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Woodstock 50, a festival honoring the music event’s 50th anniversary, may be coming to the Merriweather Post Pavilion from August 16 to 18. But tickets haven’t gone on sale, and organizers are still working on securing the artists for this new location, which is 250 miles away from the original spot.
Is the festival actually going to come together in three weeks? Why did the festival organizers choose the Merriweather Post Pavilion? And what will happen to the Smashing Pumpkins concert scheduled for the same weekend?
DCist Senior Editor Rachel Kurzius gives us an update.
Produced by Ingalisa Schrobsdorff and Cydney Grannan
- Rachel Kurzius Senior Editor, DCist; @Curious_Kurz
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned into "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" on the WAMU 88.5. Welcome. Later in the broadcast, we'll explore the unregulated world of CBDs, a component of cannabis now found in all sorts of products, from coffee to cookies. But first, Woodstock in Washington? Last week, Bloomberg broke the story that the Woodstock 50 Festival might be coming to Merriweather Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland. So, naturally, we asked Rachel Kurzius to join us for an update. She is the Senior Editor for DCist. Rachel, good to see you.
RACHEL KURZIUSFantastic to be here, Kojo.
NNAMDIThis festival was originally proposed to take place in Upstate New York, near Woodstock, where the original festival was held. Why is the plan for it now to come to Maryland?
KURZIUSWoodstock 50 has been plagued with a number of logistical woes, including multiple permit denials in the Empire State, which has been one of the big motivating reasons for the festival to make its way a little south down the Eastern Seaboard over to Howard County, where officials have been much more welcoming of the idea. But, as you noted, Bloomberg broke these news. This wasn't something where Woodstock 50 came out and said, "We're so excited. We're moving to Merriweather Post Pavilion." So, now, all of us who are fans of music and live music in the area are trying to figure out what exactly is going on. And to be totally frank with you, Kojo, it seems that the organizers of Woodstock 50 are asking themselves some similar questions.
NNAMDIDo you have any idea why they couldn't get permits anywhere in New York?
KURZIUSThere were concerns about the ability to handle traffic, the ability to handle a huge, huge, tens of thousands of people coming into the area, and whether they could actually meaningfully handle those crowds.
NNAMDIDo we have any idea why the organizers chose Merriweather Post Pavilion, or Maryland, for that matter?
KURZIUSWell, like I mentioned, Howard County officials indicated to organizers that they were onboard. That they said -- and this is a quote from a planning document that Bloomberg had -- that they, quote, "jumped at the chance to bring a piece of American history to our community this summer." So, as some of your producers pointed out to me, it's not totally wild to imagine this live, long festival for music. The Laurel Pop Festival was once called “Woodstock before Woodstock.” And that was about a month before Woodstock happened in 1969, in the summer.
NNAMDIThis is a pretty significant location change, and relatively last minute. And over the weekend, festival organizers released all artists scheduled to perform from their contracts. So, this festival is now barely three weeks away. So, what now?
KURZIUSGreat question. I think that that's the big question of the hour. On Friday, when you looked at the Woodstock 50 website, it had the lineup of artists, ranging from Jay Z to Miley Cyrus. As of Friday morning, we learned that Jay Z said, "Sorry. This isn't going to work for me. I'm pulling out." John Fogerty also -- he had performed at the original Woodstock in 1969. He said, basically, "I still plan on performing this weekend, and I'm staying in Upstate New York. You're not getting me down to Maryland." So, the question for what -- now it's interesting. If you look on the website today, that lineup is no longer there. So, who will be performing, how many of these artists are going to decide to come to Maryland, that's the question that we're trying to suss out right now. And if you talk to the operators of Merriweather Post Pavilion -- that would be Seth Hurwitz of IMP, who runs the Anthem, 9:30 Club, a lot of other music venues in the area. They said, "Look, Woodstock 50 organizers have reached out to us. We are incredibly open." But it's really their job to suss out who's going to be performing.
NNAMDIMain production company behind Woodstock 50 tried to pull the plug on the entire festival completely back in April. What was the reason, and why are the organizers nevertheless trying to revive it?
KURZIUSThese are some of those logistical hurdles I mentioned earlier. They basically said, "Woodstock has become a brand, and what you're planning doesn't really come up to snuff, here." But organizers said, "We still believe really strongly in what we're trying to do. We think on the 50th anniversary of this big, historic moment, we ought to market with another festival in the same spirit."
NNAMDIHere is Erin in Bethesda, Maryland. Erin, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ERINThere are due logistics, and I think it's a very bad idea to have this event at Merriweather. I was there last year, maybe the year before, for a Phil Lesh show, Grateful Dead thing. It was so oversold, that one could not walk. You could not move. You could not get to beverages or bathrooms. Parking was a nightmare. It took over an hour and a half to get out of the place. And that was one show, one act. And then, furthermore, people, some of them work for the federal government, who get drug-tested. And there was so much pot smoking, which is not bad. I don't have a problem with that. But there should have been areas where you could go to for kids and people with asthma and people don't want to be around that. And I doubt they could ever effectuate that at this venue and have a lot of (word?). It just would be uncontrollable. And, again, I just don't think, logistically, that's the right venue. Thank you.
NNAMDIHave you told Howard County officials about your concerns about that? But no, seriously I think overselling is one of the least of the problems that the organizers of Woodstock 50 have, because they're not even selling yet.
