Can Merriweather offer a lifeline to troubled Woodstock 50? And with Jay-Z and Fogerty out, who will perform?

Can Merriweather offer a lifeline to troubled Woodstock 50? And with Jay-Z and Fogerty out, who will perform?
Merriweather and Howard County officials say they are poised to host Woodstock 50. ”The Woodstock folks are working on securing the artists now," said Seth Hurwitz, the Merriweather operator. “If the bands come, we’ll produce the show.” Pictured, festivalgoers enjoy a recent Sweetlife Festival at Merriweather. (Kaitlin Newman / For The Baltimore Sun)

Organizers of the Woodstock 50th anniversary festival may have found a home at the Merriweather Post Pavilion ― but befitting the free-wheeling gathering it celebrates, everything from who will perform to how to attend is blowing in the wind.

“This is what Woodstock is about,” said Fiona Bloom, a New York-based publicist who has three clients committed to performing. “It’s going with the flow. It’s peace and love. It’s all good. Whatever happens, happens.”


At least two headliners of the star-studded but struggling Woodstock 50 festival, Jay-Z and John Fogerty, have pulled out, and Billboard reported Friday that organizers released all the artists from their contracts although they still were invited to perform.

The festival’s website still advertised a line-up that included Miley Cyrus, Santana, Chance the Rapper and Cage the Elephant among dozens of acts.

Merriweather and Howard County officials say they are poised to host.

”The Woodstock folks are working on securing the artists now," said Seth Hurwitz, the Merriweather operator, in a statement. “If the bands come, we’ll produce the show.”

Hurwitz, whose I.M.P. promotion and production company also owns the 9:30 Club and the Anthem in Washington, said the Woodstock 50 organizers reached out to him recently about staging the event.

The festival had lost its major investor, failed to get permits at first one and then another venue in New York and seemed unlikely to take place — at least in time to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the original mud-soaked gathering held in upstate New York on Aug. 15-18, 1969.

But as Bloomberg News first reported Thursday, the festival’s organizers had found a home: Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, the planned community that is as tidily manicured as the original Woodstock site, a dairy farm in Bethel, New York, was woefully ill-equipped — at least for a chaotic influx of hundreds of thousands of hippies and other wanderers, who shed clothes and other conventions for what turned out to be four days of sex, drugs and rock 'n’ roll.

“I think the world is a different place now in what is acceptable,” demurred Howard County Executive Calvin Ball.

He nonetheless welcomes the anniversary festival, or at least a tamer version of the original.

Ball noted that Columbia and Merriweather are just two years older than Woodstock, and the city was founded — by the visionary developer Jim Rouse — on similar peace-and-love principles.

“Columbia actually was born in the late ’60s out of values of diversity and inclusion,” said Ball, comparing it to Woodstock’s message of “peace and music and everyone coming together.”

He noted that Merriweather hosted such legends as Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix before Woodstock did and, unlike Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in New York, both it and the surrounding city and county are well-equipped to handle the crowds and traffic of a major festival.

Ball’s spokesman, Scott Peterson, has a personal reason for welcoming the festival — he had “the greatest summer job ever” as a backstage runner at Merriweather as a college student in the late 1990s. The experience taught him how much can be accomplished in a short time, even less than the three weeks remaining before the Woodstock anniversary.

“I was always amazed how you start with an empty stage, and a crew comes in at 7 a.m. and starts building,” he said. “And then, by 12:30 a.m. or 1 a.m., the stage was empty again. It was really a magical process what you can do in a day.”


Thomas B. Riford, the Maryland Department of Commerce’s assistant secretary for tourism, film and the arts, said in a statement that music festivals “bring a positive impact on the entire region, and it is anticipated that if Maryland played host to Woodstock 50, there would be significant positive tourism impact for the State of Maryland.”

Mike Montali, frontman of Hollis Brown, an Americana band based in Queens, said despite the recent turmoil he remains thrilled to have been invited to perform at Woodstock 50. According to the original line-up of acts, the band was scheduled to play on the last day of the festival, Aug. 18, along with Imagine Dragons, Halsey and Janelle Monae. (It is unclear which artists remain committed to performing.)

“It’s iconic. It’s legendary,” said Montali, 34. “We started our band in a garage, and if someone said you’re going to play Woodstock, we would have said that was crazy.”

The Woodstock 50 appearance was the final date of a tour Hollis Brown has been on in support of its third album, Ozone Park, so switching venues won’t pose the problem that it might for artists who have subsequent stops to make, he said.

“We’re ready to rock,” Montali said, “wherever it is.”

Hollis Brown’s publicist, Bloom, said two of her other clients also are set to play: Ninet Tayeb, an Israeli singer and actress who several months ago recorded a version of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” and the Zombies, the British psychedelic pop band that was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year. The Zombies are performing at the Hall of Fame in Cleveland on Aug. 17 and were scheduled for Woodstock 50 on the 18th and Ocean City, N.J. on the 19th, so it doesn’t matter much whether the festival was in New York or Maryland, Bloom said.

She said she thinks organizers still can pull off a festival — “We’re not performing triple bypass surgery” — and their troubles won’t affect concertgoers.

“I don’t think fans care about that,” Bloom said. “Fans want an Instagrammable moment... a full-on beautiful experience.”

In Columbia, some were worried about the possible noise and disruption.

Deb Jung, the Howard County councilwoman whose district includes the venue, said she is optimistic about the festival as long as “everyone stays safe and treats our neighborhood with respect."

Merriweather Post Pavilion has hosted multi-act concerts such as Capital Jazz Fest and Virgin Festival in the past, and Jung said it creates “light background noise” that’s not too disruptive where she lives, less than three miles away.

She doesn’t expect another Woodstock, circa 1969.

“Woodstock as it was will never exist again,” Jung said. “It was something that came together organically. I would love to see more great music in Columbia."


Baltimore Sun Media Group reporter Erin B. Logan contributed to this article.