Saturday, May 18, 2019

Woodstock 50 | Lefsetz Letter

Who wants to go?

This is like the Fyre Festival in reverse. The litigation happens before the festival plays and the proprietors go to court first. Will Michael Lang go to jail? So far, Dentsu is not asking for its money back and tickets have not been sold so the public has not been defrauded, but the planning of both festivals seems to be the same. An idea. But execution is everything, ideas are a dime a dozen.

But at least people wanted to go to the Fyre Festival, go hang with their peers, the stars of today, THE INFLUENCERS! Twenty and thirtysomethings don’t want to hang with Fogerty or Plant, but people impacting the culture today. In a can-do society, where everybody is a star, Fyre festival attendees wanted to rub shoulders with internet stars, not musicians, with the hope that they got not only stories, but a blueprint to make it themselves.

It’s kinda like coming up with a new gas-guzzling sedan in not only the age of SUVs, but electric cars. Unless you go really retro, steampunk, Civil War re-enactment, there’s no buzz, it makes no sense. Hell, Lang would have been better off promoting the original acts, from Mountain to CSN to Arlo Guthrie to everyone else who is alive. And for those who are dead, there could be stand-ins, like Gary Clark, Jr. for Hendrix, after all, Clark plays ‘Third Stone From The Sun.” Oldsters would pay to see that, after all they’re selling out stadiums for the Eagles, and even Journey and Def Leppard do good business in the ballparks, there’s a business model there, but the young ‘uns don’t care.

These multi-act festivals are no guarantee. Arroyo Seco had Neil Young, the Pretenders and Jack White and it did not sell out. But this year’s Cure-ated festival? A slam dunk. Because Cure fans are DEVOTED! They need to see this band that hasn’t burned out the market, and they like the other similar acts too.

Goin’ up the country died with the seventies, Bonnaroo has been struggling, it’s all about city-oriented festivals. Sure, Coachella is the granddaddy in the desert, but there’s always an outlier and in this case a massive inventory of hotel rooms.

But Lollapalooza, ACL, Outside Lands…they’re all city-based festivals. Hell, if they had JazzFest in the hinterlands it wouldn’t sell out. People love New Orleans, for its color and its restaurants.

And we know oldsters don’t want to camp. So it’s a nonstarter for them, especially with no hotel rooms.

And the people who are willing to camp aren’t into this lineup.

It is not a field of dreams, if they build it people still won’t come, but can they build it?

Doubtful. The wheels of government turn slowly, and everybody’s seen the havoc festivals have wrought, have you heard of Woodstock ’99? Unless there’s serious cash for the locals, they don’t want the disruption.

So first you need permits. Then you need infrastructure. We saw how this worked with the Fyre festival, constantly changing venues and unable to deliver infrastructure,

People don’t want to sleep in tents anymore. The same way they don’t want hot dogs and french fries at the venue. The whole world has gone upscale. Actually, food is more of a star than music. There are multiple food networks and if you’re still watching MTV you’re blind.

Things change. And you’ve got to change with them.

Concert promotion is serious business. You’ve got to have deep pockets and experience, furthermore, one-offs make no financial sense. Ever notice that almost all the festivals are either owned by AEG or Live Nation? Ask yourself why the initial promoters sold out.

But they could move the show, to a stadium, kind of like Made In America in Philadelphia. The same festival didn’t work in Los Angeles, who wants to go downtown? That’s why we have venues to begin with!

As for financials…theoretically Michael Lang could find another investor, after all, Dentsu has already paid all the acts, you’d need just another $20 million or so to make it happen. But who is going to invest when both AEG and Live Nation said no and Dentsu pulled out? Festivals are not cutting edge, they’re settled business, people can see the numbers. This is not John Roberts in ’69, an ignorant deep pocket who didn’t get his money back until 1980. If you want to take a flier on a new idea, go to Silicon Valley, the VCs are loaded with cash, but they require a business plan and good numbers and not only do they take a lot of the stock, they put someone with experience in charge. It might be your idea, but chances are you don’t know how to build a company.

You might say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one

Dreams died in the twenty first century. Life became hard, people did what was expedient, because they didn’t want to be part of the underclass, they didn’t want to starve. Meanwhile, there’s more war today than there was back in ’71 when John Lennon wrote “Imagine.” And he got shot and died.

That’s the world we live in. One of violence and cold hard cash. If you expect peace and love to reign in a field at Watkins Glen you’re delusional.

So expect Woodstock 50 to be a blip in history.

Then again, the Stones didn’t get around to touring big until their 51st. But people didn’t refrain from buying tickets because it wasn’t an anniversary year, they wanted to see the Stones.

Do people want to see the Woodstock 50 lineup in the middle of nowhere?

Almost definitely not. The festival was ill-conceived to begin with.

We never got our flying cars and if we want to see nudity we just fire up our browser. Everything’s virtual these days. But, if people want to connect, they expect creature comforts, that was one of the selling points of Fyre.

If Lang was smart, he’d be filming the whole thing, like AEG with the Michael Jackson rehearsals. So when it’s all said and done he could sell the movie to Netflix, you know they’d buy it, and for a pretty penny. And then Michael Lang could go on a lecture tour, telling his story to those who want to know how you dupe a major advertising agency to drop that much money.

After all, the original Woodstock was saved by the movie.

You’ve got to think out of the box.

Unfortunately, Michael Lang has been thinking inside the box, but one without even four sides. The original Woodstock was an envelope-pushing revolution that captured a national zeitgeist the major media had missed. Woodstock 50 is just a me-too event. We’ve been there, we’ve done that, we want something new and different, that was the appeal of Fyre, an exclusive group hanging together and making connections.

Never forget it’s about the audience today, more than the acts. They want to text and shoot selfies and do drugs and post it all to Instagram to embellish their brands. Acts come and go, but individuals are here forever!

So you’ve got to think backward, like the VCs, what does the public want, what do people want to buy?

They don’t want Woodstock 50. At least not enough to ensure a success.

As the Who once sang, this song is over, no one wants to sing it in the wide open spaces, no one wants to sing it to the infinite sea. But the question is, are they searchin’ for a note, pure and easy, playing so free, like a breath rippling by?

Actually, they are, they call it Newport Folk, off the radar but legendary, and continuous.

There’s a way to make festivals work.

This isn’t it.


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