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Woodstock 50 “pretty much went off the rails from the beginning”, says Michael Lang

By | Published on Friday 2 August 2019

Woodstock 50

A lot of you – you know who you are – have been comparing the Woodstock 50 debacle to whole sorry Fyre Festival saga. But you shouldn’t, says Woodstock co-founder Michael Lang. It’s nothing like that.

“All those allusions to Fyre Festival were so unfounded”, says Lang in a new interview with Rolling Stone. “That was all about a scam; about selling tickets without having an event. We didn’t put anything on sale until we knew we had the event we were discussing. So I didn’t see any relation to the Fyre Festival”.

It’s true that Woodstock 50 hadn’t put tickets on sale at the point it cancelled. Though, had it gone ahead, the fact that no tickets had been sold, with only two weeks to go before the show, might not have seemed like quite the great decision that Lang is now positioning it as.

He’s right though, there are loads of differences between Woodstock 50 and Fyre Festival. The latter picked a site, but then had to move elsewhere, and had lots of changes in its production staff, all of which caused major problems with being ready in time for the show. Woodstock picked a site, then another, and then another, then lost two production partners, all of which caused major problems with being ready in time for the show.

But whereas Fyre Festival was “a scam”, Lang reckons, Woodstock 50 was “an unfortunate event”.

“I chalk it up to having the wrong partners early on”, he goes on. “We did everything we could have done and we had the right motivations. We put together what I thought was an amazing line-up of talent. I thought we had all that right”.

He lays all of the blame firmly at the feet of original financial backer Dentsu – which pulled out in April, prompting a legal battle over whether or not the event could still go ahead.

“We just frankly picked the wrong partner in Dentsu”, he says. “They didn’t really understand the business. When the agreement went, at the last minute, [from them] just being a backer to [becoming] a co-producer, they had input into everything that we did. It just pretty much went off the rails from the beginning”.

“We signed the deal with Dentsu on, I think, 2 Nov”, he goes on. “We had started doing a mapping of the site and trying to get all of the elements that were going to have to be described in a mass-gathering permit started. We should have hired [original production company] Superfly the day after we signed with Dentsu. It took them until the middle of January. That threw everything behind schedule”.

“Superfly was tasked with getting the mass-gathering permit, but they started so late they were frankly unable to finish it up” he adds. “I think that’s part of the reason why Dentsu pulled out”.

Of course, it was in early January that Lang gleefully announced that Woodstock 50 would be happening, then seemingly not massively concerned that a major part of the jigsaw was not yet in place.

Throughout, it has been his relentless optimism in the project that seemed to carry it through. Though his regular bullish announcements may have started to cause problems as things fell apart. To the point that, latterly, he was reportedly banned from making public statements, as the festival went through various appeals to try to convince the town of Vernon to let it stage the event there.

Chaos is a key part of the Woodstock legend, though – and Lang was there at the start. The 1969 event only just went ahead, with many issues similar to that of the canned 50th anniversary celebration. But it did get past its hurdles, becoming a cultural touchstone for US music. Though it could quite easily have been a Fyre Festival-like disaster had just a few extra hitches occurred.

Lang has previously admitted that red tape introduced since 1969 – and in some cases because of the original Woodstock – has hindered the ‘fuck it, let’s just do it’ spirit that worked before. So, perhaps in some ways, the 50th anniversary event not happening is the greatest tribute possible to its chaotic original. I’m not sure how, but it sounds like a good closing line to this, and I am very optimistic that it makes perfect sense.