In the unlikeliest of twists, Howard County is offering to bring the 50th-anniversary celebration of the legendary Woodstock music festival to Columbia in just three weeks, after the event’s organizers lost financial backing and failed to get a permit to do it in New York.
A spokesperson at Howard County Executive Calvin Ball’s office confirmed to Baltimore Fishbowl the county is working with Merriweather Post Pavilion management and Woodstock 50’s promoters to make it happen–but the organizers, not Merriweather or its managing firm, IMP, will be responsible for locking in the artists to perform.
IMP chairman Seth Hurwitz said in a statement that it was Woodstock 50’s organizers who approached Merriweather about hosting the event.
“The Woodstock folks are working on securing the artists now,” he said. “If the bands come, we’ll produce the show. We’re looking forward to getting an update as soon as Woodstock 50 has one.”
If it’s any sign that plans are in the nascent stages, Merriweather’s website still lists the Smashing Pumpkins, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds and AFI playing smack dab in the middle of that weekend on Aug. 17.
Bloomberg cited a note from Howard County Executive Calvin Ball to organizer Greg Peck, in which Ball wrote, “When we heard that there was an opportunity to save this festival and bring a piece of American history to our community this summer, we jumped at the chance. Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia is a jewel of Howard County and one of the top music venues in the nation. It felt like such a natural fit to host a historic festival on our storied stage.”
The lineup that was planned for the since-nixed weekend in Watkins Glen, New York, included original Woodstock participants like Santana, Dead & Co., David Crosby and Canned Heat, plus more current stars like Jay-Z, Chance the Rapper and Miley Cyrus, among others. None of them are signed up to play in Maryland, however.
At a press conference outside The Mall in Columbia Thursday evening, Ball noted the organizers of the original Woodstock festival in 1969 pulled off the historic (albeit poorly planned, logistically speaking) event despite having to change the venue just weeks before. He was optimistic that Howard County can do the same, and do it successfully.
“We’re still in talks and working out the details, but I can tell you we’re gonna go through the process, we’re gonna make sure that it is a benefit to Howard County on the cultural end, and it’s gonna be a benefit to the region and the world.”
The golden anniversary of the iconic 1960s rock concert was officially announced in January by original Woodstock co-founder Michael Lang. But it’s been beset by problems almost from the start, as detailed in this blow-by-blow account from Vice.
Organizers failed to meet an early deadline for tickets, and rumors of financial trouble soon swirled. An 80-act lineup was announced, but reports revealed some the performers on the bill hadn’t yet been paid.
In April, the Black Keys pulled out due to a supposed “scheduling conflict,” and a report from the Poughkeepsie Journal indicated ticket sales were delayed because permits from the state and Schuyler County were still pending.
On April 29, the Japanese advertising firm Dentsu pulled its investment from the festival. As Lang moved to sue Dentsu in May, Woodstock 50’s production partner, Superfly, dropped out.
It only got worse in June, with Watkins Glen terminating the festival’s license, state officials denying a health license and another promoter dropping out. Organizers tried relocating to Vernon Downs, a track and casino in Vernon, New York, but that also proved unsuccessful.
This story has been updated.