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Watkins Glen Was Set To Host Woodstock 50 This Weekend...Here's Why It's Not

Woodstock 50 Two-Way

VESTAL, NY (WSKG) - WSKG Managing Editor Gabe Altieri discusses with Morning Edition Host Sarah Gager the events surrounding Woodstock 50, which was supposed to be held in Watkins Glen this weekend.


SARAH GAGER:  A big 50th anniversary festival of Woodstock was supposed to be held this weekend in Watkins Glen.

It’s not.

The festival was supposed to feature artists like Jay-Z, John Fogerty and Miley Cyrus, but instead it was plagued by lawsuits, mismanagement and missed deadlines. 

WSKG’s Gabe Altieri covered the situation around the festival and joins us now. Hi Gabe. When did the trouble start?

Gabe Altieri: Well, at least publicly, the trouble started on April 22nd. Ticket sales were supposed to start that day, but Billboard reported the week before that that deadline wouldn’t be met. Later on Pitchfork reported that organizers didn’t have a proper permit from the New York Department of Health.

SG: What happened? Did organizers say anything?

GA: Not really. They didn’t answer my requests for comment. And as reported, tickets did not go on sale on time and the Woodstock website stated only that tickets would go on sale soon.

SG: Then the problem got even more serious.

GA: Right, about a week later the Dentsu Aegis network, which bankrolled the event, pulled out. Local leaders and others thought that’s it. Three months to go. No money. The concerts got to be cancelled

But Organizer Michael Lang wrote on his Facebook page that the concert will go on and started looking for a new investor.

Here’s Watkins Glen Mayor Luke Leszyk speaking amid this confusion.

LUKE LEZYK: You know, you say it’s going to happen and then we’re told it’s not going to happen. Then someone is running around saying it is going to happen. So, we just plug along and do what we’re supposed to be doing on our end.

GA: Then came the lawsuit between organizers and Dentsu Aegis, the investor mentioned earlier. 

SG: Those two duked it out in court? 

GA: Yeah, for much of May. Meanwhile organizers maintained the concert would still happen. Fast forward to June and Watkins Glen International racetrack finally pulls out as the host. 

SG: Why?

GA: Well the racetrack wouldn’t say why, but the Poughkeepsie Journal reported Woodstock Organizers missed a payment to Watkins Glen International. 

SG: Okay so it’s mid-June and Watkins Glen is officially out as Woodstock 50 host. Before we go any further - what kind of effect does that have on the region?

GA: Yeah, you know, I asked that question to Schuyler County Administrator Tim O’Hearn. 

TIM O'HEARN: It affects more than just Watkins Glen and Schuyler County. It had a large footprint. So it’s probably not unrealistic to say it was at least a $50 million impact. That the one event would’ve had on our region

GA: Now Schuyler County and the entire Finger Lakes region are just fine economically this time of year. It’s tourism season. Leszyk, the Watkins Glen Mayor, also runs a lodging business and says he didn’t have a problem booking rooms even without the concert.

But they were frustrated with how things went down. I also asked O’Hearn if he would recommend working with this group of organizers again. He said he wouldn’t comment.  

SG: The story wraps up in Vernon, in Oneida County. Home to Vernon Downs.

GA: Yup and that’s where organizers tried next. Though the site was much smaller than Watkins Glen.

Meanwhile, Vernon officials said they couldn’t guarantee the safety of concert goers so they denied organizers. Then they denied them on appeal. And then denied them one more time. 

I spoke to Jeff Gural, owner of Vernon Downs, after that decision. He granted that the concert wouldn’t be quite as big in Vernon, but thinks it still would’ve been nice.

JEFF GURAL: Vernon is not a thriving metropolis, if you’ve ever been there. It’s kind of a depressed town. I thought it would be a good thing, but they preferred to keep it a sleepy little town.

GA: And after looking around for another venue, organizers finally announced the concert would not happen.

SG: Gabe Altieri on Woodstock 50, which is not taking place in Watkins Glen this weekend. This is an event in Bethel, NY, where the original Woodstock took place.

Gabe thanks so much.

GA: Thank you.