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Can Woodstock 50 'Re-Create The Magic' Of The Original Festival?

Jay-Z performs on stage during 'On the Run II' tour in 2018. The rapper is among the headliners of Woodstock 50.
Kevin Mazur
Getty Images
Jay-Z performs on stage during 'On the Run II' tour in 2018. The rapper is among the headliners of Woodstock 50.

It's been 50 years since Woodstock Music & Arts Festival. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of three days of peace, love and music, Woodstock 50 will take place Aug. 16–18, 2019, in Watkins Glen, N.Y. Festival co-founder Michael Lang has announced the official lineup for the anniversary festival with Jay-Z, Dead & Company and The Killers as headliners. Rounding out the list of performers are Miley Cyrus, Imagine Dragons, The Black Keys and Chance The Rapper as well as acts like Santana who performed at the seminal fest five decades ago. But what makes this 50th anniversary lineup special among a saturated field of music festivals now?

"They're trying to re-create the magic and some of the cultural dominance that the original Woodstock did," NPR Music's Stephen Thompson says, noting that organizers are not only working in the shadow of the behemoth that was the original event, but also in the shadow of "the debacle that is Woodstock 99," which was notorious for violence, destruction and sexual assault cases.

In the years since the original Woodstock, the festival's symbolism of peace and love has been romanticized in pop culture. As Thompson notes, no matter who's on the bill, carrying on the legacy of the original Woodstock is incredibly hard. "They're trying, I think, to feed a lot of mouths at once," Thompson says of the variety in this year's lineup compared to the gathering of 400,000 people in 1969. "In order to attract 400,000 in this market place, you have to please a lot of people at once."

As for clear comparisons to the original fest? "In the announcement of this new Woodstock lineup, there was conversation about the parallels between the political situation in 1969 and the political situation in the present," Thompson notes. "So, I'm sure there's going to be an attempt to sort of tie the two together and bring out some of the activism."

Even though summer festival season is more crowded than ever, Thompson thinks Woodstock 50 will stand out because of its historical name recognition and reverberations to be a "siren song to anyone who feels some kind of attachment" to the word "Woodstock" and its music history.

Listen to the entire conversation at the audio link.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.