Two festivals take separate paths to Woodstock's 25th

February 09, 1994|By Melinda Newman | Melinda Newman,Billboard

As the 25th anniversary of the Woodstock festival approaches, two separate, but simultaneous, festivals are being planned: one geared to include those for whom the festival is only a hazy memory, the other tailored to music fans not yet born during the summer of love.

The tale of two cities involves Bethel, N.Y., the site of the original Woodstock Festival, and Saugerties, N.Y., located 80 miles away.

Woodstock Ventures, run by original Woodstock producers Michael Lang, John Roberts and Joel Rosenman, has the rights to the Woodstock name and logo, and has received approval from the Saugerties town council for a two-day festival Aug. 13-14. Woodstock Ventures' partner in the new festival is understood to be PolyGram Diversified Entertainment (PDE). However, a PolyGram representative will confirm only that "we're exploring a partnership with the three original partners."

Meanwhile, impresario Sid Bernstein has received town council approval to hold a two-day event of his own in Bethel, on the original site of the Woodstock festival, the late Max Yasgur's farm. However, since Mr. Bernstein has no rights to the Woodstock name, his event is being tagged Bethel '94.

Woodstock '94, according to Mr. Lang, will feature current artists and is geared toward 16- to 26-year-olds. "We've been in discussions with a lot of acts and are proceeding with booking plans," Mr. Lang says. "PolyGram is assisting us." Artists who played the original festival would not necessarily be excluded, as long as they have some contemporary relevance.

Mr. Bernstein's planned festival is targeted toward a wider, 18- to 50-year-old demographic. "There will be artists out of the '60s -- hopefully including ones that appeared on the original site -- as DTC well as the new names," Mr. Bernstein says.

Both festivals still have some distance to go in the permit process. Woodstock '94 received town council approval last September. According to Saugerties town supervisor James Griffis, if everything goes as planned, the final permit would be issued in mid-March. Mr. Griffis would not speculate on whether the final permit would be issued, saying only, "It's proceeding as we anticipated . . . The town board's position is that we want to work with the applicant."

Woodstock Ventures has paid more than $10,000 to the city of Saugerties to cover expenses incurred in securing the permits.

Woodstock '94 is seeking a mass-gathering permit that would allow for a maximum of 250,000 tickets to be sold to the event. More than 450,000 people attended the original festival. According to Mr. Griffis, Saugerties' arrangement with Mr. Lang calls for $4 from every ticket to be turned over to the city. Compensation to the county (Ulster) has to be determined. No ticket price has been set.

Mr. Bernstein received town council approval Jan. 29. However, Bethel town supervisor Allan Scott says he believes the permit process can be completed within three months.

Mr. Bernstein's next step is to turn over a check for $300,000, to be held in escrow by the city to cover any potential damages or losses during the event. Additionally, Mr. Bernstein has paid a non-refundable $75,000 for the city's costs in securing the permits.

"If Sid comes through with the $300,000, I would say the likelihood of [his final permit being turned down] is non-existent," says Mr. Scott. "The town board and the individual agencies are very committed to making this work."

The assets and commitment of Mr. Bernstein's backers came into play during a contentious Bethel town council meeting last week. The council ultimately approved Mr. Bernstein's plan over a proposal by a competing group known as Bethel Festival Inc.

Since that meeting, a few of Mr. Bernstein's backers have dropped out; Mr. Bernstein maintains that the defections were prompted by letters they received from Woodstock Ventures' lawyers concerning possible infringement of the Woodstock trademark. Having crossed the first hurdle in the permit process, Mr. Bernstein says more investors are coming to the fore. He claims that once the permit process is completed, he has two national sponsors ready to sign on. Mr. Bernstein estimates that it will cost at least $8 million to put on his festival.

According to Mr. Scott, Bethel city and Sullivan County each will receive $5 from every ticket sold for Bethel '94.

That event is geared to 80,000 people, and tickets are tentatively priced at $150 per person for the two days. Each ticket holder would be required to bring four articles of clothing and four cans of food to be donated to local shelters.

Mr. Bernstein's plan calls for him to build a museum, a New York Hall of Fame honoring the state's musical history, a gift shop and a 1,500-seat performing arts center across from the concert site, if the event succeeds.

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