Spinning wheel got to go ’round… That’s what insiders are saying about the latest attempt to have the Woodstock 50 show go on. TMZ this morning reported that the beleaguered festival is now pivoting to a free concert — just like in 1969! That’s when the New York State Thruway was essentially shut down and the gates to the concert toppled as 500,000 descended on the grounds of Yasgur’s Farm in Bethel, New York and organizers gave up trying to collect tickets.
This time, the “free” moniker seems loosely tied to the concept of a benefit concert, though it’s unclear which charities may partner with the fest or whether attendees would simply be “encouraged to donate,” as TMZ reports.
A rep for Woodstock 50 declined to comment on the accuracy of the report.
How would a benefit concert work now that two of the three headliners — Jay-Z and Dead & Company — have bowed out? That leaves Miley Cyrus, Imagine Dragons and Chance the Rapper as possible understudies.
Just 24 hours before the free concert reveal, agents, managers and attorneys were considering pulling their artist’s out simultaneously, so as to partly show potential litigators that this three-day event had no chance of coming together. On Friday night, some Woodstock stakeholders received a note that organizers “had a new plan.”
This weekend, artists and their representatives are reevaluating the proposed rebrand. The thinking behind it being: if you’ve already been paid, why not play and benefit a cause? Skeptically, one could also deduce that Woodstock organizers are trying to minimize their legal liability, anticipating an onslaught of lawsuits to come. That rationale being: organizers successfully executed a show called Woodstock 50 and met their end of the deal. Of course, that brings to question the original breach of contract for an upstate New York event, which has already been acknowledged by the festival, effectively allowing artists to be released from their contractual obligations to play Woodstock 50.
And there are other issues to contend with. Among them: tour routing during a very busy summer concert season and other associated travel costs and burdens, an unclear lineup, to-be-determined beneficiaries and the logistical challenges of getting tickets to the market, even if they are for free. Plus, several acts are booked to play in Bethel Woods, the upstate New York site of the original festival, that same weekend for an alternate Woodstock celebration that Live Nation is producing, including Santana and John Fogerty, who was first to abandon the Maryland plan. But probably the most disconcerting unknown, what if 100,000 people decide to show up to a 32,000-capacity venue? Then you have safety issues.
To recap: Woodstock 50 lost its original site in Watkins Glen, New York and a second alternative in Vernon, New York due to permit issues, and now has a tentative hold on Maryland’s Merriweather Post for Aug. 16 – 18. The Smashing Pumpkins are scheduled to play at Merriweather on Saturday, Aug. 17 and would have to either join the lineup or reschedule their show if it takes place over the weekend (as opposed to just Sunday; on Friday capacity at Merriweather drops to 20,000 so as not to disrupt the resident of Columbia, Maryland. Seth Hurwitz, of Washington D.C.’s 9:30 Club and I.M.P. Concerts, who operates Merriweather, has been tasked with putting on the show, “if it’s real,” he told Pollstar.
So now the onus is on the artists to decide if they’d like to participate in this new charity-affiliated iteration, essentially guilting them into it. As for the potential beneficiaries, it would be hard for any non-profit to turn down much-needed funds.
Woodstock founder Michael Lang is, according to sources, scrambling to find a headliner to commit, hoping that others will follow suit. Could that be Miley Cyrus, founder of her own aptly-named Happy Hippie foundation, whose mission is to “rally young people to fight injustice facing homeless youth, LGBTQ youth and other vulnerable populations” — or Imagine Dragons, who have also been active in LGBTQ causes? Chance the Rapper has donated millions to Chicago-area schools, his cause is certainly worthy.
Time will tell, and the clock counting down on the Woodstock site remains (a webmaster finally got around to removing the Watkins Glen language from artwork on the lineup page). “[Lang] is still trying,” says an insider. “To his last breath.”