Country Joe McDonald and former Lovin’ Spoonful frontman John Sebastian will no longer play the beleaguered Woodstock 50, five decades after both musicians performed at the original 1969 festival. The songwriters were originally attached to the event, once set for August 16th through 18th near the original site in upstate New York, but have confirmed they won’t participate if organizers successfully re-stage the fest next month at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland.
McDonald told The Baltimore Sun that he hasn’t heard from the promoters in weeks and isn’t interested in playing the event, particularly given its lack of solid details and attempted late-date move. He added that his contract only called for him to play the original Woodstock 50 site in Watkins Glen, New York.
“I have no airfare booked,” he said. “I have no hotels. I have nothing planned. I’m not interested in getting on a ship that’s sinking, and I don’t see any indication that this ship is not sinking.”
Sebastian said he’s already booked to play another concert in the area that would prevent him from playing at Merriweather. But he expressed disappointment in the scheduling conflict: “I was with them all the way until the location changed,” he said. “And it pisses me off, because I feel like a blood brother with [promoter Michael Lang], and I would love to be able to join him.”
Both musicians left their mark on the original Woodstock. McDonald, who also played with his psychedelic rock band Country Joe and the Fish, performed a solo set that closed with the iconic tandem of “The ‘Fish’ Cheer” (with “fish” changed to “fuck”) and the darkly comic Vietnam War protest song “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag.” Sebastian’s performance is likely best remembered for his rendition of the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Younger Generation,” which, like McDonald’s tunes, appears in the Oscar-winning 1970 documentary Woodstock.
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The two artists continue a trend of veterans backing out of Woodstock 50. A source close to Dead & Company confirmed to Rolling Stone that the jam band, once set to headline the fest, will no longer participate — joining a list that already includes Jay-Z and John Fogerty.
The potential pivot to Maryland follows four failed attempts to host the festival at Vernon Downs in Vernon, New York. Organizers received a letter from Howard County executives welcoming them to Merriweather Post Pavilion if they can assemble a line-up — however, Woodstock 50 producers on Friday released all artists from their contracts, creating more confusion about who might perform.
This latest move arrives after months of false starts and headline drama — including the fest’s original investor, Dentsu Aegis, attempting to cancel the event after claiming Lang and Woodstock 50 hadn’t secured the proper permits to stage the festival. More chaos followed: The concert lost its production partners, and original venue Watkins Glen International Speedway pulled out of its contract; Lang also filed a lawsuit against Aegis to regain control, but attempts to relocate to Vernon Downs were also shot down.