Woodstock 99 – Not Your Mother’s Peace and Love Festival

“We played this festival in Nuremberg at an old Third Reich park. So I’ve played a venue that was literally built by Hitler that was more hospitable than that Air Force base was.” – The Offspring, who actually made an attempt to soothe the crowd.

A while back I did a series on the original Woodstock which a search of my site will reveal if you are into that sort of thing. I don’t know why it took them so long to come up with something about this. But HBO recently aired a documentary about the fiasco known as Woodstock 99. (Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage.) Sonny Boy and I watched it recently. Here’s the story (and why I’m now glad the 50th anniversary was a complete non-starter):

No, your memory doesn’t fail you. There have been three different Woodstocks – 1969, 1994, and 1999. The most notable thing about ’94 was A) mud and B) Bob Dylan. Joe Cocker, Crosby, Stills & Nash. Country Joe McDonald, John Sebastian, and Santana were returnees from the original. But mostly the lineup reflected (as it should) a new generation’s bands – Nine Inch Nails, Blind Melon, Cranberries, etc. And so, I guess, it made sense that since both fests were largely peaceful, they should do it again.

But since the organizers had been dumb enough to have a weak chain-link fence allowing thousands to practically stroll in, this time – in order to maximize profit and utterly shed any of that phony peace and love bullshit, they decided to go all out. Fuck all that gatecrashing!

First decision in line with that diktat -hold the festival at a former Air Force Base. While others may think that a military air force base is completely and utterly antithetical to the idea of a festival whose backbone was as much antiwar as anything, none of this mattered to the organizers whose motivating factor was, apparently, greed. (“Greed, for lack of a better word, is good,” said Gordon Gekko in Wall Street.) That whole hippie thing? Over!

The organizers characterized the site as “defensible,” describing the 12-foot (3.7 m) plywood and steel fence intended to keep out those without tickets. (These guys didn’t think it all the way through. Had they added manned machine gun turrets that would have been a lot more effective in keeping these pissants out).

Wikipedia tells you more about the fun than you could possibly stand:  “Oppressive heat—which reached above 100 °F (38 °C)—and difficult environmental conditions marred the festival from early on. Added to this was the fact that the site, a former airstrip, lacked many shade trees.

The East and West stages were 2.3 miles (3.7 km) apart, forcing festival-goers to walk across hot concrete surfaces. There was not enough room on grassy areas for many campers to set up their pup tents, and some resorted to camping on asphalt.

Participants were met with high prices once inside. They had to buy from onsite vendors whose merchandise was expensive – burritos sold for $10, hotdogs and sandwiches for $5, a 10″ pizza was $12, and 20 US fl oz (590 ml) bottles of water and soda sold for $4.

If they wanted to visit regular stores, festival-goers faced a long trek, or cramped travel via looping buses, to Rome’s modest shopping areas, where stores had long lines and low stock. People stood in long lines to access the free water fountains, until frustration led a few to break the pipes to provide water to those in the middle of the line, in turn creating many large mud pits.

(Note – some of the “mud pits” were actually mud and shit pits but the kids didn’t know it. Serves ’em right.) Kid Rock demanded that the kids pelt the stage with plastic water bottles during his set, perhaps making a statement about the high price of hydration.

The number of toilets installed proved insufficient for the number of attendees. Within a short time, some facilities, notably the portable toilets and showers on site, were unusable and overflowing.”

Speaking of shit, some asshole named Fred Durst who fronted a POS band called Limp Bizkit actually egged on the drunken frat-boy crowd to bring out their negative energy. And boy did they ever!

The thing was every bit as much – as the documentary states – Girls Gone Wild as festival. Whereas the 1969 crowd chanted “No Rain” or “Fuck the War” or whatever, the mantra of these enlightened souls was “Show Us Your Tits!”

Even actress Rosie Perez who went on stage to greet the crowd got totally disrespected this way. She handled it about as gracefully as she could. There were female performers there, notably Sheryl Crow, Alanis Morrisette, and Jewel. But they were just sacrificial lambs on the way to Saturday night’s testosterone-fest of Durst’s Limp Dick, Rage Against the Machine, and Metallica.

“Show Us Your Tits” inevitably, and sadly, lead to this: “Police investigated four alleged instances of rape that occurred during the concert. Eyewitnesses reported a crowd-surfing woman being pulled down into the crowd and gang-raped in the mosh pit during Limp Bizkit’s set. A volunteer also reported seeing a gang rape during the Korn performance. (This is quite evident in the clip I added at the end of this post. At about 10:00. Fucking pigs.)

“Violence escalated the next night during the final hours of the concert as Red Hot Chili Peppers performed on the east stage and Megadeth performed on the west stage. A group of peace promoters, led by the anti-gun violence organization PAX (later renamed the Center to Prevent Youth Violence), had distributed candles to those stopping at their booth during the day, intending them for a candlelight vigil to be held during the Chili Peppers’ performance of the song “Under the Bridge.” (Smart move guys.)

