Woodstock, the legendary festival that drew nearly 500,000 young rock-music fans to upstate New York in 1969 to hear such greats as Jimi Hendrix, The Who and Joan Baez, could celebrate its 50th anniversary next summer with two rival events. Former Tijuana guitarist Carlos Santana, who played with his band at the original Woodstock festival and its 1994 sequel, has expressed his desire to do so again for the 50th anniversary. It is unclear, however, in which of the two anniversary festivals he might participate.
On Thursday, Live Nation announced and the global live brand storytelling agency INVNT announced they will co-produce the Bethel Woods Music and Culture Festival, Aug. 16-18. They are billing it as “A new three-day festival of music, culture and community.”
It will be held at the 15,000-capacity amphitheater at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, a non-profit cultural center located at the site of the original Woodstock festival in Bethel, N.Y. The first Woodstock — there were sequels in 1994 and 1999, at different locations in upstate New York — was held in Bethel Aug. 15-18, 1969, and is regarded as crowning moment for the counterculture movement that both blossomed and withered in the second half of the 1960s.
Meanwhile, Michael Lang — one of the producers of the original Woodstock Music & Art Fair and both its sequels — has been planning to stage his own 50th anniversary edition.
“While the original site in Bethel remains close to our hearts, it no longer has the capacity to hold a real Woodstock Festival,” Lang told the Union-Tribune via email.
“I'm delighted that Bethel Woods is doing events in the coming year to celebrate what we brought to life in 1969 and I encourage people to visit the museum and concert venue."
Lang plans an announcement “in the next few weeks” about his plans for the “real” Woodstock 50th anniversary, which will strive “to bring back the much needed spirit and energy of the 1969 original.”
The fact that the Bethel Woods Music and Culture Festival does not include the name Woodstock suggests Lang’s event would go head-to-head with the Bethel Woods festival. Lang and fellow 1969 Woodstock co-promoter Joel Rosenman own the intellectual property rights to the Woodstock festival and its name and logo. (John P. Roberts, the original Woodstock’s third co-producer, died in 2001. He, Lang and Rosenman also co-produced the festival’s 1994 and 1999 editions)
In a Dec. 19 interview with The Poughkeepsie Journal, Lang said the 50th anniversary Woodstock festival he is working on will not be held at Bethel Woods. (The original Woodstock festival was set to be held in Woodstock, but was moved to nearby Bethel at the last minute — one of several reasons the event was so dramatically lacking in infrastructure of almost any kind).
Lang told The Journal that he did not yet have any specific date, location or performers he could disclose. In a mid-November interview, Lang told The Journal: “We have definite plans. I’m excited. I am indeed. These are plans. This is not a done deal yet. But it’s very close.”
The announcement of the Bethel Woods Music and Culture Festival does not include any artists, although a lineup and ticket information are both pending, according to the Bethel Woods Center’s website.
A press release issued Thursday by the center states that the 2019 festival will offer “three days of memorable experiences,” including “live performances from prominent and emerging artists spanning multiple genres and decades, and TED-style talks from leading futurists and retro-tech experts.”
The state of New York has allotted nearly $700,000 to Bethel Woods to help commemorate the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, with an eye toward fueling tourism. The Museum at Bethel Woods will host an exhibition, “We Are Golden: Reflections on the 50th Anniversary of the Woodstock Festival and Aspirations for an Aquarian Future” (or WAGROTFAOTWFAAFAAF for short).
“We are thrilled to partner with Live Nation and INVNT to produce Bethel Woods Music and Culture Festival,” Darlene Fedun, CEO of Bethel Woods said in Thursday’s release.
“Fifty years ago, people gathered peacefully on our site inspired to change the world through music. As the stewards of this historic site, we remain committed to preserving this rich history and spirit, and to educating and inspiring new generations to contribute positively to the world through music, culture, and community.”
Original Woodstock co-producer Lang, meanwhile, expressed his own Aquarian hopes for his 50th anniversary Woodstock festival, should it take place.
His goal, he told the Journal, is to build on the “history and essence of what Woodstock was… We’re hoping to inspire people to speak up and get involved and get out and vote and help us save the planet. We are in trouble and it seems like we’ve been brought back in time in a lot of ways.
“It’s eerie how similar a lot of things are to the way it was in the late ‘60s,” Lang continued. “Lessons we thought we learned seem to be coming back, unlearned. The progress we learned in social justice seems to be going backwards.”
It remains to be seen with whom Lang might be partnering to present his proposed Woodstock 50th anniversary festival.
Live Nation, which is co-producing next summer’s Bethel Woods festival, is the world’s largest concert and live events promoter. It owns and operates the North Island Credit Union Amphitheatre (formerly Mattress Firm Amphitheatre) in Chula Vista and House of Blues in downtown San Diego.
A handful of original Woodstock performers are still actively performing, including Santana, Joan Baez, the latest iteration of the Grateful Dead, Arlo Guthrie and Sha Na Na, whose leader Jocko Marcellino is a longtime La Jolla resident.
In a mid-December interview, Carlos Santana told Billboard magazine: “We've talked to Michael Lang, but we don't know if he has secured a place. If they invite me, I'm in.”
Make that in, with — possibly — several bands.
In a 2017 interview, Santana said he hopes to perform at the 50th anniversary of Woodstock with “three or four bands,” including the original and current editions of Santana, and another with Sly & The Family Stone alums Larry Graham and Greg Errico.
Fellow Woodstock veteran Baez, meanwhile, scoffed at the idea of performing at any 50th anniversary Woodstock anniversary festival.
“I would not want to be part of another Woodstock,” she told the San Diego Union-Tribune in an interview earlier this year. “It couldn’t exist! I mean, we’re all either on our old (age) paths, or dead.”
9:53 a.m., Dec. 29: This article has been updated to include a quote from original Woodstock co-producer Michael Lang about his plans to stage a 50th anniversary Woodstock festival at a location separate from Bethel Woods, where the original Woodstock was held,