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‘ONE PROBLEM AFTER ANOTHER’: How Woodstock 50 in Watkins Glen turned into a disaster

A month before Woodstock 50 was announced, the festival was already in deep trouble. Last December, Michael Lang, the co-founder of the original 1969 event who had become its bemused-hippie symbol in subsequent decades, was in talks with an upstate New York racetrack for a fest that would mark the anniversary of the historic, if chaotic, cultural milestone he had overseen. The new festival would take place August 16th – 18th, 2019, almost exactly 50 years after the original Woodstock.

Lang had begun negotiations with the international media company Dentsu Aegis to finance the event, writing in a December 4th email to the company’s chief commercial officer, D.J. Martin, that he was imagining a crowd of 150,000. Dentsu thought government permits would cap attendance at 60,000. Lang, whose email signature includes a quote from counterculture author Ken Kesey (“Put your good where it counts the most”), contested that number: “Where did you get that?” he emailed back. Martin replied, “From you.”

Woodstock 50 had nearly every resource a festival could ask for: a storied brand name, financial backing from a multinational communications company, and agents eager to sign up their artists for sizable paychecks. The three-day show would not only celebrate rock’s most iconic festival; it would connect the original’s heritage to the Coachella generation via hip-hop artists and pop chart-toppers.

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