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After Yet Another Rejection, What Could Be Next for Woodstock 50?

Jem Aswad

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In the wake of the Town of Vernon’s third rejection of Woodstock 50’s permit application to hold its music festival at a venue in the Upstate New York municipality, one may well wonder what the troubled event’s next move might be. In the hours after the latest rejection was announced, even the optimistic-bordering-on-unrealistic producers sounded defeated.

“I don’t know,” coproducer Michael Lang (a cofounder of the original Woodstock) told the Poughkeepsie Journal when asked whether this is finally the end for the 50th anniversary festival, which has been dogged by financial and organizational problems since it was announced in January. “We need to regroup and figure it out.”

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While the festival boasts a confirmed lineup including Jay-Z, Dead & Company, The Killers, Miley Cyrus and many others, less than a month from its launch, it has no venue, ticket on-sale date or even an event producer to handle the logistics of staging the festival itself: Virgin Produced, the third in a line of production partners, pulled out shortly after the latest permit application was rejected on Tuesday night.

However, a statement to Variety from a festival rep late Wednesday morning said simply that the producers are “considering all options.”

But what might those options be? The rep did not immediately respond to Variety’s request for further comment, and informed sources in the live-entertainment business, which generally has been skeptical about the festival for months, said the prospects are more grim than ever.

“What happens next? It dies,” one major agent tells Variety, holding out no hope that the festival will actually take place. And because most if not all of the performers have already been paid, with their fees being held in escrow — an amount totaling $32 million, according to a court filing — the agent says that the that the money will soon be transferred into accounts for the artists’ representatives and distributed accordingly.

While that is a worst-case scenario for Woodstock 50’s producers, they are in a challenging position: Because the artists have already been paid, the producers cannot cancel the festival themselves without forfeiting many millions of dollars. The cancellation must come from health and safety, law-enforcement or government officials in order for the festival to collect insurance on the payments, a source tells Variety.

But is that even an issue if the festival can’t find a home? By pushing so hard for the hardly ideal Vernon Downs racetrack — which was the festival’s second choice, after the original site, Watkins Glen International speedway, pulled out in June — it seems the venue is the only even remotely viable option for Woodstock 50. While other potential sites exist — including the decommissioned Air Force base near Rome, N.Y. that was the site of the disastrous 1999 Woodstock festival — none have been publicly mentioned, and at this late stage it seems almost impossible to pull off the event at a wholly new location that can accommodate the 65,000 people the festival optimistically hopes to draw, or even the 30,000 in the latest reported scaled-down estimate.

“They could pull off a show for 4,000 to 5,000 people,” an insider tells Variety, “but not 30,000.”

The festival must be held within a prescribed area in Upstate New York, the insider tells Variety, noting that an earlier proposal to hold the event in the parking lot of the Citi Field stadium in the New York City borough of Queens violated the agreements with some artists — sources say certain artists are under different contract terms than others — and was shot down. Likewise, there may be  restrictions against holding even a scaled-down event at a several-thousand capacity indoor arena such as the Glens Falls Civic Center north of Albany or the Onondaga County War Memorial in Syracuse.

Besides, “You’re gonna hold the 50th anniversary of the legendary Woodstock festival at the Glens Falls Civic Center?,” the insider scoffed. “Who would come to that?”

While the festival faced difficulties in Watkins Glen — which has held similar events in the past — Vernon Downs presented a steeper challenge. Owing to the lack of camping facilities at the venue, Woodstock 50’s most recent proposal included bussing attendees in and out of the venue at the end of each day of the three-day festival from designated locations, although the area’s camping facilities seemed inadequate to accommodate even the lower estimated crowds — to say nothing of the inconvenience and time commitments of such a move.

And while Peck told WUTR on Tuesday night the festival planned to file a new application for Vernon Downs, it’s hard to imagine that fourth effort being successful.

“They tried going to the public to force the hand of the civil servants,” the insider tells Variety, noting an “open house” the festival held on Monday night at which local residents were promised significant if vague offers of work, “and that didn’t work either.”

 

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