‘Incompetence and Contractual Breaches.’ Dentsu Fires Back at Woodstock Organizers

In new court filings, Dentsu Aegis — once the financial backer behind Woodstock 50 — has fired back at the festival’s organizers. As of press time, the festival is set to take place in Watkins Glen, New York from August 16th – 18th with the Killers, Dead & Company and Jay-Z headlining.

Last week, Michael Lang, a cofounder of the original Woodstock and the driving force behind the 50th anniversary celebratory event, asked the New York Supreme Court for an injunction against Dentsu, demanding the return of nearly $18 million to its festival bank account and asking a judge to make the company honor its contract. Now Dentsu is claiming it had the right to take over and cancel the festival because of logistical worries and what it describes as Lang’s “misrepresentations, incompetence and contractual breaches.”

In the filing, Dentsu said that its live-events subsidiary, Amplifi Live, had followed the protocol set forth in the contract it had with the festival. It gave notice of what it believed were Lang’s breaches of contract and took “full control” of the festival, saying its correspondences with vendors have been factual and not disparaging. Moreover, the millions it took from the festival bank account, the company claims, were legally theirs. It went on to ask the court to send the matter to mediation and arbitration.

A representative for Lang did not immediately return Rolling Stone’s request for comment.

In the filing’s supporting claims, Dentsu claimed that Lang misrepresented many logistical benchmarks, including the number of people and who could attend Woodstock 50 when they began talks in the spring of 2018. Lang had hoped to bring in 150,000 people, said he’d begun work on getting a mass-gathering permit from New York State and would have a A-list lineup set by December 2018. But by December, the company learned that attendance would likely be 125,000, a number Lang continued to say would be the minimum. The festival’s producing partner, Superfly (which has since exited the fray), then told Amplifi that the venue could support only 75,000 people. Lang refused to accept the truth, according to the filing, and continued to promise to bring in more than 100,000 people.

The reduced number of prospective ticketholders affected the entire budget, according to the filing. Amplifi had earmarked around $25 million on artists to play the festival based on 150,000 ticket buyers. Amplifi later adjusted the number to $16 to $17 million and suggested reducing the festival from a three-stage event to two stages. But despite these recommendations, Lang continued to book artists for a three-stage event and spent, as reported in Lang’s filing last week, around $32 million. In booking the artists, Lang promised Amplifi would pay them, putting the financier in an awkward position and forcing it to pay beyond the budget. The company also claims that Lang offered contracts to artists worth more than $500,000, a number that would require Amplifi to agree to the fee, without its consent. Amplifi also claims that Woodstock 50 failed to book 12 artists by December 2018, securing not even one.

Then, Dentsu’s filing claims, Lang went roughshod over the agreement’s stipulations over expenses, making massive expenditures without the company’s approval. One of these was for a “publicity event” that cost $120,000, including talent.

The paperwork reports that the company decided there were enough breaches of contract that it had the right to exercise its option to cancel the festival. The company notified Lang and his partners of the breaches on April 17th in writing, giving them 10 days to fix them. When Lang did not do that, Amplifi says it took over the festival. It went on to say that Woodstock 50’s allegations of fraud against Amplifi were not true, as it offered no evidence. All this led to Amplifi announcing it was canceling the festival on April 29th. “Amplifi Live did not make this decision lightly but recognized that providing a safe and secure festival at this late date was virtually impossible,” the filing reads.

It added that the festival has yet to obtain a mass-gathering permit, a milestone the fest was supposed to pass by the end of 2018. To get that document, the festival would have to build a bridge and roads, create a traffic plan, obtain land for parking lots, create a drainage system for the water and bring aboard a number of security personnel. Although the festival had a conditional permit on April 22nd, the staff at Watkins Glen refused to sign it because of a lack of planning on the festival’s behalf, according to the filing. Superfly subsequently ended its relationship with Woodstock 50.

“The production company has quit, no permits have been issued, necessary roadwork has not begun, and there is no prospect for sufficient financing,” the filing reads. “As much as the parties might wish it otherwise, the festival contemplated by their agreement cannot happen and allowing it to go forward would only put the public at risk. The injunction sought by W50, even if there were a legal basis for it, cannot change that.”

A hearing on the matter is set to take place in Manhattan Monday afternoon.

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