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Woodstock 50 denied licence for new venue, will appeal

By | Published on Wednesday 10 July 2019

Woodstock 50

With 37 days to go until the Woodstock 50 festival is due to begin, authorities in the town set to host the event have declined to issue the required licence. A key concern for the local council seems to be that they are considering all this with just 37 days to go.

Preparations for the 50th anniversary celebration of the Woodstock festival have been somewhat eventful, with organisers losing their financial backer, production partner and venue along the way. The latter, the Watkins Glen International motor racing track in New York State, pulled out of the project last month.

The Woodstock company, which has remained bullish throughout all these dramas, insisted it would quickly find a replacement venue. Soon after, it was confirmed that Vernon Downs, a casino and horse racing complex also in the state of New York, was the first choice new home for the big 50th anniversary show. Even if that meant a capacity cut was likely and no camping facilities would be available to punters.

However, staging the festival there requires securing the relevant permits from the town of Vernon, which usually asks for 120 days notice from anyone seeking permission to hold an event with a capacity of 8000 or more. And by that point, 120 days were not available, with Woodstock 50 due to take place from 16-18 Aug.

Not only that, but – according to the Poughkeepsie Journal – Vernon town attorney Vincent Rossi says that when the Woodstock team did submit their late-in-the-day (aka too late) application for a licence, said submission was “inadequate”. He adds: “Each application submitted, one for each of the three days, was one page long with no supporting materials”.

However, in a subsequent statement to the Journal, the Woodstock company denied it had provided insufficient documentation. Positing that “certain political forces may be working against the resurrection of the festival”, organisers said: “Local reports claim Woodstock’s filing for the permit was ‘incomplete’, but that is not the case”.

“Woodstock 50 officials were informed by the town of Vernon that most questions had been answered”, the statement went on, “and asked only that Woodstock submit medical, safety/security and traffic plans by this past Sunday, which it did”.

Retaining a positive tone, despite the latest setback, organisers then added: “With a venue chosen, financing assembled and many of the artists supporting Woodstock’s 50th anniversary event, the organisers are hopeful that their appeal and re-application tonight will prevail without further political interference”.

It is true that Woodstock has a right to appeal the licensing decision and that is now happening. The appeal will go before Vernon’s planning board. Organisers could also go the legal route and seek to overturn the council’s decision through the courts, though that option would result in further delays, and there’s no time for any of them.

Among the specific issues of concern, Rossi said a particular problem is that, because the new site won’t allow camping, there is the question of where ticket-buyers are going to go each night. “If you have 65,000 people leaving Vernon Downs at 10pm at night”, the attorney mused, “where [are] they going to go?”

Then there is the fact that, in the attorney’s opinion, there just isn’t enough time to sort everything out. “They didn’t even come in the neighbourhood of the [120 day] time requirement [and] there’s no time for us to review the documents ahead of the festival”, he said, before noting that – if Woodstock chooses to go the court route – that will result in even more delays.

“I just don’t see a viable solution to the problem unless the court overrides the decision”, he concluded. “[And] at that point, we’d be talking about Woodstock 51”.

Some have also honed in on how Woodstock’s statement said that “many of the artists” booked to play are still “supporting Woodstock’s 50th”.

There has been speculation as to whether or not any of the artists booked to play the festival might now be looking to bail, the change in venue possibly removing any contractual ambiguities as to whether acts can quit the event without consequences. Does the use of “many” in that statement mean that not “every” artist previously announced is still on board? Team Woodstock has declined to clarify what was meant by that remark.

And so the saga continues, with tickets yet to go on sale. Tick tock, tick tock.