Is Woodstock 50 Canceled?

Dentsu Aegis, the Japanese backers of Woodstock 50, issued a statement on Monday morning that the company had “decided to cancel the festival.”  The iconic three-day concert was set for August 16-18 in Watkins Glen, New York with a blockbuster lineup — but has been plagued by logistical problems from the start.

In a statement provided to Variety, on behalf of Dentsu’s investment arm, Amplify Live: “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.”

Since announcing the dates in January, the festival has been beset by problems. Organizers were unable to secure the original Woodstock site — now the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, which has booked ’60s-era artists for that weekend. Woodstock 50 was moved to Watkins Glen Intl. racetrack, some 150 miles farther from New York City.  In March, reports of financial problems, which organizers dispute, arose shortly before the lineup was revealed. And the festival’s planned April 22 date for tickets to go on sale was abruptly postponed just two days before kickoff because organizers had not yet secured the necessary mass-gathering permit to hold the event — an application that reduced the anticipated audience size from 102,000, as originally publicized, to 75,000.

On April 25, organizers issued a statement acknowledging the setback, saying in part, “Woodstock 50 has delayed its on-sale while we refine logistical plans for what we anticipate will be an amazing festival.” It concluded by saying on-sale information will be available “in the coming days.”

The scaled-down crowd size makes the festival a riskier bet for financial stakeholders, which include Woodstock co-founder Michael Lang, Superfly Prods., Danny Wimmer Presents and Japanese marketing and PR agency Dentsu. The agency has invested north of $30 million in the festival, according to an insider, with plans to expand it internationally. Top talent doesn’t come cheap, and the Woodstock 50 headliners — including Jay-Z, Dead & Company, the Killers, Chance the Rapper, Miley Cyrus, Janelle Monáe and Brandi Carlile — have already been paid fees that range from $1 million to $3 million. Those rates are based on an original sold-out audience estimate of 125,000.

A smaller audience also means that those who attend the fest will pay more — “a minimum $500” for the weekend, says a source. To compare, Coachella sold general admission tickets at prices starting at $429 per weekend this year. It’s a steep spend once you factor in RV rental, travel, food “and all your drugs,” cracks the insider.

Tim O’Hearn, administrator for Schuyler County, where the festival site is located, tells Variety that the county left it to the promoters and production team to determine the size of the crowd — one they felt they could supply with “adequate infrastructure and ensure the safety of all residents and neighbors, given the scope and the camping aspect” of the festival. Ironically, O’Hearn says, it was overcrowding and traffic congestion surrounding the original Woodstock that brought about the need for the state to require mass-gathering permits for festivals. Ironically, he says, the state’s mass-gathering permit, upon which the festival hinges, came about because of the overcrowding and traffic congestion surrounding the original Woodstock festival in 1969.

Woodstock 50 organizers offered to bus in thousands of attendees to address traffic issues; that idea was rejected by the county.

Woodstock 50’s biggest hurdle has always been time. Most festivals announce their lineups and start selling tickets months in advance. For example, for Lockn’ Festival, which takes place in Virginia the weekend after Woodstock 50, tickets went on sale in February. While sources tell Variety that Woodstock 50 organizers have registered more than 250,000 potential ticket-buyers — those who have shown interest in the festival since its lineup announcement — that hardly guarantees an instant sell-out of 75,000.

Previous Woodstock anniversaries were far from smooth sailing. The 25th anniversary edition of the festival was a success that helped make Nine Inch Nails and Green Day into superstars, but it was plagued by rain and, inevitably, mud. The 30th anniversary suffered from scorching temperatures and overpriced food and water that contributed to a spate of well-publicized fires and violence — including alleged rapes — that took place toward the festival’s end.

“They should postpone the festival,” says one live music insider noting that there simply isn’t enough time to pull it off successfully.

As Dentsu notes in it statement: “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.”

Michael Lang has yet to comment.

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