Woodstock’s former financial backer accused of draining festival bank account
When we last left the embattled "is it happening or not" Woodstock 50, the ultimate fate of the festival was still very much in question, with financers Dentsu Aegis Network having released a statement saying they'd pulled their support and it was cancelled, while organizer Michael Lang continued to adamantly insist that it was still on. Since then, things haven't gotten any less murky. Lang needs to raise $30 million by Friday in order to hold the festival, sources told Billboard. That's in addition to money from Dentsu already spent booking artists, which are set to include Jay-Z, Chance the Rapper, The Killers, Robert Plant, The Raconteurs, and more.
In a previous interview with Variety, Lang blamed Dentsu for delays in finalizing a permit for the festival, but it turns out he blames them for much more than that. Rolling Stone reports that Lang sent Dentsu a "blunt and lengthy" five-page letter, alleging they "illegally swept approximately $17 million from the festival bank account, leaving [Woodstock] in peril." He also accuses them of blocking ticket sales "for no apparent reason."
"Together, our organizations faced a question of cash flow since Dentsu had not been successful in selling sponsorships for the Woodstock Festival," he writes. "To fill this void, my side had been working to obtain completion financing and based upon the feedback we had been getting were confident we would be successful. We communicated this to your people... By Friday, April 26th, 2019, we presented multiple plans illustrating a slight profit and substantiated these plans with supporting documents. However, for reasons not explained to us, it seemed to fall on deaf ears."
Dentsu released their cancellation statement on Monday, April 29, which Lang denies they had the right to do. "While we were on a call together as a group at 12:00 EDT, the media had already begun reporting that Woodstock was canceled," he writes. "I then learned that Amplifi [Dentsu's investment arm] illegally swept approximately $17 million from the festival bank account, leaving the festival in peril. These actions confirmed my worst concerns about partnering with your company. These actions are neither a legal nor honorable way to do business."
Furthermore, Lang says he has evidence that, following the release of their statement, Dentsu "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." He continues, "we also have evidence that Dentsu representatives have gone so far as to say that should the talent back out of Woodstock, they would be seen favorably by Dentsu and that this could result in their performing the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, where Dentsu is a major organizer. In these actions too, Dentsu has acted not only without honor, but outside of the law."
"We would only 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 concludes. “It is one thing if your company, Dentsu, wanted to back out of its commitment to Woodstock because it would not make as much money as it had hoped, but to try to suffocate and kill Woodstock so that we could not have a festival for our Golden Anniversary without you is puzzling for any company, let alone one that claims reform."
In a statement in response to Rolling Stone, Dentsu said, "after we exercised our contractual right to take over, and subsequently, cancel the festival, we simply recovered the funds in the festival bank account, funds which we originally put in as financial partner. Further, tickets cannot go on sale for an event prior to obtaining a mass gathering permit, which has still not been granted. Beyond that, we stand by original statement made last week."