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NEW YORK — A dispute over the future of the Woodstock 50 festival has spiraled into a court fight, with organizers suing and at least temporarily silencing a former investor that sought to call off the anniversary show.
Woodstock 50 organizers are accusing ex-partner Dentsu Aegis Network of verbally and financially sabotaging the big-name event that organizers insist will still unfold Aug. 16-18 in Watkins Glen, New York.
Denstu Aegis, meanwhile, has pulled out of the concert and raised concerns about safety. And the two sides are clashing over nearly $18 million that the organizers say their ex-investor withdrew from the festival bank account.
“Dentsu’s actions have caused a worldwide uproar over its efforts to kill the festival’s commemoration of one of the most iconic cultural events of the 20th century,” Woodstock 50 LLC’s lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, wrote in a lawsuit filed in Manhattan this week.
The suit seeks the return of the bank account money. Woodstock 50 also wants an order barring Dentsu, an international marketing company, from talking about the festival with the media, performers or others.
A Manhattan judge on Thursday temporarily granted the gag order, at least until a hearing set for Monday, court records show. There were no immediate responses to requests for comment sent Thursday to London-based Dentsu Aegis and its Japanese parent, Dentsu.
Woodstock 50 and Dentsu’s Amplifi Live LLC arm inked a deal in November to produce the anniversary show, planned at Watkins Glen International racetrack.
More than 75 performers have been announced, including Jay-Z, Dead & Company and the Killers as headliners. Others include John Fogerty, Miley Cyrus, Santana, Imagine Dragons, Chance the Rapper and Janelle Monae.
Tickets were originally supposed to go on sale late last month, but sales were delayed as organizers said they were working to “refine logistical plans.”
Behind the scenes, trouble began brewing between the organizers and their chief investor about six weeks ago, according to the lawsuit. It says Dentsu started to slow-walk payments and accused Woodstock 50 of violating their agreement — allegations that the lawsuit denies without detailing.
Then, on April 29, Dentsu announced it was cancelling the event.
“We don’t believe the production of the festival can be executed as an event worthy of the Woodstock brand name while also ensuring the health and safety of the artists, partners and attendees,” the company said in a statement at the time. “As difficult as it is, we believe this is the most prudent decision for all parties involved.”
Hours later, Woodstock 50 co-founder Michael Lang and Woodstock LLC said the concert remained a go.
“The bottom line is, there is going to be a Woodstock 50th Anniversary Festival, as there must be, and it’s going to be a blast,” they said.
But the back-and-forth has fueled doubts with just over 100 days to go, and upheaval has continued. Production company Superfly dropped out May 1; organizers say they’re lining up a replacement.
Woodstock 50’s lawsuit argues Dentsu can’t unilaterally cancel the show, noting that their agreement says that “any decision to cancel the festival shall be jointly made in writing.”
The suit also accuses Dentsu of telling performers to stay away from the festival and having “pillaged” $17.8 million from festival accounts. Dentsu has said it just “recovered” cash it had put in.
The original Woodstock concert in 1969 was held about 115 miles (185 kilometres) southeast of Watkins Glen on a farm in Bethel, New York.
It’s now run by The Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, which has its own anniversary concert planned Aug. 16-18 with performances by Ringo Starr, Fogerty and Santana.
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