UPDATED: In a telling letter sent Monday afternoon to Woodstock 50’s former investors, the Japanese firm Dentsu Aegis, Woodstock 50 founder Michael Lang has asked that the company “honor the law and your obligations, stop interfering with our efforts to put on this wonderful event and return the $17 million you improperly took.”
The letter alleges that Dentsu’ investment branch Amplifi “illegally swept approximately $17 million from the festival bank account” on April 29, the same day that Dentsu surprised Lang by announcing that they had unilaterally canceled the festival.
The letter contains other fresh allegations of what Lang contends is illegal activity by his former partners. “We also have evidence that Dentsu representatives have gone so far as to say that should the talent back out of Woodstock, they would be seen favorably by Dentsu,” he wrote, “and that this could result in their performing the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, where Dentsu is a major organizer. In these actions too, Dentsu has acted not only without honor, but outside of the law.”
Lang’s letter was distributed to the media Monday by Sallie Hofmeister of Sitrick & Company and represents an escalation in Lang’s claims about Dentsu. In an interview with Variety last week, Lang had said that Dentsu was still on the hook for $30 million they had put into the festival, “and our attorneys tell us they have walked away from it.” Lang’s statement Monday that the firm had siphoned off $17 million seems at odds with his earlier claim that Dentsu had simply abandoned its investment.
A rep for Dentsu-Aegis dismissed Lang’s claim that the money was taken illegally, saying in a statement provided to Variety: “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. Further, tickets cannot go on sale for an event prior to obtaining a mass gathering permit, which has still not been granted. Beyond that we stand by our original statement that we made last week.”
Much of the rest of Lang’s letter lays out arguments that are familiar to anyone following the story, if still startling in the overall scheme of things.
Lang says he “had some concerns about linking an organization like Dentsu to Woodstock. Corporations are not always the right match for certain creative endeavors,” but he adds that his worries were assuaged when he was told of Dentsu’s history of “social initiative after certain tragedies” and was “reassured that Dentsu wold not interfere” in anything beyond its financial role.
His worries resurfaced, he writes, when he was given a contract with Amplifi Live attached, but Lang says Dentsu’s chief commercial officer in America, DJ Martin, “told me this was for optics only because of international investment law.”
On April 22, Lang says, Woodstock 50 was granted conditional approval by the state of New York so that “we could have tickets go on sale as we had promised the fans and public. Your team blocked this sale for no apparent reason. Together, our organizations faced a question of cash flow since Dentsu had not been successful in selling sponsorships for the Woodstock Festival.” By April 26, he writes, “we presented multiple plans illustrating a slight profit and substantiated these plans with supporting documents. However, for reasons not explained to us, it seemed to fall on deaf ears.”
On the fateful day of April 29, the warring “canceled”/”not canceled” notices went out. That morning, Lang writes, Dentsu sent him notice that “they had taken control of the festival”; 15 minutes later, he says, “they advised that they had canceled the festival” — neither of which, Lang says, was within their rights. “This same team had also already notified the press without any advance notice to me or my team. While we were on a call together as a group at 12:00 EDT, the media had already begun reporting that Woodstock was cancelled. I then learned that Amplifi illegally swept approximately $17 million from the festival bank account, leaving the festival in peril. These actions confirmed my worst concerns about partnering with your company. These actions are neither a legal nor honorable way to do business.”
Additionally, says Lang, “since your team announced that the festival was cancelled, I have received multiple reports and evidence that Dentsu has directly contacted all stakeholders, including the venue Watkins Glen International, insurance companies, producers, vendors and performers (some of whom I am lucky to count as personal friends) and suggested they not do business with me, and violate their contracts with my company. Your team has gone so far as to promise indemnification to these contracted parties should they back out of our contracts.”
Amid all this turmoil, Lang still manages to provide a sunny outlook for the festival going on. “Fortunately, we have renewed interest in financing and remain confident that Woodstock 50 will take place as planned,” he writes. “In fact, the events of late, while not planned, have caused a groundswell of support for Woodstock in every conceivable manner, making the prospects of having a successful event a virtual certainty even after the actions your company has taken.”
“In the end, since Dentsu has already abandoned Woodstock, all I ask for is that Dentsu walk away peacefully and allow me to deliver to the people a 50th Anniversary Festival. Again, I respectfully ask that Dentsu stop its obstructionist actions with the talent and stakeholders. We feel we now have a window to come together with you to peacefully resolve this matter and create a wonderful and special festival.”