Woodstock 50 isn’t officially dead at this point, but it’s on life support and the prognosis seems very, very grim. Woodstock co-founder Michael Lang is refusing to throw in the towel, but his main investor, Dentsu, has pulled out and released a statement saying the whole thing is off. “Despite our tremendous investment of time, effort and commitment,” Dentsu said in a statement, “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’s team put out a competing statement saying that Dentsu didn’t have the power to kill the whole thing. “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,” they said. “We would like to acknowledge the State of New York and Schuyler County for all of their hard work and support. 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.”
Huge problems remain beyond the fact that Lang lost his main financial backers. They have yet to secure a permit to hold the festival at Watkins Glen, New York, which means they are legally unable to even put tickets on sale. And even if they get that together, they need to figure out basic things like a traffic plan, housing for roughly 75,000 fans without any nearby hotels, getting enough potable water to the facility and so on and so forth. Festivals are very, very difficult to put on and the clock is rapidly ticking.
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It’s worth noting that Michael Lang has a pretty spotty record when it comes to organizing mass events. The original Woodstock was obviously a musical and cultural triumph, but the location moved shortly before the event and organizers weren’t even remotely prepared for the roughly 400,000 fans that showed up. There were issues with food, water, medical attention and waste disposal. The traffic was so bad that many fans abandoned their cars on the thruway and walked for miles to reach the venue. Governor Nelson Rockefeller considered declaring the sight a disaster area. Thankfully, that didn’t happen and everyone came together to create true magic. Here’s video of Crosby, Stills & Nash playing “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” at the event. Famously, it was their second time playing in public.
Things didn’t go quite so well for Michael Lang later that year when he helped the Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead with last-minute planning for Altamont. He can hardly be blamed for that disaster, but he was there when everything went down and it didn’t exactly help his reputation. Things smoothed out for Lang when he staged Woodstock ’94, even if there were traffic issues and a rainstorm that coated many of the attendees in mud. But then Woodstock ’99 went up in literal flames and took much of Lang’s reputation along with it.
There was no Woodstock 40 because the ghosts of Woodstock ’99 still lingered, but putting one back on for the 50th anniversary proved to be irresistible. Lang had never tried to stage a fest the age of Bonnaroo and Coachella, and unless a small miracle tales place, it seems like he may never get the chance.