Woodstock 50 Festival Is Saved, With Just Weeks to Spare

The event, originally planned for upstate New York, was all but dead after the last permit denial. It will be held Aug. 16-18 in Columbia, Md.

ImageMichael Lang, an original partner in Woodstock in 1969, has faced many obstacles, but the show will go on — at Merriweather Post Pavilion. 
Michael Lang, an original partner in Woodstock in 1969, has faced many obstacles, but the show will go on — at Merriweather Post Pavilion. CreditCreditEvan Agostini/Invision, via Associated Press
Ben Sisario

The producers of Woodstock 50, the troubled anniversary festival, have secured a last-minute deal to put on their show — or at least a version of it — in Maryland, after months of legal and permit battles in upstate New York that had left the event in grave doubt.

Woodstock 50 will now be at the Merriweather Post Pavilion, an outdoor amphitheater in Columbia, Md., the producers confirmed on Thursday. It will be held from Aug. 16 to 18, almost exactly 50 years after the first Woodstock. But it was unclear what artists would be performing; when the lineup was announced early this year, it was to include Jay-Z, Miley Cyrus, Dead and Company, John Fogerty, Santana and dozens of others, although none of them have been confirmed for the latest iteration of the event.

For much of the year, Woodstock 50 has been the talk of the concert business, mostly for the wrong reasons, as its producers have faced obstacle after obstacle, some seemingly self-imposed.

The festival’s producers —  including Michael Lang, one of the original partners behind the festival in 1969 — have battled with their partners and former investor, the Japanese advertising conglomerate Dentsu, which withdrew its support in April and has called them incompetent. Producers lost two venues in upstate New York after failing to obtain permits; they suffered their latest setback just three days ago when the event was rejected — for a fourth time — by the town of Vernon, N.Y.

With just three weeks before the show was to start, much of the music industry had given up on Woodstock 50.

But on Thursday it emerged that the festival’s producers had made a deal to save it.

“Woodstock 50 approached Merriweather about hosting their event here in Columbia, Md.,” Seth Hurwitz, chairman of the music promoter I.M.P. and operator of Merriweather Post Pavilion, said in a statement. “The Woodstock folks are working on securing the artists now. If the bands come, we’ll produce the show. We’re looking forward to getting an update as soon as Woodstock 50 has one.”

Another concert, by the Smashing Pumpkins and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, has already been advertised there on Aug. 17. Festival organizers had no immediate comment.

The news of Woodstock 50’s move to Maryland was first reported by Bloomberg.

Still, it is not clear who will play. Artists’ contracts with Woodstock 50 were tied to its originally planned venue, in Watkins Glen, N.Y., and they may have a right to refuse to play if the show is moved. Merriweather Post Pavilion’s location, close to Baltimore and Washington, may also conflict with artists’ touring schedules. The artists have already been paid, and would likely be able to keep those fees even if they do not perform; according to court filings, the festival paid $32 million to secure its first lineup.

On Thursday, producers were still negotiating with artists’ agents. Several of those agents either declined to comment or did not immediately respond to requests seeking comment.

Merriweather Post Pavilion is owned by the Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission, a nonprofit organization, and is one of the few independently run amphitheaters in the country. Mr. Hurwitz also runs the 9:30 club and the Anthem concert hall in Washington.

The original Woodstock festival, in 1969, was ejected from its planned location just a few weeks before it was to take place, but Lang made another last-minute deal — to hold it on farmland in Bethel, N.Y.

Ben Sisario covers the music industry. He joined The Times in 1998, and has contributed to Rolling Stone, Spin, New York Press and WFUV. He also wrote “Doolittle,” a book about the Pixies. @sisario