Not a done deal: Hurdles remain for Woodstock 50 at Merriweather Post

Music fans walk around during the Virgin Mobile Freefest concert Sunday, Aug. 30, 2009 at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Md. (AP Photo/ Steve Ruark)

In theory, a last-minute deal to hold Woodstock 50 at Merriweather Post Pavilion, in Columbia, Maryland, could revive the planned celebration of the 1969 “3 days of peace and music” — but music festivals aren’t booked based on theory alone.

Despite hopeful (but erroneous) reports Thursday that the three-day festival was definitely relocating to Merriweather Post, several logistical challenges remain, including whether any of the originally-signed bands are interested in playing.

On the Woodstock 50 website, organizers still list the dates of the festival as Aug. 16 through Aug. 18, in Watkins Glen, New York. However, after being denied permits in two locations, organizers have been searching for a place to hold the show.

And, with three weeks to go, ticket sales have not begun.

After reports surfaced of the festival’s last-minute resurrection, Seth Hurwitz, the chairman and co-founder of I.M.P., which operates the amphitheater for the Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission, tamped down expectations.

“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,” Hurwitz said in a Thursday statement.

The “if” rather than “when” tone of Hurwitz’s statement reflects the uncertainty of planning (and eventually selling tickets to) a festival without knowing which bands will perform.

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A person familiar with the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the person was not allowed to discuss the plans publicly, told The Associated Press on Friday that Jay-Z will no longer close the planned August festival.

The news comes on the same day that John Fogerty, who performed at the original 1969 festival with Creedence Clearwater Revival, pulled out of the anniversary event.

Most of the originally signed bands have been paid, but their contracts were tied to Woodstock being held in upstate New York, Billboard reported in May. Woodstock founder Michael Lang vowed the show would go on.

On Friday, Billboard reported organizers had released all of the bands originally signed for the show from their contracts. The email to the artists’ agents invited them to perform at Merriweather Post, but informed them they weren’t obligated.

WTOP reached out to Woodstock 50 organizers, seeking confirmation that original artists had been released from their contracts, whether any of them had agreed to perform in Maryland, and which other artists are being approached to supplement the dwindling lineup. A spokesperson said, “We are not confirming or commenting on that,” and Hurwitz declined to discuss ongoing negotiations.

Though Hurwitz and I.M.P. are in close contact with Woodstock organizers, the owner of D.C.’s 9:30 Club and Anthem said he is not involved in compiling the festival lineup.

“That’s none of my business — I have no opinion. It’s just not anything I’m going to get involved in. Like I said, I’m really just the venue here,” Hurwitz told Pollstar.

Hurwitz said he is not sure whether Woodstock 50 would run three days, as originally planned.

“How many bands they have, maybe it will end up one day or maybe it will end up being three days, who knows? Let’s see who they tell me is playing. That’s what I’m waiting for at this point.”

Sources close to the situation told WTOP that I.M.P., as well as the Howard County government, are in close contact with Woodstock 50 organizers, as all sides work toward completing the deal as the clock ticks.

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball said Thursday that the concert would be a good fit for Merriweather Post, which was built two years before the original Woodstock.

“We’re just supporting them. We want to make sure that we are strong partners, and when the Woodstock promoter signs the ‘X’ and they work things out with Merriweather, we will be the venue to help ensure that things are successful,” Ball said.

WTOP’s Mike Murillo and The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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