Woodstock founder and promoter Michael Lang has broken his silence on what went wrong with trying to stage a 50th anniversary festival, which was officially canceled Wednesday.
He spoke to Rolling Stone right after making the announcement and here are some of the highlights:
"The big disappointment for me was when we lost Vernon Downs. When we lost Vernon Downs, the idea of a Woodstock festival within the vision of what I had for it was over for this year. It would have had the NGOs [Non-Profit Organizations] and [voter registration non-profit] HeadCount involved and we could have done all of those things up there..."
"Radius clauses [a contractual clause that prevents artists from performing in the same area within a given amount of time] were eliminating a lot of the talent we were hoping for and other acts had their own reasons for not wanting to be a part of it. It started to come together in the last couple of days, but it seemed very rushed. So we decided that we would put that off. We’re looking to do a fundraiser for [HeadCount] sometime over the next couple of months. We’re still very committed to supporting them and the other NGOs we were involved with." He says this will happen in the fall at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland.
On when he decided to cancel Woodstock 50: "It was over the last day and a half. We all got together what needs to be done in what time frame and why push it when it wouldn’t be smooth and very last minute. We were reflecting on what the reasons were behind doing it and they didn’t necessitate being done on that date. It was too much pressure."
"It just pretty much went off the rails [with financial backer Dentsu] from the beginning. They weren’t cognizant of the time frame for how these things have to get done and how much work has to get done. So they waited for months before signing [production company] Superfly [who was hired to help produce the festival], which was tasked with getting the permits. Then when they pulled the plug, everything sort of stopped. The government agencies stopped. Everything stopped for six weeks. We were still focused on putting it together. We got new funding. But we ran out of time there as well."
"[Woodstock 50] was an unfortunate venture, but I chalk it up to having the wrong partners early on. We did everything we could have done and we had the right motivations. We put together what I thought was an amazing lineup of talent. I thought we had all that right...
"I take full responsibility for agreeing to go with Dentsu. It was the biggest factor on why this thing didn’t happen. In terms of how things went with Watkins Glen and the mass gathering work, I blame them for wasting two-and-a-half months to sign Superfly and get that work started. It just was insane. The same thing occurred with [talent bookers] Danny Wimmer – those guys were brought on to help with the booking and they weren’t signed until a week before the Christmas holiday. They did a masterful job in the time we had."
"People don’t understand that there is compelling forces at work and you need to be timely and move quickly. Because they aren’t familiar with things, they were very cautious and paranoid on how to move and thought they had ideas about how things should go which made no sense. I take that on myself.
Asked if this will tarnish his legacy and that of Woodstock, Lang said, "It’s not something I consider. What we did in 1969 was in 1969 and that’s what has endured and will continue to endure. We’re not going away. We’re going to continue working toward the social issues we’ve always been supporting.
"[A festival is] no longer on the board, but we’ll see in the future. For now, we’re focused on working and promoting the issues that we feel are critical these days and what the festival was really trying to promote."