OK, it’s official: Woodstock 50 at Merriweather isn’t happening

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Image via Woodstock 50

After a last-ditch attempt to bring a three-day, 50th anniversary edition of the iconic Woodstock music festival to Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, the organizers have thrown in the towel.

“We are saddened that a series of unforeseen setbacks has made it impossible to put on the Festival we imagined with the great line-up we had booked and the social engagement we were anticipating,” Woodstock Music and Arts Festival co-founder Michael Lang said in an announcement this afternoon.

Seth Hurwitz, who chairs venue promoter I.M.P. and owns the 9:30 Club and The Anthem in D.C., said in a statement that “it was just too late in the game.”

“Hopefully, with plenty of time to prepare, Merriweather will become the site of a future festival that captures the original vibe. A lot of people clearly wanted it to happen.”

Howard County offered to host last week, with County Executive Calvin Ball even calling an impromptu press conference at The Mall in Columbia to talk up the potential benefits of bringing it to the area.

Still, it seemed highly unlikely it would happen. Organizers had just weeks to assemble a lineup of artists to fill Merriweather for three nights from Aug. 16-18, and, for what it’s worth, there was an immediate scheduling conflict with the Smashing Pumpkins, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds and AFI already set to play there on the the Aug. 17.

“I share in the disappointment of everyone who hoped to celebrate the anniversary of ‘Peace & Music’ with a festival this summer,” Ball said this afternoon. “While Woodstock 50 will not be coming to Howard County, we continue to offer tremendous cultural events at Merriweather Post Pavilion and beyond.”

Woodstock 50’s principal, Greg Peck, thanked I.M.P. and Ball for trying to make it happen.

Merriweather was inheriting an event that had been challenged from its inception. Lang announced the 50th anniversary celebration in January, planning to host it at Watkins Glen International in Upstate New York.

But, as chronicled in timelines by Billboard and others, organizers failed to meet an early deadline for tickets, and after touting an 80-act bill in March—complete with the likes of Dead and Company, Jay-Z, Miley Cyrus, The Black Keys, Santana and dozens of others—reports surfaced in March that some performers hadn’t yet been paid.

Things worsened in the spring. Woodstock 50’s financier, Japanese advertising firm Dentsu Aegis, backed out in late April, and event producer Superfly dropped out the next month after Lang sued Dentsu (unsuccessfully).

In June, Watkins Glen terminated the festival’s license, the state denied a health license for the event and another promoter, CID Entertainment, dropped out. Organizers attempted to relocate the festival to a race track and casino in Vernon, New York, but the town denied them a permit.

Subsequent appeals failed, which led organizers to Columbia, albeit too late for a fighting chance.

In their final push, Lang’s team was working with voter-registration nonprofit HeadCount and environmental nonprofits to distribute free one-day passes and help them raise funds. He said today that all acts had been released from their earlier contracts “so any involvement on their part would be voluntary.”

“Due to conflicting radius issues in the DC area many acts were unable to participate and others passed for their own reasons,” Lang said.

He’s still appealing to artists and agents who have been paid under their original deals to donate 10 percent to HeadCount or a cause of their choice.

“Woodstock remains committed to social change and will continue to be active in support of HeadCount’s critical mission to get out the vote before the next election. We thank the artists, fans and partners who stood by us even in the face of adversity.”

Those who had tickets to the upcoming Smashing Pumpkins show will surely be pleased. And just to be clear, a 50th anniversary celebration is still happening in Bethel, New York, the original site of the mega-concert that became a pivotal point in the hippie movement. Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band, Santana, The Doobie Brothers, and John Fogerty are among the artists there Aug. 16-18.

Baltimore will play a small part in that event, sending off a replica version of local band LIGHT’s psychedelic bus that appeared at the original festival in 1969. The vehicle will make an appearance at the American Visionary Art Museum near the harbor on Aug. 12 before rolling on up to Bethel.

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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in CityLab, Slate, Baltimore City Paper, DCist and elsewhere.
Ethan McLeod
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