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Town of Vernon denies appeal to hold Woodstock 50 at Vernon Downs


The Town of Vernon planning board has rejected the appeal of its denial of a permit to hold the Woodstock 50 music festival at Vernon Downs. The board made its unanimous decision Tuesday night, exactly a month before the festival’s start.

The town denied a permit application last week for a festival Aug. 16-18 at the Vernon Downs racetrack and casino, saying the application was incomplete and filed too late.

Organizers of the concert held public meetings this week to try and win over neighbors in Vernon with specific plans for security and traffic. But one of the big things they were fighting were memories of Woodstock 99, a concert in nearby Rome that was marred by violence, fires and a lack of water during a heat wave.    

Vernon Downs Assistant General Manager Arthur Wood said this concert would have been nothing like the one in 1999. For one thing, he said, security is totally different 20 years later.

"You have to walk through a metal detector. You’ll have scannable wrist bands. You are allowed in some places and not allowed in other places. Everybody knows the entire area is fenced in," said Wood.

Organizers emphasized that they have conferred with the state Department of Health, Department of Transportation and the State Police. But the planning board maintained there was no concrete plan to handle traffic and no way to keep people in or out of the venue.

Greg Peck, one of the co-owners of Woodstock 50, admitted that between the failure of the concert to launch at its original location, Watkins Glen International, and the rejection of the first two applications in Vernon, it made staging this concert more difficult than usual.  But he said the effort was worth it.

"We really want to have this event. It's important for the music industry and culturally. The ideas espoused by Woodstock, peace, love and music are very important. Culturally we are so tribal these days, we all have different points of view. But the idea that we all get together and listen to music and get along is important."

Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente, Jr. said he was pleased with the decision, citing “inadequate planning and a dangerously truncated timeframe.”

The news got worse for Woodstock 50 late Tuesday. After the Vernon planning board announced its decision, Virgin Produced, which was working with organizers to put on the event, pulled out.

"Virgin Produced, who has been advising with the Woodstock 50 team, has officially concluded its consulting role with respect to the company and the proposed festival," the company said in a statement provided to the music industry website Pollstar. "Given that the attempt to secure permits with the Town of Vernon, NY and related state agencies has been finally denied, Virgin Produced has concluded its advisory mandate and terminated its services agreement. Virgin Produced, and its CEO Jason Felts, wish Woodstock all the best in its future endeavors."

But that may not be the end of the road for Woodstock 50. According to the Poughkeepsie Journal, organizers may try to re-file permit applications as early as Wednesday.

The Associated Press contributed to the report.

Jason has served as WRVO's news director in some capacity since August 2017. As news director, Jason produces hourly newscasts, and helps direct local news coverage and special programming. Before that, Jason hosted Morning Edition on WRVO from 2009-2019. Jason came to WRVO in January of 2008 as a producer/reporter. Before that, he spent two years as an anchor/reporter at WSYR Radio in Syracuse.
Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.