Exactly 50 years after the Woodstock Music & Arts Fair brought nearly half a million people together for a multi-day event that captured the zeitgeist of ’60s counterculture, the ambitious Woodstock 50 anniversary festival intended to do the same. But what was supposed to be a “three-day celebration of peace, love, and music” in upstate New York has proven to be a bit more, well, complicated.
The commemorative event is set to take place this summer from August 16 through 18 in Watkins Glen, New York. Artists on the festival bill include Jay-Z, Miley Cyrus, Gary Clark Jr., and Chance the Rapper. Several musicians from the original 1969 Woodstock, among them Santana, David Crosby, and Grateful Dead offshoot Dead & Company, are also set to appear.
It’s time #Woodstock50 pic.twitter.com/gvyCXegh6F — WOODSTOCK (@woodstockfest) March 19, 2019
On Monday, April 29, however, one week after ticket sales were postponed indefinitely, the festival’s financial partner released the following statement to Billboard:
“Despite our tremendous investment of time, effort and commitment, we don’t believe the production of the festival can be executed as an event worthy of the Woodstock Brand name while also ensuring the health and safety of the artists, partners and attendees.”
The announcement continued, “As a result and after careful consideration, Dentsu Aegis Network’s Amplifi Live, a partner of Woodstock 50, has decided to cancel the festival. As difficult as it is, we believe this is the most prudent decision for all parties involved.”
What are the reasons behind the initial cancellation announcement?
According to Poughkeepsie Journal, a local news source in the area, there were growing concerns about venue capacity, site readiness, and various permitting issues in the lead up to Dentsu Aegis Network’s announcement on Monday. Vanity Fair also speculated that the investors may have been uneasy about what could ensue if the event went poorly, considering the disastrous—and highly publicized—outcome of Fyre Fest in 2017.
Following the announcement of the festival’s cancellation, however, cofounder Michael Lang (one of the primary forces behind the original Woodstock) contradicted Dentsu Aegis Network’s claims, telling the New York Times that Woodstock 50’s financial partners “do not have the right to unilaterally cancel the festival.”
After taking the case to court, Lang was vindicated. On Wednesday, May 15, a Manhattan judge ruled that Amplifi Live didn’t have the right to call off the concert, which means Woodstock could still take place this summer.
But the financials remain up in the air since the judge also ruled that Amplifi Live doesn’t have to give back the $18 million it took out of the festival’s bank account after it decided to pull out.
“The court did not rule that Amplifi Live’s assumption of control over the festival was improper,” the company noted in a statement, adding that it doesn’t plan to invest further in Woodstock 50 because of issues including “the compressed timeframe and multiple health and safety concerns.”
So, is Woodstock 50 canceled or not?
“We have always relied on the truth and have never lost faith that the festival would take place,” Lang told the Associated Press after the court ruled in his favor.
After Amplifi Live announced it was pulling out in April, Michael Lang and Woodstock LLC issued an official statement published by Rolling Stone claiming that the organizers would “of course be continuing with the planning of the festival” and would do so by bringing on new financial partners. “[We are] committed to ensuring that the 50th anniversary of Woodstock is marked with a festival deserving of its iconic name and place in American history and culture,” the statement reads. “The bottom line is, there is going to be a Woodstock 50th Anniversary Festival, as there must be, and it’s going to be a blast.”
Several days after the judge’s ruling, the New York–based investment bank Oppenhiemer & Co. agreed to provide an undisclosed sum to finance the festival, Rolling Stone reported.
Yet before tickets can go on sale, organizers still need to secure mass-gathering permits from the New York State Department of Health, in addition to a new production company, after its original one—a company called Superfly—dropped out in May after disagreeing with festival organizers over the capacity of the Watkins Glen International racetrack. The organizers say the venue can accommodate 150,000 people, but Superfly believed the “safe and appropriate capacity” was 65,000.
At the time of publication, Woodstock 50’s homepage still lists the date of initial ticket sales as April 22 (even though that date has passed). The website’s ticket section claims that passes go on sale “soon.”
Clearly, the fate of Woodstock 50 remains slightly hazy. At least that feels true to the music festival’s legacy.
The Associated Press contributed reporting. This article originally appeared online on April 30, 2019; it was updated on May 20, 2019, to include current information.
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