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Woodstock 50 working with Howard County to bring troubled music festival to Columbia’s Merriweather Post Pavilion

With barely three weeks to go until its scheduled Aug. 16 opening day, Woodstock 50 might find a new home in Columbia.

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball said during a news conference early Thursday night that the county government is “in talks with the promoter [of the music festival] and Merriweather [Post Pavilion]" to host the anniversary event at the famed amphitheater this summer.

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Seth Hurwitz, the concert promoter who operates Merriwether, said Woodstock 50 organizers seeking a new venue had reached out to him. If the show comes together, Hurwitz said, the pavilion is available.

“Woodstock 50 approached Merriweather about hosting their event here in Columbia, Md.,” said Hurwitz, chairman of the Washington-based I.M.P. concert promotion and production company.

”The Woodstock folks are working on securing the artists now," said Hurwitz, who also owns the 9:30 Club and the Anthem in Washington. "If the bands come, we’ll produce the show. We’re looking forward to getting an update as soon as Woodstock 50 has one.”

But with the anniversary festival suffering a series of setbacks, from permit denials and loss of financing, some of the artists originally slated to perform have canceled. The Associated Press reported Friday that Jay-Z, scheduled as the closing act of the three-day event, has pulled out.

The Merriwether has a history of hosting multi-act concerts such as Capital Jazz Fest and Virgin Festival, Ball said.

“This is a place where we’re known for our music festivals,” he said. “We’re a place that celebrates arts and culture.”

Ball also referenced the history of the festival, which originally took place in 1969 against the backdrop of the hippie movement and flourishing counterculture. It turned musicians such as Jimi Hendrix and Sly and the Family Stone — both of whom played there — into international stars.

Despite its own problems, including muddy festival grounds and two deaths, Woodstock remains a strong symbol of that generation and introduced many of its performers, including 2019 returnee Carlos Santana, to a bigger audience. It is the third major anniversary festival, after editions in 1994 and 1999 — the latter of which devolved into chaotic violence and property damage.

News of the move, which Bloomberg Businessweek first reported Thursday, came nearly 7½ months after Michael Lang, who co-founded the original Woodstock festival in 1969, first announced the 50th anniversary event. Since then, Lang and his collaborators encountered numerous hurdles, including departures of key production and finance partners, while unsuccessfully trying to secure a site near the original location in upstate New York. To this day, the Woodstock 50 website does not allow people to purchase tickets.

Festival producers additionally confirmed to The New York Times on Thursday that Woodstock 50 officially moved to Merriweather Post Pavilion. The venue has yet to list the festival on its website and instead lists a Smashing Pumpkins concert Aug. 17.

Scott Peterson, a spokesperson for Ball, deferred comment on the particulars of the concert, including whether the move would affect artists’ contracts to perform, to festival authorities and the venue. Neither concert organizers nor representatives for Merriweather Post Pavilion or booked artists The Killers and Soccer Mommy returned requests for comment from The Sun. Other booked acts include Jay-Z, Chance the Rapper, Miley Cyrus and Halsey.

Woodstock 50 coincides with a separate commemoration of the 50th anniversary in Bethel, N.Y., where the original festival took place. Baltimore-based artist Dr. Bob Hieronimous, who painted the iconic Light VW Bus, will recreate his iconic journey from Baltimore to Bethel this summer. Those who can’t make it to Columbia or Bethel can visit the American Visionary Art Museum on Aug. 12 for a kickoff event with the original bus. The celebration in New York state takes place Aug. 16

Ball noted that Woodstock 50, if it does happen at Merriweather Post Pavilion, will take place at some point in mid-August.

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