On August 2, Rhino Records will release a massive box set for the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. Spread across 38 compact discs and 36 hours, “Woodstock – Back to the Garden: The Definitive 50th Anniversary Archive” features almost every note of music performed at the iconic 1969 festival.
The screen-printed plywood box in which the set is packaged contains more than just the music that was performed that weekend half a century ago. It also includes a Blu-ray version of the “Woodstock” documentary, a hardbound copy of the “Woodstock: Three Days of Peace and Music” book by original promoter Michael Lang, as well as posters, prints, a guitar strap and other memorabilia.
A set this comprehensive is likely to be the last word on the legendary rock festival, and indeed, it’s hard to imagine that any detail has been overlooked. Still, one possible sticking point remains – the price. The set sells for $800, and it’s worth wondering if sticker shock might be a potential obstacle to selling all 1,969 copies that have been pressed.
Mara Kuge, president and founder of Superior Music Publishing, said that while the price is steep, the customer for this box can likely afford it.
“This is targeted toward buyers with a good deal of disposable income, so there must be a perception that enough Woodstock fans fall into this category to make it worthwhile,” she said.
Clayton Durant, CEO and founder of the artist consulting firm CAD Management, didn’t think the price would hurt sales either. He also noted that affluent buyers aren’t the only customers that Rhino appears to be courting.
In addition to the full set, Rhino Records is also releasing it in smaller, abbreviated versions. These include a three-disc configuration that sells for $35, a 10-disc version that sells for $160, and a $125 five-LP set for vinyl devotees. Durant said that this is all likely part of a bid to ensnare younger buyers with less disposable income and get them interested in the artists that appear on these sets.
“This is critical, as it will likely stimulate further interest in this laundry list of artists’ back catalogs, increasing the potential of additional streaming revenue,” he said.
So far, the box has already pre-sold much of its 1,969-copy run, and less than 300 are still available to buyers, so anyone who was worried about the boxes gathering dust in the Rhino warehouse can relax. Besides, music producer and rock historian Denny Somach said that this set is just a larger version of similar sets that the record company has made for previous Woodstock anniversaries, so they know that the customers are out there.
“They have already put out extended versions for the 25th and 40th anniversaries [of Woodstock],” he said. “All they are doing is expanding on what is already available.”
Assuming the set does well, there are implications for the wider music industry. Namely, deluxe offerings of this kind will be seen as commercially viable, provided the circumstances are right. Mara Kuge of Superior Music Publishing said that the Beatles are ideal candidates for this type of treatment, while rock historian Denny Somach chose the Grateful Dead, who have already proven that they have an audience for this type of release with the 2015 box set “30 Trips Around the Sun.” That release, which was also from Rhino, features 73 hours worth of live performances across 80 compact discs.
Meanwhile, Clayton Durant of CAD Management saw no reason why a package of this size would only be suited to artists of the Baby Boom generation.
“The superstars of today – Drake, BTS, Ariana Grande – are likely thinking of how to develop a superfan package, potentially similar in pricing to the Rhino Records anniversary box,” he said. “This forward thinking allows a label and artist to have a plan to make additional revenue in the latter half of an artist’s career.”
While it’s too soon to say whether sets of this size have a future beyond the high-end collector’s item market, one thing is undeniable – Woodstock itself is still generating discussion and money today. Why does this event still make people in the Coachella age open their wallets to relive it?
According to Clayton Durant, it’s the music that keeps Woodstock relevant today, and it’s never been more available than it is right now, during the Spotify age. And ironically, that same streaming technology that’s put physical media on the endangered species list will likely expose young listeners to the artists who performed at Woodstock and turn them into the limited-edition collector’s item buyers of tomorrow.
“What has really kept Woodstock alive isn’t just the timeless marketing of the festival and the numerous products… but also the growth and adoption of streaming,” Durant said. “The discovery of these legacy acts from younger fans is creating a whole new level of interest in Woodstock.”
Music producer Andy Zax, who oversaw the creation of this set, declined to comment for this article. Representatives for Rhino Records could not be reached for comment.