After a few delays and plenty of leaks, the lineup for Michael Lang’s Woodstock 50 is finally here, capping off months of questions about who would play the anniversary event in upstate New York.
How you feel about the lineup says a lot about how you feel about the current state of music, and your nostalgia for late 1960s and early 70s. Overall, the programming is strong. Not only does the lineup have a cohesiveness that tells a story, but it feels compelling and relevant with artists that fit with the sound and societal importance of the Woodstock ethos.
It’s a lineup that cost Lang and his financial backers at Japanese conglomerate Dentsu millions of dollars to put together. That’s why it’s strange that Lang would wait more than a month until Earth Day (April 22) to start selling tickets.
“Woodstock was created to celebrate all arts and social change. One of the things that separates us from other festivals is our focus on social issues,” Lang told Billboard and Amplify in an email. “Earth Day felt like an important moment to celebrate, so we’ve decided tickets will go on sale on Earth Day and held the lineup to put us closer to that time.”
Ok, that’s great and Earth Day is of course very important, although I’m not sure its a particularly relevant date for millennials, who view climate change as a serious crisis for the planet that needs to be addressed immediately (as in today). It also seems like a bit of a cover for some of the delays the fest is experiencing. Sources tell us Woodstock 50 just isn’t where it needs to be to start selling tickets yet and decisions on pricing for tickets, camping and higher-end accommodations are taking a little longer than expected.
Keep in mind, the lineup was supposed to be announced a month ago. And then when February wrapped with no lineup, the headliners starting leaking to the media, which tends to kill some of the momentum and excitement. By waiting an additional month, Woodstock 50 is letting more air out of the buzz balloon, and more importantly, missing out on the extra month it probably needs to help it reach its goal of selling 100,000 tickets.
After all, Woodstock has some legends like Dead and Company, John Fogerty, Santana and Robert Plant and his new band the Sensational Shape Shifters — all bucket list bands, although each has toured extensively the last five or six years and many die hards have already caught one of their shows.
That’s followed by more contemporary headliners like The Killers, The Lumineers, Chance the Rapper, Imagine Dragons, Halsey and Cage the Elephant. Again, a pretty impressive group, although anyone who has been to a festival in the last year or two has seen a few (or all) of these acts on the main stage.
Next, we have bands that haven’t toured much in the last year or two — Black Keys, Run The Jewels, Sturgill Simpson — as well as acts like Jay-Z and Miley Cyrus who don’t do a lot of festivals, and then of course the Jack White-led Raconteurs who haven’t played a show in eight years. Those artists represent the most opportunity for Woodstock, as well as its class of strong female performers like Maggie Rogers, Margo Price, Brandi Carlile and Janelle Monae as well as some Woodstock era icons like David Crosby and Friends, Canned Heat and Hot Tuna and of course Country Joe McDonald, who’s “Vietnam” song during the 1969 festival crystalized the anti-war movement.
Added all together, does that constitute a festival that music fans want to see? Mostly yes. Does the fact that it’s a Woodstock event on the 50th anniversary of the legendary festival boost Woodstock 50 enough to push it over the top and help it hit its 100,000 ticket target?
That’s the big question. By all measures, Woodstock 50 is still a long shot. It’s very difficult to make money on a one-year festival, and the location in upstate New York, five hours from the city, might not be the greatest selling point. Lang told me the site in Watkins Glen is beautiful, but acknowledges there aren’t many nearby hotels or much of a town. Everything will have to be built from scratch, with the vast majority of fans expected to camp on the site — that means building the infrastructure to support a 100,000-person city where people will be living for three days.
Not easy, and because Lang is hoping a large contingency of ticket buyers will be Baby Boomers and former hippies who miss the 60s, the site will need to be fully accessible and ADA compliant. Then there’s traffic issues and parking (not a lot of Uber drivers currently in Watkins Glen) and of course, the weather. It’s August in upstate New York which means powerful rain storms, humidity and lots and lots of that famous mud. And let’s not forget that Live Nation is actually putting on its own competing Woodstock event at Bethel Woods (also featuring Santana) while AEG is sitting it out.
When you put it all on paper, Woodstock isn’t just a long shot, it’s a galaxy shot. I’ve spoken with several agents who have artists playing the festival, and while most think the lineup is strong and the brand is something cool to get behind, they can’t seem to work out the math that has Woodstock 50 selling 100,000 tickets.
“Nothing can sell that many tickets these days,” one agent told me, saying festivals with “a little bit of everything lineups” are a difficult sell in 2019 when fans have infinite options for live entertainment.
Of course this discussion is still premature since Lang has not put the show on sale, missing a window that most think he could definitely use. But hey, it’s Woodstock and if everything went according to plan, then it might feel “off brand” with the original 1969 event. Maybe it needs a little chaos and suspense to live up to the expectations. It wouldn’t be peace, love and music without a little danger, right?
Besides what’s the worst that can happen (besides people dying) — it loses millions of dollars for the multinational corporation that’s bankrolling Woodstock 50? So what? That’s rock and roll — we’ll rock and sway in the summer night with the Dead, Jay-Z, Miley and Fogerty and let the billionaires pick up the tab.
It’s the least they can do. Thanks for party guys, smell ya later!