Michael Lang, the original promoter of the 1969 Woodstock Festival announced the lineup for Woodstock 50 Tuesday at Electric Lady Studios in New York City.
Nearly a year after Woodstock 50 was canceled, festival organizers are suing their former partner, saying it sabotaged the gathering and should be ordered to pay tens of millions of dollars in damages.
On April 29 of last year, the Dentsu Group, partners with Woodstock 50 on a planned anniversary celebration for the landmark 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Fair, abruptly announced not only that it was dropping out of the venture, but attempted to cancel it outright. It proved to be the first in a lengthy series of public squabbles and setbacks that ultimately ended in the festival failing to materialize.
Woodstock 50 attorney Marc Kasowitz Wednesday issued a press release saying, “international advertising and public relations giant Dentsu Group and certain affiliates” are responsible “for the destruction of the Woodstock 50th anniversary festival.” The lawsuit was filed in state Supreme Court in Manhattan. According to Dentsu, both sides are about to begin arbitration.
The lawsuit alleges that Dentsu “induced its affiliate Amplifi Live to breach its contract with Woodstock 50 to produce the festival, and then to seize control of it in order to cancel the event. Dentsu proceeded to interfere with Woodstock 50’s contracts with performers and others, to defame Woodstock 50, and to damage its business prospects.
“As a result of Dentsu’s egregious conduct, Woodstock 50 seeks to recover the tens of millions of dollars in damages it suffered, in addition to punitive damages for the defendants’ outrageous misconduct.”
A spokesperson for Dentsu said “Dentsu’s affiliate, Amplifi Live, acted in the best interest of the public last year after Woodstock 50 breached its agreement. … The parties are about to engage in an arbitration hearing, but Woodstock 50 prefers baseless claims in press releases rather than to have the parties’ dispute decided by arbitrators. Amplifi Live is vigorously defending these claims in arbitration and pursuing breach and fraud claims against Woodstock 50 … the claims in this new filing have no merit and are improper.”
This lawsuit marks the latest chapter in the saga of Woodstock 50 and the resuscitation of a battle between festival organizers and Dentsu that many likely thought had ended on July 31, 2019. That was the day Woodstock 50 organizers announced its cancellation.
Considered by many to be the crowning achievement of the 1960s counterculture, the original Woodstock festival unfolded over several days in mid-August 1969. The gathering in Sullivan County, New York, drew a half million people for dozens of musical performances by a roster of acts that included Jimi Hendrix, Santana, The Who, Arlo Guthrie, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Joe Cocker.
Michael Lang, one of four partners to stage the 1969 festival, was a key player in the plans to stage Woodstock 50 at Watkins Glen International racetrack last August
But the festival, which was to include such performers as Jay-Z, the Lumineers, Miley Cyrus, Halsey and Santana, never got out of the gate and became mired in court battles, safety concerns, questions over capacity, shifting venues, rejection by municipal officials and, in the end, bands dropping out.
Public arguments before failure
In November 2018, Lang told the Poughkeepsie Journal, part of the USA TODAY Network, that plans were in place for a 50th anniversary concert. The festival was officially announced on Jan. 9, 2019, and the musical lineup was released on March 19.
But, more than a month later, Dentsu announced it had unilaterally canceled the plans.
In a statement at the time, Dentsu said “… 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.”
Production company Superfly followed soon after.
Over the following weeks, Woodstock 50 and Dentsu would argue in court regarding who had rightful control of the event and what Dentsu’s continued financial obligations were.
Court filings not only revealed allegations that Woodstock 50 had repeatedly breached their financial agreement, but also the depth of safety concerns state police and Superfly had with Woodstock 50’s plans at Watkins Glen.
Unable to satisfy those safety requirements and with time running out, Woodstock 50 abandoned Watkins Glen. Organizers then tried to hold the event at Vernon Downs racino in Vernon, New York, only to have its permit application repeatedly denied.
Discussion on July 25 turned to holding Woodstock 50 at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland. But that proposal never materialized and organizers on July 31 announced that Woodstock 50 would not be held.
John W. Barry: email@example.com, 845-437-4822, Twitter: @JohnBarryPoJo
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