UPDATED: The light is quickly fading on Woodstock 50, which in its latest plea to the town of Vernon, New York, was rejected in its effort to secure a permit to hold the three-day concert at Vernon Downs.
The Syracuse area venue with a capacity of 35,000 was the most recent proposed site for the troubled festival, which has been dogged by financial and organizational problems since it was announced in January. An open house was held in advance of a town meeting to determine whether or not the festival’s permit application for the site will be approved. It has already been rejected by the town codes committee twice and been appealed by the festival’s organizers.
The town’s planning committee rendered its denial just after 8:30 p.m. local time and it was unanimous. Asked moments after the decision whether it meant the end of the festival, Woodstock cofounder and coproducer Michael Lang told the Poughkeepsie Journal, “I don’t know… We need to regroup and figure it out. I knew this wasn’t going to be easy and I knew that the town supervisor, frankly, was really behind this position. We just hoped there was a sense of fairness that these people would be adhering to and it doesn’t seem to be the case.”
An official statement from the festival’s organizers reads in part: “Woodstock 50 is disappointed that the Town of Vernon has passed up the opportunity to hold the historic 50th Anniversary Festival by denying our robust and thoughtful proposal. We regret that those in Vernon who supported Woodstock have been deprived of the once-in-a-lifetime chance to be part of the rebirth of a cultural peace movement that changed the world in 1969 and is what the world needs now. We want to thank the artists who stood by us. We are grateful for the support of Vernon Downs and its generous owner Jeffrey Gural.”
Just two hours after the town’s decision was made public, the festival’s production partner, Virgin Produced, announced that it “has officially concluded its consulting role with respect to the company and the proposed festival.” CEO Jason Felts added, “Despite our formidable effort to assist Michael Lang and the Woodstock 50 ownership in resurrecting their NY festival, it has become apparent that time has expired.”
The organizers’ plan to hold three day-long concerts — rather than one single-weekend festivals — would see attendees bussed in from parking lots on nearby Routes 5 and 31, according to WUTR-TV. Camping is not part of the plan and area accommodations are scant.
Says one concert insider: “They could pull off a show for 4,000 to 5,000 people, but not 30,000.” In addition, the festival faces numerous obstacles, not the least of which involves selling tickets in time and building a stage that can handle the complicated productions of its headliners.
Asked earlier on Tuesday what will happen if the festival’s appeal is rejected, Woodstock founder Michael Lang told the Poughkeepsie Journal: “If we don’t get the decision we want, it’s something that we will then have to consider. If it doesn’t work this year, it doesn’t work this year. We’ve tried everything we can. We’ve done our best. We’ll continue to do our best until we find out one way or the other whether it’s going to happen.”
The festival, which is scheduled to feature a blockbuster lineup including Jay-Z, Dead & Co., Miley Cyrus and many others, has been plagued by organizational and financial difficulties since it was announced: The original financial backer, Dentsu Aegis, pulled out in May; Watkins Glen International speedway, followed last month.
As for what happens next? Organizers could refile, but that looks to be a fruitless attempt at this point. Certainly, litigation is forthcoming, but until the festival is officially canceled, the millions of dollars committed to performing acts remains in a holding pattern. But all that could change in the coming days as agents consider their options as they relate to their already-booked acts.