Woodstock 50 Founder Claims Investment Firm Stole $17 Million From the Festival
Will anyone who still believes Woodstock 50 is going to take place please stand up?
Anyone else here as highly invested as I am in this developing story solely to watch the train crash and burn?
Alright then, buckle yourselves in for the latest!
First, a quick recap: trouble began brewing for Woodstock’s 50th anniversary celebration when headliners The Black Keys pulled out, followed by a botched ticket on-sale date that was pushed back indefinitely. Shortly thereafter, Dentsu Aegis, the festival’s financial backers, withdrew their support and announced the festival was canceled. “Not so fast!” said Michael Lang, Woodstock’s creator, vowing the festival would continue and later doubling down on that statement by reminding music fans a similar thing happened with the festival’s original 1969 incarnation while pledging to find a way to make it work. TMZ reported a rumor that Amplifi Live — the investment arm of Dentsu Aegis Network — needed a minimum of 100,000 attendees to make a profit, but “capacity for the concert venue shrunk by 50% — from 150,000 to 75,000… [after] Watkins Glen city officials said a big chunk of the land needed to be used as campgrounds to accommodate concertgoers.” They also claimed that the fest’s production company, Superfly, would no longer be involved. Finally, Lang hired Donald Trump’s former lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, to advise him.
And that brings us up to the present, where Rolling Stone is reporting that Lang claims Amplifi Live, the investment arm of Dentsu Aegis, “illegally swept approximately $17 million from the festival bank account, leaving [Woodstock] in peril.” Such a conspiratorial claim doesn’t reek of Trumpism at all, does it? Nope, certainly not, not at all! Because international investment companies just “sweep” money out of bank accounts without reason all the time, sure!
Lang made the allegation in a five-page letter to Dentsu which also accused the Japanese investment firm of not being able to sell enough sponsorships to make the finances of the festival work:
“Together, our organizations faced a question of cash flow since Dentsu had not been successful in selling sponsorships for the Woodstock Festival. To fill this void, my side had been working to obtain completion financing and based upon the feedback we had been getting were confident we would be successful. We communicated this to your people. We had also been working on value engineering the site to improve the economics. By Friday, April 26th, 2019, we presented multiple plans illustrating a slight profit and substantiated these plans with supporting documents. However, for reasons not explained to us, it seemed to fall on deaf ears.”
It’s the “value engineering” line above that sticks out to me the most. Together with the earlier revelation that the concert’s capacity had to be reduced by 50% to accommodate campgrounds, a picture emerges wherein the economics of the entire thing suddenly no longer fit together. It’s hard to know which party is to blame for not having the foresight to predict that issue — Lang? Dentsu/Amplifi? the city of Watkins Glen? all of the above? — but at this juncture in the game Lang’s letter reads a whole lot like, “Guys, we figured out how to make a slight profit here, really, we did it, it works, I swear!” as he pushed a napkin filled with chicken scratch across the diner booth, after which the investors took one look, laughed, and decided the conversation wasn’t even worth having.
Dentsu responded to Lang’s accusation by saying the money they recovered from the bank account was done so under the terms of a previously agreed upon deal:
“As financial partner, we had the customary rights one would expect to protect a large investment. After we exercised our contractual right to take over, and subsequently, cancel the festival, we simply recovered the funds in the festival bank account, funds which we originally put in as financial partner. Further, tickets cannot go on sale for an event prior to obtaining a mass gathering permit, which has still not been granted. Beyond that, we stand by original statement made last week.”
In his letter to Dentsu, Lang also accuses the company of contacting local vendors and performers and instructing them to back out.
I suspect this isn’t the last we’ll hear of this tale; Lang still hasn’t accepted or admitted defeat! But at this stage it’s hard to imagine any universe in which Woodstock 50 happens at all. You can read the entire report at Rolling Stone.