Woodstock 50: Anniversary festival in doubt after backer pulls out

Woodstock 50’s backer says the festival is off. Its promoter is holding out hope

It was supposed to be the golden anniversary of the most famous rock concert in history, the event that crystallised in mud the free-love 1960s and the drawing power of a new generation of music stars. But Woodstock 50 appears to be all but dead. According to a statement from the festival's primary investor, the event – planned for August in Watkins Glen, New York, with acts including Jay-Z, the Killers, and Dead & Company – was off.

"It's a dream for agencies to work with iconic brands and to be associated with meaningful movements," the investor, an arm of the Japanese advertising giant Dentsu, said. "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,” the statement said.

The agency believed that production milestones had not been met and was concerned about delays in acquiring permits, as well as a reduction in the originally planned capacity, from 100,000 visitors a day to 75,000. But while Dentsu's statement ricocheted around the news media, Michael Lang, the promoter of Woodstock 50 and one of the primary forces behind the original festival in 1969, denied that the event was kaput. "They do not have the right to unilaterally cancel the festival," Mr Lang said in an interview shortly after Dentsu released its statement, which Lang said caught him by surprise.


Mr Lang’s team released a statement insisting that the show would go on but giving no further details. “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 said. “Although our financial partner is withdrawing, we will of course be continuing with the planning of the festival and intend to bring on new partners.”

“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,” the statement said.

All acts had been paid in full, according to Mr Lang, leaving open the possibility that he could rescue the festival with another backer. He is no stranger to last-minute saves. The 1969 Woodstock festival lost its original venue, in Wallkill, New York, and relocated to Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel, New York, just weeks before it took place.

Several major music agents and acts booked for the event said they had not received any notification of cancellation. The list of performers also includes Miley Cyrus, the Raconteurs, the Lumineers, Chance the Rapper, Imagine Dragons, Halsey, Robert Plant and some who had played the original event, such as Santana, Country Joe McDonald and John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Another event, Woodstock Experience 2019, has a lineup including a number of artists who played the original festival, like Melanie, Ten Years After and Jefferson Starship, an offshoot of Jefferson Airplane. It is to take place in West Jefferson, North Carolina, and in Palm Bay, Florida in August. Its slogan: "Keeping the spirit of Woodstock alive." – New York Times