Woodstock 50 and its erstwhile backers duke it out in court

Promoter Michael Lang in happier times (photo by Dion Ogust)

Woodstock 50, in court this week fighting for its life, recently changed its website. 

“Thank you Woodstock Nation,” its home greeting now reads. “To the more than 100,000 of you who have responded to our situation with support and solidarity…a heartfelt ‘thank you.’ Our intention holds firm. To deliver a world-class, once-in-a-lifetime festival to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. To honor a cultural icon that changed the way we think about music and togetherness…and will do so again. We’re in this together…”

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Representing the festival and its lead organizer and public face Michael Lang in New York Supreme Court in Manhattan Monday and Tuesday was attorney Marc Kasowitz, who has also served as a personal lawyer for Donald Trump and Bill O’Reilly, and was 17 at the time of the original festival.

Woodstock 50 organizers filed a court order against Dentsu Aegis and its affiliates, who were financing and co-producing the commemoration festival at Watkins Glen race track up until April 29, when they announced cancellation of the August 15-19 festival and withdrawal of their funding. Thursday, May 9, Woodstock 50 asked for a gag order against the Tokyo-based PR company and return of $17.8 million Lang claimed in a public letter was “pillaged” from the festival’s account.

The gag order was temporarily granted, but then lifted by state Supreme Court Justice Barry Ostrager as the court sessions started on Monday, May 13, with a deluge of blistering statements from the massive multinational corporation against Lang and his locally-based outfit.

“Amplifi Live [Dentsu’s investment arm] worked nonstop for the last 10 months and invested millions of dollars to put on the Woodstock 50th anniversary festival in Watkins Glen this August. But Woodstock 50 LLC’s and Michael Lang’s misrepresentations, incompetence, and contractual breaches have made it impossible to produce a high-quality event that is safe and secure for concertgoers, artists, and staff,” they noted in their first statement, publicized widely through both mainstream and music industry trade media. “The production company has quit, no permits have been issued, necessary roadwork has not begun, and there is no prospect for sufficient financing. As much as the parties might wish it otherwise, the festival contemplated by their agreement cannot happen and allowing it to go forward would only put the public at risk. The injunction sought by W50, even if there were a legal basis for it, cannot change that.”

Immediately, Lang and Woodstock 50 shot back on Monday that, “While Dentsu has used its filing to sling mud, nothing in its court papers changes the fact that Dentsu has no right under its agreement with Woodstock 50 to either cancel the Festival or abscond with nearly $18 million of the Festival’s money. We look forward to addressing that in court this afternoon.”

In the ensuing two days of court, the financing company’s attorneys argued over site specifics, crowd estimates, production deadlines and the like, while representatives of Woodstock 50 LLC said that the festival needs its money back, or funds to replace it, within days to stage its anniversary concert, although Kasowitz later declined to name a specific date 

The attorney did make certain to note that Woodstock 50 had received “an enormous amount of interest from other potential financial sources, both domestically and internationally, who are very optimistic about what the prospects for the festival will be.”

About more than crowds and music

Lang, and many publications carrying the litigious new Woodstock story, has long pointed out the many challenges the festival has always had to face, as well as how the iconic event had always meant to be about more than crowds and music.

After the end of the Occupy taking of Zuccotti Park in 2011, Lang met with several organizers of the much-publicized “movement” to suggest that a festival could be arranged faster than expected if set on the sovereign lands of a Native American reservation

A representative of Dentsu admitted under questioning from Kasowitz in court late Tuesday that his corporation did not have the right to unilaterally cancel Woodstock 50.

State Supreme Court Justice Barry Ostrager closed the day by saying he would issue a ruling late Wednesday or early Thursday.

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