The New York State Supreme Court issued a decision on Wednesday in the case of Woodstock 50 vs. Dentsu Aegis Network that amounts to a partial win for the music festival. A spokesperson for the holding company’s events division also argued it has been “vindicated.”
Most significantly, the ruling from Judge Barry Ostrager stated that Dentsu does not owe any of the $17.8 million amassed to fund Woodstock 50 to the festival’s organizers. He also determined, however, that Amplifi Live, the Dentsu division that previously served as Woodstock 50’s sole investor, did not have the authority to cancel the event altogether. Woodstock 50 hired attorney Marc Kasowitz and a prominent PR firm last month after Amplifi abruptly announced that it would be pulling all funding and calling the concert off.
Rolling Stone first reported the news on Wednesday evening. The ruling is embedded in full at the bottom of this story.
“We are gratified that Justice Ostrager has ruled unequivocally that Dentsu did not have the right to cancel the Festival, and is immediately enjoined from cancelling the Festival,” said Kasowitz in a statement. Producer Michael Lang added, “We have always relied on the truth and have never lost faith that the Festival would take place.”
“We feel vindicated to hear that the court agreed with what we have maintained all along: Woodstock 50 was not entitled to access the festival bank account per the contract and thus any access now is denied and the $17.8 million remains with Amplifi Live,” said an Amplifi Live representative. “While we understand that pursuant to the court’s ruling Amplifi Live cannot cancel the festival without Woodstock 50’s agreement, at this time we do not intend to further invest in the festival due to the issues noted by the court, as well as the compressed timeframe, and multiple health and safety concerns.”
According to the ruling, the two parties entered a Financing and Production Agreement in late 2018 that “required Amplifi to provide $49,141,000 in funding to cover the production costs of the Festival.” The money would be placed into a dedicated bank account managed by Amplifi with proceeds then going to that company until it recouped its full investment and additional earnings split between the two parties, which were jointly responsible for the festival’s operations.
While the contract gave Amplifi the right to “take full control of the operation and production of the Festival” and to “cease all festival-related activity” in the instance of a “breach” by Woodstock 50, a key sentence clarified that any decision to completely cancel the event would have to be “jointly made in writing” by both partner organizations.
In addition to clarifying the terms of the contract, the ruling also revealed several alleged breaches on behalf of Woodstock 50. Amplifi claimed in an April letter that the organization had failed to obtain proper consent to lower ticket sales goals by 60%, to consult directly with Amplifi on booking talent, to decrease the approved budget after “failing to sign any talent by a December 31, 2018 deadline,” and obtain “Amplifi’ s prior approval” before making payments to other partners.
As noted by the Amplifi spokesperson, the judge also stated that the company provided “convincing testimony” that it was justified in moving to end its relationship with Woodstock 50 because “multiple permits” had not been acquired, tickets had not been sold, budgetary agreements had not been reached, “expensive structural improvements” to the festival site “had not yet started,” and event production company Superfly withdrew entirely.
In an interview with Adweek earlier this month, Duncan Channon partner and chief experience officer Amy Cotteleer said Superfly’s decision was the most important aspect of the story. “If they say it’s not possible,” she said, “other companies like them would be crazy to take it on themselves.” At this time it is unclear which company will produce the event in Superfly’s place.
This ruling means Woodstock can now technically proceed as planned. In Dentsu’s absence, the biggest challenge facing organizers concerns securing enough money to run the event.
“Now that Woodstock 50 has won in court and there is no question that the festival is proceeding because Dentsu did not have a right to cancel, we can close our financing, which we are doing,” said Gregory Peck, principal, Woodstock 50.
A spokesperson declined to comment on the sources of that financing moving forward.
The full ruling is below.