Organizers of the beleaguered Woodstock 50 anniversary festival are planning to move the event to suburban Maryland in a last-ditch effort to salvage the half-centennial celebrations of the era-defining hippy love-in.
The festival is now due to take place at the Merriweather Post Pavilion, a 32,000-capacity venue about 250 miles south of the original Woodstock site in Bethel, New York. It is scheduled to run from 16-18 August.
The anniversary event has been spiralling out of control after the original ticket release was delayed, headliners including the Black Keys pulled out, and its financial backers, Dentsu Aegis, walked away, claiming the right to cancel the event entirely.
Organizers, who include Woodstock 69’s original promoter, Michael Lang, initially decided that the original site was too small to hold enough people. They then lost the right to hold it at a larger venue in Watkins Glen, New York, after failing to make a payment. Less than a month ago, a third site at Vernon Downs in New York fell through when local officials said safety plans were “worthless”.
Calvin Ball, an executive at Maryland’s Howard county, said Merriweather Post Pavilion “jumped at the chance” to save this festival and “bring a piece of American history to our community this summer”.
“It felt like such a natural fit to host a historic festival on our storied stage,” he wrote to organizers in a letter obtained by Bloomberg.
But challenges remain. It is not clear whether the original lineup, which included Jay-Z, Miley Cyrus and Halsey, are obliged to perform if the event is held so far away. A source told the Associated Press that Jay-Z, who was due to close the festival, had indeed pulled out.
According to Variety, touring agents are uniting against playing the new venue and demanding that artists be released from their contracts.
“Most can’t play Maryland and don’t want to be involved in an event that is not properly conceived and developed,” says one industry insider. “We took it as far down the road as we could. The clock just ran out.”
The event’s purpose has shifted: it is no longer being promoted as a commercial festival but as a fundraiser for groups promoting voter turnout and the climate crisis. Given the new venue’s proximity to the capital, the name has changed to “Woodstock 50 Washington”.
According to current plans, entry prices will go on sale at $129 to $595 for a one-day pass and it’s being marketed to 800,000 people across Washington DC, Maryland and northern Virginia. The original event was characterized by chaos and astonishing performances by Sly and the Family Stone, Janis Joplin, the Who and Jimi Hendrix.
Woodstock 50 Washington will not be the only commemorative event. The original site in Bethel, New York, is also holding a weekend of concerts featuring shows by Santana, Ringo Starr and John Fogerty.