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.
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 the event 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 afternoon, however. The Woodstock celebration five decades in the making, the event hailed as a 21st century call to action, the musical event of the year at which Jay-Z and Carlos Santana would perform, 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 of Ulster County, co-founder of the 1969 Woodstock festival and Woodstock 50 promoter, said in a statement.
The cancellation of Woodstock 50 could resonate loudly in Bethel, Sullivan County, at the original site of the 1969 Woodstock festival. 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.
But 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 that are on track to sell out; and an Aug. 17 concert by Santana that is sold out.
In anticipation of heightened interest on the upcoming weekend, Bethel Woods is issuing travel passes to ticket holders to help stem an influx of visitors. Neither a spokeswoman for Bethel Woods or Sullivan County Commissioner of Public Safety Rick Sauer could be reached for comment.
Wednesday’s announcement that Woodstock 50 was canceled followed the departure over recent days of Woodstock 50’s major acts – Jay-Z, Miley Cyrus, Santana, the Lumineers and Dead and Company; as well as musicians who performed at the 1969 festival, Country Joe McDonald and Ulster County’s John Sebastian.
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 social activism within which Lang framed the anniversary event and the prospect of one gathering featuring some of 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.
Woodstock 50 and Dentsu ended up in court in May. Woodstock 50 in June lost its venue at Watkins Glen International racetrack in Schuyler County. And the Town of Vernon near Utica in July rejected for the fourth time plans to hold the festival at Vernon Downs racino.
Last week, news emerged that Woodstock 50 was hoping to hold a scaled down version of the event at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland.
“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% of their fees to HeadCount or causes of their choice in the spirit of peace.”
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.”