Days after Woodstock 50’s financial backer announced it was canceling the festival, its production partner has severed its ties with the event. The entertainment company Superfly, which co-produces Bonnaroo and Outside Lands, confirmed to Rolling Stone on Wednesday that it is no longer involved in the venture.
“The producers of the Woodstock 50th anniversary festival hired Superfly to leverage our expertise as veteran event producers to manage festival operations, a role that aligned with our mission of creating shared experiences that build community,” a spokesperson for the company tells Rolling Stone. “Throughout our engagement our team provided counsel and recommendation on the necessary elements required to produce a safe and first-class experience. Following the decision of one of our clients, Dentsu, to cancel the event, we will no longer be participating in ongoing related activities.”
A source who has worked on many festivals over the last 20 years tells Rolling Stone the loss of Superfly is “catastrophic.” “With Superfly leaving the fold, that’s just the death knell,” the source said. “Any festivalgoer knows now that Superfly doesn’t have faith in it. I don’t know how you recover from that. It’s impossible.”
Woodstock 50’s continuation may be dependent on a company like AEG, which produces Coachella, or C3, which produces Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits Fest, swooping in and saving it. “Maybe one of them wants some money,” the source, a festival marketing veteran, says. “I guess AEG or C3 could make it happen. But they would need a lot of assurance that it was a tenable situation. It just feels so unwieldy. It feels really sick. I’m not even sure Dr. Oz could revive this patient.”
A rep for AEG declined to comment. A rep for C3 said that the company would not be getting involved with Woodstock 50.
Dentsu-Aegis, the company that was providing financial backing to Woodstock 50, announced Monday that the event was canceled, noting that the event could not “be executed as an event worthy of the Woodstock Brand name while also ensuring the health and safety of the artists, partners and attendees,” according to a statement. A rep for Woodstock 50 LLC did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Michael Lang, who cofounded the original Woodstock and is organizing Woodstock 50, has fired back at Dentsu repeatedly. In a newsletter to potential ticket buyers yesterday, he vowed to continue. “We have yet to understand why [financer Dentsu-Aegis] would try to prevent the festival from happening by seemingly undermining us in this way,” he wrote. “It is one thing to decide for oneself that it is best to move on, but it is entirely another thing to try and close the door on us. … Woodstock never belonged to Dentsu, so they don’t have a right to cancel it.”
He followed that up later in the day with a statement from the festival’s lawyer: “This confirms that Woodstock 50 is proceeding with the planning and production of the festival,” attorney Marc Kasowitz said. “Dentsu has no legal right or ability to cancel it. All stakeholders, including the entertainers, should proceed with the understanding that the event will take place as planned and if they have any questions, they should reach out directly.”
A rep for Dentsu declined to comment on both statements.
“Michael Lang created one of the sturdiest brands known to our culture,” the source said. “So what the fuck happened?”
The first sign of trouble came when the Black Keys pulled out of the festival on April 5th citing a scheduling conflict. “[Their managers] are very smart people and they don’t just walk away from things,” the source said. “That’s not just a booking mistake or [a conflict like] Patrick’s kid has a play that weekend. Something deeper happened.” On April 21st, organizers announced that the on-sale for tickets was postponed.
If it all feels a bit like Fyre Festival, that’s because it’s similar — but not quite the same, as our source underscored. “What people neglect to discuss with Fyre Festival, because it’s such a crazy story, is that it worked,” the source said. “Billy McFarland sold tickets. He got people on planes and buses and got them on site. Woodstock 50 can’t even get that far.”
Superfly was founded in 1996 and has since opened offices in New York City, San Francisco and Chicago. It co-created Bonnaroo and Outside Lands and it has also produced the fests the Great GoogaMooga and Life Is Good over the years. In 2017, Bonnaroo attracted 65,000 attendees, up from around 45,000 the year before; its 10-year average is around 75,000 attendees per year, according to Nashville Scene.