Woodstock 50 impresario Michael Lang isn’t happy about what the multinational company he thought was his financial partner tried to do to his commemorative festival last week. He’s made his displeasure known by publicizing a five-page letter he sent to Toshihiro Yamamoto, president & CEO of Dentsu Inc. in Tokyo, on May 6, and charging the multinational of making off with $17 million in the process.
“When I was 24 years old in 1969, my three partners and I brought the Woodstock Music & Arts Festival to life in upstate New York. Over the last 50 years, Woodstock has grown to be called not only a popular cultural icon but an iconic worldwide emblem of Peace and Love,” Lang wrote to Yamamoto, describing the means by which the massive corporation came to become associated with his festival. “Despite interest from several other organizations and even individuals, we agreed to move forward for both sponsorship sales and financing with your groups. Initially, I had some concerns about linking an organization like Dentsu to Woodstock. Corporations are not always the right match for certain creative endeavors, but I learned that Dentsu has pursued various social initiatives after certain tragedies and scandals that Dentsu faced which gave me confidence that your company would be an ethical and honorable firm to partner with.”
In 2016, Dentsu, the world’s fifth largest advertising network, became snared in a series of huge scandals involving its overcharging of key Japanese corporations, and eventually damaging its long-held moniker as a “family friendly” company.
Lang went on in his letter this week to note his trepidation when Dentsu’s chief commercial officer, DJ Martin, started to speak in terms of being a festival co-producer, and his relief when Martin told him it was only “for optics” tied to international investment law. He pointed out how a “first-class lineup” of talent was put together and conditional approval for a New York State mass gathering permit was okayed.
But then trouble hit when, according to Lang, Dentsu’s team blocked ticket sales.
“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 were confident we would be successful,” Lang wrote. “We communicated this to your people. We had also been working on value engineering the site to improve the economics.”
Multiple plans for the festival were presented on Friday, April 26, according to Lang. All involved “a slight profit,” which Lang has long said is par for the course with such festivals. But then, on April 29, Martin’s team said they were taking control of the festival, and then cancelled it…“without any advance notice to me or my team.”
Lang noted to Yamamoto that Dentsu’s team then, “swept approximately $17 million from the festival bank account leaving the festival in peril.”
He wrote, “These actions confirmed my worst concerns about partnering with your company. These actions are neither a legal nor honorable way to do business. Adding insult to injury, since your team announced that the festival was cancelled, I have received multiple reports and evidence that Dentsu has directly contacted all stakeholders, including the venue Watkins Glen International, insurance companies, producers, vendors and performers (some of whom I am lucky to count as personal friends) and suggested they not do business with me, and violate their contracts with my company.”
Lang charged Dentsu with offering the talent lined up for Woodstock 50 possible spots playing at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, and other matters he doesn’t specify except to call “outside the law.” He uses the words “unjustified actions that are far-reaching and mind-bogglingly significant,” and impactful to music fans, local communities, an entire generation.
“Finally, and in many ways most significantly, it would effectively mean that Dentsu would be known as a company that had acted to attempt to destroy an American cultural icon,” he states to Yamamoto, while also noting his progress at resuscitating Woodstock 50. “In 1969, Woodstock was not just a music festival. It was a movement, carried out not by me and my partners, but by the people. It was in many ways a reflection of the times. We faced many obstacles at that time in putting on the event. We successfully overcame those obstacles, through great perseverance, because we believe in the movement. Today, we feel that there are real issues facing our society, which reminds us in many ways of 1969. We feel we need Woodstock now as we did 50 years ago. We fought to overcome those obstacles then and we feel a similar obligation to overcome those obstacles now. We only would ask that you honor the law and your obligations, stop interfering with our efforts to put on this wonderful event and return the $17 million you improperly took.”
Lang reiterated Dentsu’s corporate mission for its president and CEO, and asked that the corporation not block the festival and its ideals moving forward.
“Woodstock seeks to help heal the planet and the people on it,” Lang concluded his May 6 letter to Yamamoto. “I hope to hear from you soon on this matter. Thank you for listening.”
Calls to Lang this week went unanswered as of press time. Similarly, there was no word from Dentsu.