Woodstock 50 Applies for New Site, With Smaller Capacity

Jem Aswad

UPDATED: Woodstock 50 has applied for a new site for its troubled anniversary music festival, which is scheduled to take place the weekend of Aug. 16-18 — although it will be much smaller than originally planned. The news was first confirmed by the Poughkeepsie Journal.

Town of Vernon Supervisor Randy Watson told Variety that festival organizers have applied for a permit to hold the at Vernon Downs, which operates a “racino,” hotel and harness horse racing track in Oneida County, near Utica, New York. Watson said the proposed capacity of the event is now 45,000-50,000 people, which is significantly smaller than the 150,000 originally planned, and smaller than the approximately 70,000 people planned for the previous site, Watkins Glen International raceway; that site, along with producer CID Entertainment, pulled out of the festival earlier this month. Billboard reported earlier Monday that Virgin Produced executive Jason Felts is in talks with the festival about coming on board as producer.

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Some four hours’ drive from New York City, the site has hosted music festivals before, including a Phish show in 1998. However, there are no onsite camping options, and attendees would have to be bussed in from nearby camping areas.

Watson told Variety that he met with county officials and Woodstock 50 reps on Saturday morning to discuss the potential staging, along with “what went wrong” at the 1999 Woodstock anniversary festival — which ended with crowd violence and fires — and said the festival has approached local farmers and other property owners about camping options. He said ordinarily permit approval takes about four weeks, but all parties are striving to move more quickly in this case.

The weekend before the planned Woodstock 50 dates, the venue is hosting a “trackside” concert by heritage country singers Crystal Gayle and Lee Greenwood.

The festival has been marred by reports of financial and management problems since it was announced back in January. While those reports were initially quashed when the festival held a splashy press conference in March announcing a blockbuster lineup including Jay-Z, the Dead & Co., Miley Cyrus and many others, but then the ticket on-sale date was abruptly postponed as the necessary mass-gathering permit had not been obtained, and has not been rescheduled.

Despite the crushing blows the festival has undergone — less than two months away, the festival has no confirmed venue and tickets, which for most festivals would have been available months ago, have not gone on sale — its producers insist it will go on, stating that the performers, which include Jay-Z, Miley Cyrus, Dead & Company and many others, have been paid and confirmed. However, it is unclear whether those performers would be contractually bound to perform at a festival with such a dramatically reduced attendance.

In another setback for the festival, it lost a court appeal in which it sought $18.5 million from its former financial partner, Dentsu Aegis, which pulled out of the festival in May. Last month, organizers announced that they had secured financing through a new financial partner, Oppenheimer & Co. investment bank.

Insiders say Woodstock co-founder Michael Lang “just won’t give up” and has considered several alternative options. One such proposal, to move the festival to the parking lot outside of Citi Field in Queens, was shot down by band reps who would not consider a New York City area show in place of what was contractually set in upstate. “The geographic vicinity of the offer would not allow it,” says a source.

Should the Virgin Produced team come in, namesake Richard Branson “would look like a hero” for saving the festival, adds the insider. But most in the live music industry don’t believe Woodstock 50 can — or should — happen at this point in time, pointing to the Fyre Festival disaster in 2017 as a cautionary tale. “People want to tear it down,” says one concert veteran who suggest that, branding-wide, “it needs a complete reset.”

Reached by Variety for comment, a rep for Woodstock 50 responded, “We have nothing for you at this time.” Watson and Vernon Downs did not immediately respond to Variety’s requests for comment.

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