50 anniversary festival in 2019 before calling it off breached its deal with event organizers, according to an arbitration panel ruling made three months ago. Now Billboard has learned Dentsu has agreed to pay an undisclosed settlement sum covering damages but not unrealized profits that will wrap the nearly two year old legal drama.
The settlement, which came after two legal battles and a confidential arbitration hearing, resolves all outstanding claims against Dentsu and its investment arm Amplifi. In April 2019, Woodstock 50 organizers including co-founder Michael Lang accused Dentsu and Amplifi of sabotaging the anniversary event and spreading misinformation to prevent them from holding it at a different site.
Woodstock 50 initiated an arbitration claim against Amplifi in May 2020 and filed a civil lawsuit against Dentsu in New York Supreme court a month later. In October, an arbitration panel found that Amplifi had breached its contract with Woodstock 50 and awarded the festival damages, according to public documents reviewed by Billboard. Those damages were “significantly less than what [Woodstock 50] purported to spend on attorneys’ fees,” the document reads. Six weeks later, Dentsu agreed to settle a concurrent lawsuit filed by Woodstock 50 in New York Supreme Court accusing Dentsu of tortious interference, defamation, business disparagement and conspiracy.
When asked about the proposed settlement a spokesperson for Dentsu told Billboard that “the matter has been resolved to the mutual satisfaction of the parties.” A representative for Woodstock 50 declined to comment.
Dentsu and Woodstock 50 teamed up in 2017 as a means to fund the massive anniversary festival celebrating 50 years since the original Woodstock in 1969 and help Dentsu gain a foothold in the American festival space. Dentsu and Amplifi pledged $49 million to help Lang and Woodstock Ventures, the holding company that owns Woodstock’s intellectual property, host a 100,000-capacity festival in Watkins Glen, New York. It was to be organized by a holding company created by hotel executives Greg Peck and Susan Cronin called Woodstock 50 LLC with Lang serving as executive producer.
As planning got underway in early 2018, the project began to experience delays and disagreements over the festival site, budgets and the event’s overall financial feasibility. Festival producer Superfly recommended the site capacity be reduced to 65,000 to 75,000 people, which made the current financial projections for the festival untenable and caused a rift between Woodstock 50 and Dentsu’s chief commercial officer DJ Martin, who allegedly warned Lang “we will not lose any money like previous Woodstock festivals.” (Martin left Denstu in May 2020.)
By the time the Woodstock 50 festival lineup had been announced with headliners Jay-Z, Miley Cyrus, Halsey, The Killers and Dead & Co., along with Santana and John Fogerty, the relationship between the parties had reached a breaking point. Just weeks after wiring ten of millions of dollars to artist agencies to cover the booking fees, Denstu withdrew the $18 million it had invested from the festival’s bank account and announced it was exercising an option in its contract to take control of Woodstock 50 and cancel the festival.
Lang immediately countered that Dentsu did not have a right to cancel the festival and weeks later a New York Supreme Court judge agreed, ordering Dentsu to deposit the $18.5 million it had withdrawn in an escrow account. After missing a payment to Watkins Glen, Lang and the festival organizers tried to move the event to Vernon Downs, New York, and later considered a site in Maryland, but were ultimately unsuccessful and canceled the show.
“Despite Woodstock 50’s valiant efforts to produce the Festival, Dentsu’s disinformation campaign and malicious interference were too much for Woodstock 50 to overcome, and Woodstock 50 ultimately ran out of time to produce the Festival,” wrote Woodstock 50 attorney Marc E. Kasowitz in June 2020.