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Woodstock 50 Asks Court to Order Ex-Investors to Return ‘Pilfered’ $17.8 Million

Lawyers claim Dentsu is engaged in an "inexplicable plot to destroy the festival,"

Woodstock co-producer and co-founder, Michael Lang,
Evan Agostini/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Woodstock 50 has filed for a court order against its former investment partner, Dentsu, asking the New York Supreme Court for an injunction that would require the firm to return $17.8 million organizers say Dentsu “pillaged” from the festival bank account. Woodstock further contends the Japanese firm is actively urging artists and vendors to pull out, and the festival asks the court to order Dentsu — which it says has engaged in an “inexplicable plot to destroy the Festival” — to “cease all communications relating to” Woodstock 50.

In the filing, the law firm Kasowitz Benson Torres argues that Dentsu draining the Woodstock 50 bank account at the time the company attempted to unilaterally shut down the festival “is the equivalent of one spouse raiding a marital bank account and changing the locks in the middle of the night to lock out the other spouse and starve them of money to live. It’s contractually wrong and morally reprehensible.”

On Monday, in response to a letter from Lang demanding the return of the money, Dentsu provided Variety with a statement, saying, ““As financial partner, we had the customary rights one would expect to protect a large investment. After we exercised our contractual right to take over, and subsequently, cancel the festival, we simply recovered the funds in the festival bank account, funds which we originally put in as financial partner.”

Woodstock’s latest court action fires back at Dentsu’s assertion that there is contractual language that allowed them to cancel the festival. As an exhibit in the case, Woodstock 50 filed a production agreement between the festival and Dentsu’s partner, Amplifi Live, that says, “Any decision to cancel the Festival shall be jointly made in writing by the Parties.”

The filing acknowledges that disputes between Woodstock 50 and Dentsu will ultimately end up in contractually agreed-upon arbitration, but pleads for “emergency relief as a result of Dentsu’s outrageous and illegal misconduct that threatens enormous and irreparable harm to W50,” suggesting that only quick court action may save the festival.

“Dentsu compounded its egregious conduct by contacting numerous stakeholders — including musical talent and their agents, insurers and public officials — falsely telling them that they were released from their contracts with W50 and the Festival, and that the performers should not perform at the Festival, though they have all been paid in full. Dentsu went so far as to tell those performers and agents that Dentsu will indemnify them for the losses caused by their terminating their contracts and refusing to perform.”

So far, none of the 75-plus acts have pulled out of the festival (except the Black Keys, who bowed out very early on, citing scheduling difficulties). “Collectively, the performers have been paid in full a total of some $32 million,” fees the artists will get to keep whether or not the festival proceeds.

The court filing repeats what was perhaps the strangest assertion in Lang’s letter from Monday: “Dentsu has even implied to certain performers that if they play ball with Dentsu and follow its demand to breach their agreement with W50, that Dentsu may find a place for those performers to perform at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, for which Dentsu is a major sponsor.”