Well, at least it won’t be another Fyre Festival. As Billboard reported on Monday, April 29, the group funding the Woodstock 50 festival—which was supposed to take place at Watkins Glen International Speedway August 16-18 and feature headliners such as Jay-Z, Dead & Co. and The Killers—has pulled the plug on the event.
Dentsu Aegis Network issued a statement to Billboard about the cancellation, saying: “It’s a dream for agencies to work with iconic brands and to be associated with meaningful movements. We have a strong history of producing experiences that bring people together around common interests and causes which is why we chose to be a part of the Woodstock 50th Anniversary Festival. But 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. 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.”
As Billboard additionally reported, “Reps for the festival say concerns about the capacity of the festival, site readiness and permitting issues led to [its] cancellation.”
Michael Lang, who had co-produced the original Woodstock Arts and Music Festival in 1969—and ironically, had run into a battery of issues putting that one together, including funding—was in charge of producing this summer’s festival. In January, Lang was featured in the New York Times, in a sprawling feature in which he spoke of the 50th anniversary festival as having “lined up artists who won’t just entertain but will remind the world that music has the power to bring people together, to heal, to move us to action and to tell the stories of a generation. Our hope is that today, just as in 1969, music will be the constant that can inspire positive change.” Several months later, the event’s lineup was unveiled, including the aforementioned headliners, along with a panoply of other top-flight modern acts such as Chance the Rapper, Brandi Carlile, The Lumineers and Miley Cyrus; and legacy artists such as David Crosby, Country Joe McDonald and John Sebastian, all of whom had appeared at the original festival.
Interestingly, even since Dentsu’s announcement, Lang has held firm that the show will go on. (The festival’s website has a note on it that reads: “Our intention holds firm. To deliver a world-class, once-in-a-lifetime festival to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Woodstock.”) But according to multiple reports, that fact is seeming less and less likely as the days wear on. For one, tickets were supposed to go on sale on April 22, but the day passed without a single ticket being sold. (A date still has not been scheduled.) The very next day, Bloomberg published a story that noted that tickets to the event would cost $450, which exceeds the cost of upper-crust California music festival Coachella.
Additionally, Lang has accused chief financial backer Dentsu of draining Woodstock 50’s accounts of $17 million and attempting to get the artists billed for the festival to cancel on it. Dentsu continues to stand by its initial cancellation notice, noting that the $17 million was recouped legally, because it had financial control over the festival in the first place. The only real winner so far? The artists, all of whom have been paid a reported $30 million just for being listed on the bill in the first place. Per Billboard, Lang will have to raise an additional $30 million by this Friday for Woodstock 50 to happen. And every investor he’s reached out to so far has said no.
Thankfully, not all is lost: Upstate New Yorkers have a worthy alternative for celebrating the historic festival’s 50th anniversary: Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, the site of the original ’69 festival, has a trio of events, with Woodstock connections, occurring over the same August weekend. The Edgar Winter Band (Winter performed with his brother, Johnny, at the original festival); Santana, who performed his entire set at the original festival, high on LSD; and John Fogerty (of Creedence Clearwater Revival) will all be performing in separate shows over that weekend (the Edgar Winter show will be headlined by former Beatle Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band). Bethel Woods’ museum also has an exhibit celebrating the 50th anniversary of Woodstock on display, featuring photos, videos and memorabilia connected to the original festival.