Following months of controversy and drama, court battles, public meetings, a musical lineup announced with great fanfare and a cascade of departures beneath a cloud of uncertainty, the Woodstock 50 festival has been canceled, reports the Poughkeepsie Journal, which is part of the USA TODAY Network.
A golden anniversary celebration set for Aug. 16-18, Woodstock 50 was announced in January as a means of memorializing the iconic event of decades ago that many consider to be the crowning achievement of the 1960s counterculture – the 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Fair.
But organizers struggled to get it out of the starting gate. There were fits and starts, the loss of financial and production partners and the failure to secure permits or a venue. Through it all, the Woodstock 50 team remained defiant that the festival would proceed as planned.
That all came crashing down Wednesday. The Woodstock golden anniversary, which held a potential call to action for a new generation with headliners including Jay-Z and Carlos Santana, was canceled with a press release.
“We are saddened that a series of unforeseen setbacks has made it impossible to put on a festival we imagined with the great line-up we had booked and the social engagement we were anticipating,” Michael Lang, co-founder of the 1969 Woodstock festival and Woodstock 50 promoter, said in a statement.
Wednesday's announcement followed the departure over recent days of Woodstock 50's major acts, including Jay-Z, Miley Cyrus, Santana, the Lumineers and Dead and Company, as well as musicians who performed at the 1969 festival such as Country Joe McDonald and John Sebastian.
Woodstock 50: A saga with many twists and turns
Wednesday's cancellation marked the latest twist in a saga that defined Woodstock 50 as much as the enduring legacy of the original festival, the activism within which Lang framed the anniversary event and the prospect of a gathering featuring some the biggest names in music.
Woodstock 50 on April 29 lost its financial partner, Dentsu Aegis, which tried unsuccessfully to cancel the event. Production partner Superfly dropped out a few days later. Both sides ended up in court in May. Woodstock 50 in June lost its venue at Watkins Glen International racetrack in Schuyler County, New York. And the Town of Vernon near Utica, New York in July rejected plans for the event four times.
“When we lost the Glen and then Vernon Downs we looked for a way to do some good rather than just cancel," Lang said in his statement. "We formed a collaboration with (voter registration organization) HeadCount to do a smaller event at the Merriweather Pavilion to raise funds for them to get out the vote and for certain NGOs involved in fighting climate change.
"We released all the talent so any involvement on their part would be voluntary. Due to conflicting radius issues in the DC area many acts were unable to participate and others passed for their own reasons. I would like to encourage artists and agents, who all have been fully paid, to donate 10 percent of their fees to HeadCount or causes of their choice in the spirit of peace.
"Woodstock remains committed to social change and will continue to be active in support of HeadCount’s critical mission to get out the vote before the next election. We thank the artists, fans and partners who stood by us even in the face of adversity. My thoughts turn to Bethel (the original site of the 1969 Woodstock festival) and its celebration of our 50th Anniversary to reinforce the values of compassion, human dignity, and the beauty of our differences embraced by Woodstock.”
Seth Hurwitz, chairman of I.M.P., owner of the 9:30 Club and The Anthem and operator of Merriweather Post Pavilion and the Lincoln Theatre, said in a statement:
"While we were able to quickly eliminate the venue portion of the challenge to present Woodstock, it was just too late in the game. Hopefully, with plenty of time to prepare, Merriweather will become the site of a future festival that captures the original vibe. A lot of people clearly wanted it to happen.”
Woodstock's anniversary will still be celebrated at the original site
The cancellation of Woodstock 50 could resonate loudly in Bethel. Now home to Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, the land that was once Max Yasgur's farm could serve as a beacon for Woodstock devotees who had planned to attend Woodstock 50 but are now in search of a celebration.
Bethel is hosting its own string of events to mark the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, including a sold-out Arlo Guthrie performance and Woodstock documentary screening on Aug. 15; concerts by Ringo Starr on Aug. 16 and John Fogerty on Aug. 18 (both on track to sell out); and an Aug. 17 sold-out Santana concert.
In anticipation of heightened interest in the upcoming weekend, Bethel Woods is issuing travel passes to ticket holders to help stem an influx of visitors. Anyone hoping to access the Bethel Woods property Aug. 15-18 will need a travel pass.
Dan Hust, Sullivan County director of communications, said in a statement: “Sullivan County and its partners – New York State Police, NYS Office of Emergency Management, NYS Department of Transportation, NYS Department of Health, Bethel Woods, the Town of Bethel, and others – have been preparing for the Woodstock anniversary weekend for more than a year, and that has fully included the possibility, now reality, that Woodstock 50 would not happen. While we still can only guess at how many people will choose to visit the County during that weekend, we have collaboratively developed plans to deal with traffic and emergencies across agencies and jurisdictions.”
John W. Barry: email@example.com, 845-437-4822, Twitter: @JohnBarryPoJo
This article originally appeared on Poughkeepsie Journal: Woodstock 50 officially canceled