If all had been going to plan, Michael Lang, co-creator of the original Woodstock and main organizer of the upcoming Woodstock 50 festival, would have been putting the finishing touches on a three-day concert that is now 52 days away and counting. Instead, the beleaguered commemoration of the 1969 landmark show has been scrambling to find both a new home and the necessary permits that will allow the event to even take place.
Speaking with Rolling Stone about Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music, his new, photo-driven book about the first gathering, Lang does not deny reports this week that organizers have applied for a permit for Vernon Downs, a combination racetrack, casino and hotel just outside Utica, New York. But he says that it’s just one of “three or four” possible venues in mind. “It will all become clear in a few days,” says Lang, who declined to go into specifics. Vernon Downs has the potential for as many as 65,000 concertgoers, a significant reduction from the 150,000 attendees Woodstock 50 had hoped to host when plans were announced last year.
Last month, Woodstock 50 found itself without a site when organizers for the raceway at Watkins Glen, New York, pulled out, citing a missed final payment of $150,000 to secure the venue.
“Watkins Glen International terminated the site license for Woodstock pursuant to provisions of the contract,” a rep for the racetrack said in a statement earlier this month. “As such, WGI will not be hosting the Woodstock 50 Festival.”
“It was getting so late for all the work that had to be done there,” counters Lang. “By the time it went off the table, it was really time for it to be off the table.” A rep for Watkins Glen declined to comment further.
The next in a series of hurdles for the festival came last week, when state Appellate Court judges court sided with the festival’s original organizer, the Japanese marketing company Dentsu, and said Woodstock 50 was not entitled to receive $18.5 million in funding. That money, once secured in a festival account, had been taken out by Dentsu after the company withdrew from Woodstock 50 in April. Of all the festivals he has planned, Lang calls this “the weirdest one. The whole Dentsu thing was just so bizarre.” He declined to go into specifics.
Among its many complications, Woodstock 50 organizers also have to deal with a raft of rules and regulations put into place after the successful, but chaotic, first festival. Asked if that strikes him as ironic, Lang chuckles and says, “Yes, but it’s the way of the world. We kind of snuck up on everyone the first time.” Of the new rules put into place, he adds, “Some of them are sensible and some of them are things they put in there so that they didn’t want you to be able to do it again. There are some lessons learned and by the industry as well. But a lot of the conditions they look for are a bit overdone. You never want to skimp on safety, but they were drawn up by people who didn’t know anything about this business. They were just reacting to what happened.”
Does he realize that the festival is scheduled to start in just over a month and a half, with no venue and tickets not yet on sale? “I know!” he laughs. “It’s not lost on me. It’s just unbelievable the way this went; just incredible. But we’ve been here before.” And what would Lang say to any doubters? “You know … ‘We’ll see,’” he laughs. “What can I say?”
With the festival on life support, Lang turns serious when the question of Woodstock 50’s potential collapse comes up. “No,” he says. “I am not gearing up for that. That’s not how I approach things anyway. I’m kind of an optimist. … and yes, it definitely helps in this case.”