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Woodstock returns, but will it stand out among its progeny?

In 2018, Lana Del Rey sang: “I was at Coachella / Leaning on your shoulder / Watching your husband swing in time / I guess I was in it / ‘Cause baby, for a minute / It was Woodstock in my mind.” A year later, those at Woodstock's 50th anniversary concert may think the inverse of her pop sentiment. The founders of Woodstock 50 announced the lineup and location — not in Woodstock, New York — for their summer festival to both fanfare and bewilderment. 

The music festival circuit has completely changed in the 50 years since Woodstock, and even in the 20 years following the unmitigated disaster that was Woodstock 1999. Festivals have become more expensive to attend — the lineups increasingly similar — and there are just more of them in general. Venues offer $15 beers, indoor DJ sets and gourmet food options. This is a far cry from mudslides, tents and fields of hippies of the original Woodstock. Rather than lean into Woodstock’s history, the promoters seem to want to be more like Coachella. 

First off, the original Woodstock touted free admission. The festival existed to promote freedom, love and peace through the music. Tickets for competing festivals like Firefly, Coachella and Bonnaroo typically sell for at least $300, and Woodstock seems likely to follow that path. 

Festivals hire similar artists rather than form atypical lineups. While this may be because artists want to collect the check and use the circuit as an excuse to tour, it makes for a boring summer. Lineups, rather than excite an audience, now just serve as announcements of new music from reclusive, internet-shy artists. 

Woodstock 50 has an interesting challenge. The festival has to cater to young audiences, but also be faithful to its history. The original Woodstock is remembered as a magical weekend with the top-tier musical talent. In fact, several of the top acts of the day — The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones and Paul Simon — turned the show down. This led to fewer big acts, but monumental moments in American history through artists like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. The question posed 50 years later is, “Who is Woodstock for?”

The lineup indicates a blend of two different categories of entertainment. The first category is Old Woodstock. This includes Dead & Company, Robert Plant, Santana, David Crosby, The Zombies and Greta Van Fleet. Yes, Greta Van Fleet is a modern band, but it pilfers heavily from Led Zeppelin. Second category is “rock dude” 2000s nostalgia, including acts like The Black Keys, The Killers, Portugal. The Man — who someone described to me as “the best live act ever” — and Cage The Elephant.

The festival has made a concerted effort to appeal to hip-hop and hipster-heavy audiences. The hip-hop portion lineup features Jay-Z (still in his prime), Chance the Rapper, Earl Sweatshirt, Vince Staples, Common and Run the Jewels. The hipster heads will be salved with performances by Soccer Mommy, Courtney Barnett, boygenius and Cherry Glazerr. 

The lineup for Woodstock 50 is idiosyncratic to a potential fault. Woodstock 50 needs to figure out who it's for. Does it want to be like Coachella and become a yearly event? Is it making a nostalgia play for the old hippies? Or is it a benefit for peace and love? Its lineup wants to be everything to everyone, but could become nothing for no one. 

Festivals are about partying in the sun and seeing some music while you’re there. The free benefit will be remembered forever, not only because of Baby Boomer nostalgia, but also because of the inclusivity of all people. I’d love to spend a day in a field and listen to John Mayer do guitar licks for Dead & Company then walk over to watch Jay-Z rap about being an old head and maybe even see boygenius sing a few sad songs. But I don’t have $400 to drop on a weekend.

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