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Music

Woodstock 50 festival moves to Maryland, but who’s on the bill?

Woodstock
View of the original Woodstock stage in 1969.
(Jim Marshall / Duncan Miller Gallery)

The on-again, off-again 50th-anniversary celebration of Woodstock is back on again, maybe.

The embattled event, co-produced by original Woodstock promoter Michael Lang, finally might have found a new home at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Md., after a series of financial and logistical hurdles threatened the future of the event.

Scheduled to occur Aug. 16-18, the three-day concert was originally supposed to take place at Watkins Glen International, a speedway not far from the site of the 1969 Bethel, N.Y., concert. The Pavilion is 270 miles south of Bethel and has an official capacity of 19,000-plus, but the site can be expanded to hold over 32,000 people.

If the plan progresses, the venue would be helping a production that was hobbled in the spring when Woodstock 50’s financial backer, Dentsu Aegis Network, withdrew its funding over concerns about preproduction and tepid advance sales. Lang responded by accusing the company of withdrawing $17 million from the Woodstock 50 bank account.

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Since then, organizers have scoured the area looking for new backers and a replacement venue, but local and state officials overseeing two potential sites denied permits after determining the plans weren’t feasible. The new location was designed for such events and could more efficiently adapt to organizers’ needs.

That apparently was enough for Howard County executive Calvin Ball to reach out to Woodstock 50 organizers. “When we heard that there was an opportunity to save this festival and bring a piece of American history to our community this summer, we jumped at the chance,” Ball wrote in a letter to organizers, according to Bloomberg News. It will be renamed Woodstock 50 Washington. (Washington, D.C., is approximately 25 miles from the site.)

The new location is much smaller than Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel where that first Woodstock became a touchstone of the baby boomer generation. It cemented into history performances by artists including Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Sly & the Family Stone.

When it was first announced, the 50th-anniversary lineup featured superstars including Jay-Z, Miley Cyrus, Chance the Rapper and the Black Keys, as well as original Woodstock-era performers David Crosby, Santana and John Fogerty. On Friday, Billboard reported that Woodstock 50 has formally released the entire previously announced roster.

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That means that Woodstock promoters have three weeks to secure its lineup, a process that normally takes at least six months for major festivals. Merriweather Post Pavilion, which is operated by I.M.P., acknowledged to Billboard that an attempt to salvage the festival is ongoing.

“We made a deal quickly contingent on him putting a show together and dealing with the fact that we have a show booked on one of those dates,” I.M.P.'s Seth Hurwitz told Billboard. “So now I’m just a venue waiting to see if the promoter with the hold is going to confirm.”

When news broke in late April that the festival’s future was up in the air, one high-profile management agent with acts booked for the event sent a letter informing his clients that, from the company’s perspective, the event was effectively canceled. The artists were free to rebook that weekend elsewhere.

According to the Bloomberg report, the event, originally planned as a for-profit festival, will now be a fundraiser in support of voter turnout and climate change nonprofit organizations.

For their part, Woodstock 50 promoters, who did not reply to a request for comment, have never wavered in their determination. Currently, the official website features a splash page with a message that reads, “Our intention holds firm. To deliver a world-class, once-in-a-lifetime festival to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. To honor a cultural icon that changed the way we think about music and togetherness … and will do so again.”


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