During the band’s set, the crowd began to light the candles, with some also using candles and lighters to start bonfires. Hundreds of empty plastic water bottles that littered the lawn area were used as fuel for the fire, which had spread to both stages by the end of the performances. After the Chili Peppers were finished with their main set, the audience was informed about ‘a bit of a problem.’ (Ya think?) An audio tower had caught fire, and the fire department was called in to extinguish it.”

Eventually, New York State Troopers were brought it to break up this weary crowd. And inevitably, a 100-foot section of the Peace Wall was broken down – by people trying to get the fuck out.

There is perhaps no better metaphor for this whole sad, sorry affair than to watch Wyclef Jean’s pathetic attempt to do his best Jimi Hendrix by playing the “Star-Spangled Banner.” Not only could he not play the fucking thing but he also needed some other dude to help him set it on fire. Which didn’t work so he smashed the guitar.

Hey, Woodstock ’99 – fuck you and the horse you rode in on. Coachella, launched just a few months later, turned out to be a much better Woodstock than this piece of crap.

“It was dangerous to be around. The whole scene was scary. There were just waves of hatred bouncing around the place, (…) It was clear we had to get out of there…. It was like a concentration camp. To get in, you get frisked to make sure you’re not bringing in any water or food that would prevent you from buying from their outrageously priced booths. You wallow around in garbage and human waste. There was a palpable mood of anger” – Kurt Loder – MTV. 

 

9 thoughts on “Woodstock 99 – Not Your Mother’s Peace and Love Festival

  1. A friend of mine from high school wanted to get the old gang together to go to this and I passed…then watched the mess go down on TV a few months later.

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  2. Didnt know anything about this. These big events always became more about the event thn the music. I went to see The Who, Clash, T-Bone at the Kingdome in Seattle. The biggest crowd Id ever been with. Shmoz city. Cured me forever. Back to the small venues for me.
    (Watched the Buddy Guy film last night. Couldnt have enjoyed it more. My Gal was in tears a couple times. It stuck with the music and the people that influenced him. To many cool bits to pick out just one)

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    1. Might surprise you to know that for all the concerts I’ve been to I’ve never once gone to a rock festival. Closet I came to any kind of festival at all is Newport jazz and those are pretty sedate affairs.

      I’m about a third of the way through the Guy thing. I tend to watch stuff I’ve recorded in bits and pieces. I read his autobio a while back. What a time that was in Chicago in the 50s. Muddy Waters, john Lee Hooker, Little Walter. B. B King would pass through. Then Buddy Guy and and Junior Wells. Buddy is pretty much the last man standing of that generation.

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      1. I think Newport is still about the music. Kick back and enjoy the tunes in a great location. Id be for that. A packed Kingdome with pissed off people (quite a few) that weren’t there for the music was not conducive to a good time.
        I love the whole history of that music and his journey. You havent got to the part where he talks about SRV. I wont spoil it for you. I sure hear a lot of Vaughn in Guy’s playing. I hear a lot of folks in his playing. What a cool guy.

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  3. Seems like a lot of frat boy bands – Limp Bizkit, Kid Rock, RHCP, even Metallica appeal to that demographic. Wonder if the behaviour would have been better if they’d had different bands.

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    1. Unquestionably. But even then, hell, a hot Air Force base with expensive water? There were a lot of frustrated, pissed-off people. And this was not the Woodstock generation. But they made the clear point in the documentary that the first Coachella – held three months later – was wildly successful. Better grounds, free water, fewer aggressive bands. I think Woodstock 99 was just the perfect storm of bad stuff all at once. Like Altamont.

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  4. Gosh, such an awful event all around! Strangely, when I read your post, I recalled an entirely different (great!) concert experience: My first John Mellencamp show at Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Lovely venue!

    Initially, I thought that Mellencamp gig had coincided with Woodstock ’99, since I seem to recall I was in my car and hearing about the fiasco in Rome on the radio while driving back to Queens (New York) from out of state.

    But I just checked setlist.fm and found “my” concert took place on June 13, 1999, five weeks prior to Woodstock ’99. While I’m still convinced I heard about Woodstock ’99 on my car radio, it must have happened during another ride!

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    1. Man, it was such a fucking horror show. My son and I watched with jaws dropping. One of the organizers – a guy named John Scher – spun it every way he could. He blamed the women for provoking the guys. He blamed MTV for broadcasting it. Everybody was at fault except for him and his shitty plans. Like I said in the piece, I’m glad they couldn’t pull together the 50th reunion. They started a good thing but no longer deserve it. The mantle has been passed to Coachella and the others of its ilk. Supposed to go these things for fun, not to possibly get hurt.

      I misremember a lot of stuff. I would have sworn I saw Zappa at Tower Theater in Philly years ago. Turns out it was the long-gone Spectrum. And King Crimson opened for them! And I would swear on a stack of bibles I never saw KC.

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