Woodstock 50 Organizers Seek Legal Remedies to Reclaim Festival – Rolling Stone
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Woodstock 50 Organizers Open Legal Fight Against Former Investor to Reclaim Festival

Filing seeks to force financier Dentsu Aegis to hand over $17.8 million in funds

Woodstock co-producer and co-founder, Michael Lang, participates in the Woodstock 50 lineup announcement at Electric Lady Studios, in New YorkWoodstock 50 Lineup Announcement, New York, USA - 19 Mar 2019

The organizers of Woodstock have filed a legal request that would ask a court to force Dentsu Aegis to resume work on the festival.

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

The organizers of Woodstock 50 have filed legal paperwork against Dentsu Aegis, the financier that canceled the festival last week, with the Supreme Court of the State of New York. The paperwork — a petition for an injunction — asks for the Court to place a gag order on Dentsu from speaking with the media, state officials, performers and others, force the company to return $17.8 million to the festival’s bank account, compel it to continue work on the fest, be more transparent in its accounting and add in anything the judge would feel is fair. Attorney Marc Kasowitz submitted the paperwork on Wednesday.

In strong terms, the petition claims Dentsu “secretly decided to abandon, and then sabotage the Festival to ensure that it would never happen” and “pillaged the Festival bank account on its way out, taking all of the $17.8 million in the account earmarked for Festival production costs.” In the words of the petition, “This is the equivalent of one spouse raiding a marital bank account and changing the locks in the middle of the night to lock out the other spouse and starve them of money to live. It’s contractually wrong and morally reprehensible.” The petition claims the festival needs “$6 to $9 million” in various fees to ensure Woodstock 50 takes place.

In terms of sabotage claims, the petition also accuses Dentsu of Dentsu “contacting numerous stakeholders — including musical talent and their agents, insurers and public officials — falsely telling them that they were released from their contracts with W50 and the Festival, and that the performers should not perform at the Festival, though they have all been paid in full.” The paperwork also claims Dentsu offered to indemnify performers and agents if they refused to perform and that Dentsu reached out to performers “and other Festival vendors” to ecournage them to “breach their contracts” with Woodstock 50.

The legal filing had been anticipated for several days. In a publicly released letter to Dentsu on May 16th, Woodstock co-founder Michael Lang claimed the $17 million amounted to funds Dentsu “improperly took” and accused Dentsu of wanting to “suffocate and kill Woodstock.” “These actions are neither a legal nor honorable way to do business,” he wrote. “As financial partner, we had the customary rights one would expect to protect a large investment,” Dentsu Aegis said at the time. “After we exercised our contractual right to take over, and subsequently, cancel the festival, we simply recovered the funds in the festival bank account, funds which we originally put in as financial partner.”

A rep for Dentsu Aegis did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the injunction petition.

The beleaguered festival is still currently set to take place August 16th through 18th in Watkins Glen, New York. The lineup includes both veterans of the original festival (Santana, David Crosby, John Sebastian, Country Joe McDonald) and current rock, pop and hip-hop acts, including Miley Cyrus, Janelle Monae, Jay-Z, Halsey, Sturgill Simpson, and Imagine Dragons. The festival will take place in a raceway several hours’ north of Bethel, New York, where the 1969 festival took place.

But problems — and rumors — began soon after the festival was announced in January. A major headliner, the Black Keys pulled out for supposed scheduling conflicts; a few weeks later, ticket sales were postponed. (They have yet to go on sale.)

On April 29th, Dentsu Aegis announced it would no longer be financing Woodstock 50, despite having already paid all the acts in advance (a cash layout said to exceed $30 million). “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,” the company wrote in a statement. Dentsu thereby said had “decided to cancel the festival.” The paperwork claims that Dentsu alone could not cancel Woodstoc 50,

The announcement — which, according to the court papers, “blindsided … shocked and outraged” the Woodstock organizers  — set off a scramble to find new investors, although concert behemoths like Live Nation and AEG reportedly passed. Woodstock 50 then lost its production partner, Superfly Productions, the New York ­–based events company that would handle many of the nuts and bolts of putting on the festival. (Lang has said another company, CID Entertainment, will take its place, but that company has yet to confirm its participation.) A spokesperson for the Department of Health told Rolling Stone that a permit has yet to be issued for the festival.

Lang hired Kasowitz, the high-profile New York attorney who briefly represented Donald Trump in 2017, soon after Dentsu sent their April 29th statement. In his public letter to Dentsu about a week later, Lang ramped up his war with the company by alleging that Amplifi Live, an investment arm of Dentsu, “illegally swept” the $17 million from “the festival bank account, leaving [Woodstock] in peril.” Lang also claimed that Dentsu “directly contacted all stakeholders, including the venue Watkins Glen International, insurance companies, producers, vendors and performers (some of whom I am lucky to count as personal friends) and suggested they not do business with me, and violate their contracts with my company.”

Whether Dentsu has the right to outright cancel the festival remains unclear. Compounding the confusion, it’s ambiguous which artists signed directly with Dentsu and which with Dentsu and Woodstock Ventures, Lang’s company; hardly semantics, the entity to which artists are signed could prove to be a crucial sticking point in whether the festival takes place.

The $17 million in question is particularly vital, since Lang has said he has until this Friday to raise the additional $30 million to rescue Woodstock 50.

Shortly after the injunction request, the court issued an order that Dentsu and Amplifi Live “shall cease all communications relating to the Festival, including with the media, and Festival stakeholders, including state and county officials, venue operators, local vendors, community representatives, insurers, producers, and talent agencies and performers” pending a hearing on the case to be held Monday.

Woodstock 50, LLC’s Petition for Injunction against Dentsu Inc. 

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