Woodstock 50 organizers announced Wednesday that the beleaguered music festival, which was supposed to take place Aug. 16 through Aug. 18, is officially canceled.
“We are saddened that a series of unforeseen setbacks has made it impossible to put on the Festival we imagined with the great lineup we had booked and the social engagement we were anticipating,” organizer Michael Lang, co-founder of the 1969 festival, said in a statement.
Organizers had been forced to relocate Woodstock 50 last week to Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Md., a move that set off the most recent series of hits to the commemorative festival. When announced in January, the festival was supposed to take place in Watkins Glen, N.Y., a few hours northwest of the original Bethel Woods site. But organizers failed to obtain the proper permits. They were later denied another permit for a venue in Vernon, N.Y., a town a few hours north of Bethel Woods that then voted unanimously to reject the festival’s appeal altogether.
Artists announced in March as part of the festival lineup — including Jay-Z and Miley Cyrus, as well as 1969 performers Dead and Company, Santana and John Fogerty — were released from their contracts after the move to Merriweather, according to Lang, who said the artists (and their agents) had all been fully paid. He cited the new location as part of the reason so many headliners dropped out this past week, and urged the acts to donate a portion of their fees to HeadCount, a nonprofit that works with musicians to promote voter registration. After the relocation to Maryland, organizers intended to turn Woodstock 50 into a free concert benefiting HeadCount and some organizations working to combat climate change — a stark contrast with onetime plans to sell three-day passes for $450.
Tickets were never made available after the on-sale date was indefinitely delayed in April, the same month a falling-out with the festival’s financial backer, Dentsu Aegis Network, led to confusion over whether it was still happening. (Dentsu announced that it wasn’t; organizers quickly clarified that it was.) The festival secured a new backer in May, but issues persisted.
I.M.P., which operates Merriweather, announced last week that it was in talks to host Woodstock 50. But Seth Hurwitz, the company’s chairman, said as recently as Monday that he hadn’t yet heard who would perform. Nonetheless, he said, the festival would “have a venue if they have a show.” (Audrey Fix Schaefer, an I.M.P. spokeswoman, confirmed that the Smashing Pumpkins and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds concert set for Aug. 17 would proceed as planned.)
A similar situation occurred with Howard County officials, who confirmed Tuesday that organizers hadn’t requested a permit from the local police department. Standard procedure calls for special-event permit applications to be submitted at least 60 days before the event, police spokeswoman Lori Boone said, but officials had been looking into making accommodations for Woodstock 50.
“Initially, when this festival was in search of a new home, we saw an opportunity to bring a piece of American history to our storied stage,” Howard County Executive Calvin Ball said in a statement Wednesday. “Howard County is used to hosting big concerts, from Virgin FreeFest to Sweetlife to Jazzfest and more. We had the experience, the infrastructure, and the passion to make this happen. Howard County and Merriweather were fully prepared to put on a world-class concert, if the festival promoters could secure the acts.”
While Woodstock 50 is no longer happening, a separate, more intimate gathering is set to take place in Bethel, N.Y., from Aug. 15 through Aug. 18, the dates of the original festival. A few artists who performed in 1969 had previously planned to appear at both Woodstock 50 and the smaller celebration, including Santana and John Fogerty, the former frontman of Creedence Clearwater Revival. The Bethel event will also feature Ringo Starr and the Doobie Brothers.
“We thank the artists, fans and partners who stood by us even in the face of adversity,” Lang said. “My thoughts turn to Bethel and its celebration of our 50th Anniversary to reinforce the values of compassion, human dignity, and the beauty of our differences embraced by Woodstock.”