KURZIUSThat's exactly right, Kojo. It's 18 days away from the festival, and no tickets have yet been sold. Over the weekend -- the initial plan, I should say, was to sell tickets for them to be available at cost. Now, the new plan appears to be the tickets will be free. That doesn't mean there won't be tickets, right? You still have to sign up and get a ticket. And this is similar to things that Merriweather Post Pavilion has done before. I know my first time at the venue was for Free Fest, which had been organized through Verizon as a sponsor. You still had to get a ticket. But it was free to be there, and it was a great time.
NNAMDIWell, Merriweather Post Pavilion actually had a show scheduled for that weekend. Who was supposed to be playing that night, and is there any update on what will happen to that show?
KURZIUSSo, the Smashing Pumpkins and Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds concert is slated for that Saturday, August 17th. It's still being promoted on Merriweather Post Pavilion's website. And tickets remain on sale as of literally five minutes before I walked into the studio. I've asked IMP, what's going on here. Is this going to be in conflict at all with the plans for Woodstock 50? But it may just be that they become part of this festival, if it does happen. So, that's another question mark that we've got.
NNAMDIAnoko tweets: That Smashing Pumpkins and Noel Gallagher Concert already is on the schedule, and all of those bands would be the best and only bands at Woodstock.
KURZIUSIt's certainly possible, yeah. I mean, I know they're missing a headliner for Sunday night, and so maybe they can move some things around there.
NNAMDIAre the organizers changing anything else about the festival now that it's likely moving to Maryland?
KURZIUSAs we just talked about, I think the biggest shift, other than the location, would this acknowledgment that the tickets are going to be free, rather than cost money. Another major shift would be, at the original Woodstock, a lot of people camped. It was raining. People were outside the whole. At Merriweather Post Pavilion, you can't camp. So, the notion might be -- if the festival lasts three days, you could get three separate tickets, one for each day. Maybe they'll have group tickets. But, you know, considering there's no discount. It's all free. But you would have to leave every evening, and then return in the morning for the next day of performances.
NNAMDIAB tweets: I was at Woodstock 1969 in Bethel, New York. No relation to Maryland. And while I might have revisited New York State to reminisce, I would not go to Maryland. It has nothing to do with the original festival. I don't know how widespread those sentiments might be or that people may just feel, "Well, it may not be in New York, but, hey. It's Woodstock 50. I'm in anyway."
KURZIUSYeah. And that is a funny point of even -- the original Woodstock wasn't technically in Woodstock. It was in Bethel. And so I think as we remember these historic events that have taken on so much significance in the intervening years and decades, they probably shift form a little bit. My dad was also at --
NNAMDII was about to say, this isn't just any festival. This is the festival that your father went to the original version of in 1969. Tell us how he ended up going.
KURZIUSAnd clearly, that's what makes it so special, right?
KURZIUSHe lived in Woodstock, and he had heard it was a good festival, or that it would be. He enjoyed a lot of the bands who would be playing. And so he was one of the schmoes who actually bought tickets before a lot of people decided they didn't actually need tickets. They were just going to kind of go in without them. But he went and told me that, really, the peace and love vibes that people talk about aren't overstated, that there was a really great sense of comradery there. That although it was incredibly crowded and logistically overburdened, people treated one another with a great deal of kindness. And, frankly, he has really solid, wonderful memories from the time.
NNAMDIAs a matter of fact, though, in 1999, they tried to do something in San Francisco that didn't work out quite that well. Right?
KURZIUSYeah. It was in New York. Again, they tried to do the remount in 1999. And I think it was the San Francisco Chronicle who called it quote, "the day --
NNAMDIThat's why I thought it was in San Francisco.
KURZIUSYeah. They called it “the day the music died.” Sixty people were hospitalized dealing with what essentially became a riot. There was a ton of issues with the respect to looting. There were reports of sexual assault. It was certainly not the peace-and-love vibe that the original is purported to be and that they were trying to kind of remount in 1999. And this, Woodstock 50, really amounts to the first time since then that they're trying to do another tribute, another anniversary festival in the name of Woodstock.
NNAMDIKimberly, in Hindsville. Kimberly, your turn.
KIMBERLYYes, I just wanted to find out if there were going to be vendors there. And if so, how could I get information to set up?
KURZIUSThat's a great question. I think that that's among the questions for which we don't yet have an answer, because the question of logistics, the question of how this is going to work hasn't exactly been teased out quite yet.
NNAMDIKimberly, here is the big question that I'm going to ask Rachel right now. Based on everything you know so far, do you think this show is actually going to happen, going to come together?
KURZIUSMusic creates a lot of miracles for people, Kojo, so I would never count it out. It certainly seems like there are a lot of people rooting for it. But with 18 days left to go and not really any solid sense of who will be playing or what this festival will look like, I think they've got a lot of work to do to make it happen.
NNAMDIJust so we're clear, who's announcing these changes? Are you talking directly with the festival's organizers about the concert?
KURZIUSNot necessarily, no. They've been somewhat close-lipped when the do talk to people on the phone. They're not giving out their names. And like I mentioned, the first word that we got of this was from documents leaked to Bloomberg. So, they haven't been that out front of this news.
NNAMDIIn other words, we don't know what's going to happen.
KURZIUSBut we're looking forward to finding out.
NNAMDIExactly. Following it very carefully. Rachel Kurzius is a Senior Editor for DCist. Rachel, always a pleasure.
NNAMDIGoing to take a short break. When we come back, we'll be exploring the unregulated world of CBDs, a component of cannabis now found in all sorts of products, from coffee to cookies. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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