Woodstock is supposed to have its 50th anniversary festival in August, but the future is looking a little bleak.
On May 8, the organizers of Woodstock 50 filed for a court order against Dentsu Aegis Network, the festival’s financial partner that stepped away and stated that the event was canceled. Woodstock 50, LLC claimed that Dentsu violated an agreement by announcing the festival’s cancellation. Today, the Woodstock 50 team partially won that court battle, court documents confirm.
A judge has ruled that Dentsu had no right to announce the festival’s cancellation, so the festival may continue as planned. However, the judge clarified that Woodstock 50 “has not met the high burden entitling it to a mandatory injunction” that would return $17.8 million to the festival’s bank account. Woodstock 50, LLC previously claimed the money was “pillaged“ by the investors amidst their departure.
In court hearings this week, Dentsu’s team said they stopped working on the festival because organizers didn’t have a mass gathering permit, a finalized traffic plan, necessary road construction, an emergency response plan, or sufficient security, Billboard reports.
What the hell is going on?? The anniversary festival is three months away and the organizers are still sorting through legal and financial issues that should have been resolved a year ago. Now, the judge’s ruling is fair—Dentsu should be allowed to pull out if it chooses—but it’s not their call to cancel the entire festival. With that said, how will Woodstock account for the $17.8 million that Dentsu took back?
Even if Woodstock’s organizers make up the lost funds, the outlook is bleak. I get it, festival planning ain’t easy. But there are a few factors that set the tone for successful events like Coachella and Pharrell’s Something in the Water and the failures like Fyre Festival and (potentially) Woodstock 50:
- Community buy-in. Woodstock 50 has gotten push back from the local Schuyler County administration. The festival reduced its capacity from 100,000 to 75,000 due to permit restrictions. This will likely increase ticket prices to account for lost money from ~25,000 attendees. Fyre dealt with similar buy-in issues, but many of those were self-inflicted. The organizers violated their contractual agreements and abused their relationship with the local Bahamian community.
On the other hand, Coachella and the City of Indio, CA are like day-ones. In the past few years, Indio has approved more music festivals and more hotels to boost tourism. And as I wrote last week, the city of Virginia Beach was a proud supporter and funder of Pharrell’s Something in the Water music festival.
- Rational organizers. By design, festivals like Fyre and Woodstock 50 need organizers who are optimistically delusional. It takes a special kind of person to believe they can recreate Woodstock ’69, even though that event had myriad problematic issues that got overlooked and would never fly in today’s society. It’s an impossible task that’s destined for failure, but it requires people who live for those moments (you know, like Billy McFarland and Ja Rule).
Meanwhile, Coachella got its start as a modest festival in 1999. As I wrote last month, Coachella’s founder wasn’t phased when Beyonce put on the performance of a lifetime, or when a headliner canceled at the last minute. Successful event planners need to be even-keeled.
- Confident financiers. This is tied in with the last point, but a rational organizer is more likely to find funders that are more forgiving. Modest events are less likely to become PR nightmares, even if they fail. Funders are more willing to deal with the bumps in the road. But that’s not the case with events that want to be “once-in-a-lifetime” cultural moments. When those events fail, no funder wants their name to be the answer to the question, “Who the hell gave XYZ organizer money to do this in the first place?”
If I am an artist who has been asked to perform at Woodstock 50, I’m out. If I was already paid my advance, as Jay Z and Chance the Rapper have been, I would have backup plans in case shit hits the fan. There are too many well-run options out there to risk the outcome of Woodstock 50. Today, the bar for music festivals is higher than ever. It’s one of the benefits of having so many in the market. And plus, if Woodstock 50 was truly going to be a generational moment, its promotional cycle would be well underway.
Regardless of the event’s turnout, a documentarian should already be on Woodstock’s payroll. If this event beats the odds and turns out great, it will make a great documentary on Netflix. But if the event goes drastically wrong and is a complete nightmare, it will make an even better documentary on Netflix.
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