Woodstock 50 may get $18 million back from former partner; scores new financial backing

The Woodstock 50 Festival is a step closer to getting back millions of dollars that were swept from its bank account by the festival’s original financiers, Dentsu Aegis Network’s Amplifi Live. On Wednesday, May 22, a New York State Supreme Court justice ordered Dentsu to put the money in escrow by 5 p.m. Friday pending a decision of a five-judge panel on Woodstock 50’s motion to return the funds to the Woodstock 50 Festival account.

The commemoration of the event that defined a generation of young people spent the last two weeks hearing mixed court rulings and making appeals.

A week ago Dentsu had been told they had no right to cancel the festival they’d paid millions to line up entertainers for, but that they would not be forced to repay over $18 million in “festival funds” that Michael Lang and his cohorts at Woodstock 50 were saying was theirs.

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But on Wednesday, May 22 it was reported that Woodstock 50 attorney, Marc Kasowitz, had appealed to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York on Tuesday alleging that Justice Barry Ostrager had “erred in denying” Woodstock’s request to compel Dentsu “to restore the $18 million to the Festival’s dedicated account, and to permit the use of those funds to produce the Festival.

“Today, in an important step, Justice David Friedman of the Appellate Division, First Department, issued an order requiring that Dentsu and Dentsu Aegis deposit into escrow by Friday at 5p.m. the $18.5 million that Dentsu swept from a Woodstock 50 Festival account,” Kasowitz announced. “Justice Friedman issued this order pending the decision of a five-judge panel on Woodstock 50’s motion to return the funds to the Woodstock 50 Festival account.”

“We have always relied on the truth and have never lost faith that the Festival would take place,” Lang said on hearing of last week’s court’s decision that Dentsu could not cancel the Festival. “I would like to thank all of the talent and their representatives for their patience and support. Woodstock 50 will be an amazing and inspiring festival experience.”

The judge’s decision comes on the heels of this past weekend’s announcement that Lang and his most public partner in organizing Woodstock 50, Gregory Peck, had signed on a new “financial advisor” to ensure the big bash would go on August 16-18, hopefully at its scheduled site in Watkins Glen, where a 1973 rock show featuring the Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers, and The Band beat out the original Woodstock’s half a million crowd record.

“The Woodstock 50 team is pleased to announce that Oppenheimer & Co. has signed on as a financial advisor to complete the financing for the festival following a legal victory earlier this week,” came a weekend press release, immediately trumpeted in the mainstream and entertainment industry trade press. “Event preparations will continue as planned as Oppenheimer joins the list of strong institutions producing the festival.”

Oppenheimer is what many would call “old Wall Street;” although it has strong ties into the Hudson Valley via one of its founders and major movers, the late Leon Levy, who founded an institute on economic matters at Bard College in the 1990s. The massive company made its name working with mutual funds and institutions, moved into all the newer money-making trends of the last half century, and eventually helped secure the rise in hedge funds. Its reach is gargantuan.

“We are thrilled to be onboard for this incredible weekend of music and social engagement,” said John Tonelli, head of Debt Capital Markets & Syndication at Oppenheimer & Co. Inc. in the recent press release. “We believe in Woodstock as an important American cultural icon and look forward to its regeneration in the green fields of Watkins Glen this August with all of the artists on the remarkable lineup.”

And Lang added in that most recent release, “We’ve lined up artists who won’t just entertain, but will remind the world that music has the power to bring people together, to heal, to move us to action and to tell the stories of a generation…Words cannot express how appreciative Woodstock 50, the artists, the fans and the community are to Oppenheimer for joining with us to make W50 a reality.”

When it comes to pot…

Enterprising news stories over the past week, meanwhile, focused on Kasowitz’s bulldog attacks on Dentsu for continuing to show “utter contempt for the Woodstock 50 Festival” and the court’s decision, at least in terms of its ruling regarding the festival’s continuation. Plus, Billboard said, the underlying payback scheme the festival organizers may be seeing as their long-term earner from the expansion of their eternally hip brand: the launch of “a legal cannabis Woodstock brand with high-end dispensary operators Med Men.” Many in the town of Woodstock seemed to have already known.

Lang and his other company, Woodstock Ventures “are deeply within the marketing window for their upcoming 50th Anniversary Music Festival this summer, a once in-a-lifetime event providing irreplaceable event-driven benefits to Plaintiffs’ Woodstock branded-products, including cannabis, through ‘tens of millions of dollars of free publicity’ and massive media coverage generating billions of social media impressions,” Woodstock Ventures’ attorney Shawn Regan wrote in a March letter that Billboard referenced heavily this week. “Moreover, these events are occurring within a window of burgeoning commercial opportunity in the legal cannabis industry, already a $10 billion market and expected to triple in short order.”

Regan’s letter came in the midst of a separate court action involving the overall Woodstock brand as it pertains to pot…in which a judge temporarily blocked Woodstock Ventures, owner of the Woodstock trademark, from completing its licensing agreement for a cannabis line because of an ongoing trademark dispute with a company called Woodstock Roots that also planned to launch its own cannabis brand until Lang sued for copyright infringement in February, 2018. The ongoing problem? The federal judge who heard Woodstock Roots’ countersuit and issued a temporary restraining order so that neither company could move forward with their cannabis strains is trying to figure out whether cannabis, still illegal at the federal level, can even be trademarked.

Exhibits opening

Meanwhile, until any of this gets settled, one can always get a Woodstock Festival fix at the museum built on the site of the original festival in Sullivan County, or head out to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, where a big new exhibit on the 50th anniversary of Lang’s invention opened earlier this month.

“It’s been nearly 50 years since Woodstock generated legendary musical moments and catapulted an entire festival culture,” reads the intro to that latter big branding exercise and exhibit, coincidentally named for this summer’s troubled anniversary festival. “Woodstock 50 celebrates the ambition and ingenuity of those who mounted the festival to the performers who played it gaining a deeper understanding of the various faces of Woodstock and how it changed the music industry forever.”

Meanwhile, once again, various permits for the Watkins Glen gathering August 16-18 have yet to be secured, and tickets put on sale.

As they say…stay tuned.

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