There’s no band lists yet, but Woodstock 50 — original festival promoter Michael Lang’s anniversary event of the original Aquarian Festival from 1969 — was formally announced this week on January 9. With the proper name and Lang’s enduring social and political activism as shaped a half century ago, Woodstock 50 jumps into the forefront of consciousness as the Golden Anniversary approaches.
“It’s bizarre how similar things are,” Lang said, speaking from his festival offices at the former Hawthorne Gallery on Elwyn Lane, addressing all involved in organizing counter-cultural events several generations apart. “The dynamics of government and social issues mirror each other. The timing is right.”
Lang’s new Woodstock Music and Arts Fair 2019 will be taking place in Watkins Glen on August 16-18 with over 40 performers yet-to-be-named, acts already booked for the event’s three stages and three smaller “neighborhoods,” each with their own food and programming and “glamping” opportunities. Lang said he won’t be announcing specifics of his line-up until next month, except to tell Rolling Stone magazine this week that, “it’ll be an eclectic bill…hip-hop and rock and some pop and some of the legacy bands from the original festival.” Headline acts will be on hand, as well as newer bands celebrating some of the legends of the original festival.
In a January 9 interview with The New York Times, Lang noted, “We want this to be more than just coming to a concert and hopefully a lot of the bands will become part of this effort to get people to stand up and make themselves heard, to get and out vote. And if they don’t have a candidate that represents their feelings, to find one — or to run themselves.”
The anniversary festival will take place in and around the Watkins Glen International racetrack, which gained fame for breaking Woodstock ’69’s attendance record when an estimated 600,000 showed up for a single day concert featuring the Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers, and The Band, which was still largely based in Woodstock at the time.
Lang said that he settled on the site after deciding he wanted the anniversary held in New York State, looking over possibilities, and then revisiting Watkins Glen and realizing it wasn’t as racetrack-dominated as he’d remembered. He noted that the original Max Yasgur farm in the Sullivan County Town of Bethel was no longer viable because of its subsequent build-up as a formal summer music site, complete with museum and shed. He added that he’s aiming for a crowd of approximately 100,000 this time around, what with the competition of other annual festivals around the country, along with a Bethel anniversary festival on the same date as his being co-produced by national booking giants LiveNation. He’s aiming to offer “heavily discounted tickets for college kids” sometime in the coming weeks.
The organization behind Woodstock 50, whose new website design declares “The Bird of Peace is Back,” moved into the old renovated barn space on Elwyn Lane “about a month ago,” according to Lang, who remembered a legendary rock memorabilia auction put on by gallerist James Cox in the space just before the Woodstock ’94 25th anniversary festival in nearby Saugerties.
“We’ll probably stay working out of the Hawthorne Gallery up until we move to the festival site for the month of August,” Lang said. He said that right now, everything is “kind of a work in progress” as permits and programming gets tied down before the site preparation work involving reservoirs, wiring, plumbing and other infrastructure needs gets started.
The various stories that ran this week about the new Woodstock 50 plans all mentioned difficulties that arose during a 30th anniversary concert held at a closed air force base outside of Rome, NY in 1999, which Lang has distanced his festivals from.
Asked to look back over 50 years of not only rock promotion, but the creation of cultural landmarks, the Wittenberg Road resident stressed major changes “in terms of the business,” pointing out how his original costs for music acts added up to $135,000. This time around the entire festival is being financed by the Dentsu Aegis Network, a unit of the Japanese advertising giant Dentsu, who is involved in marketing and selling sponsorships for Woodstock 50.
Lang told us he found himself poised between nostalgia and the details of his work this time around, and laughed when we asked if he had any plans for a 60th or 75th Woodstock anniversary.
“The idea is not to repeat this in the States, but to move it to different countries,” he replied, returning to the global idealism, and focus on Climate Change awareness and social issue politics he’s focusing on as we all rev up for the 2020 elections.