The Woodstock '99 Documentary Was A WILD Ride. After Watching It I Can't Believe We're Still Allowed To Go To Festivals Today
The Guardian - It would be easy, as the director Garrett Price says in the opening seconds of his documentary Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage, to structure a film about the disastrous music festival held on a July weekend in 1999 as a comedy. The reboot of Woodstock for an audience mostly born after the original festival in 1969 was a proto-Fyre meltdown of grotesque American excess, a panoply of late 90s nonsense – Kid Rock strolling on stage in a white fur coat, Limp Bizkit as a main draw, mostly young, white, male Gen-Xers paying to see nu metal acts in a poorly managed swamp of filth. But the easy jabs, the sheen of cultural nostalgia over any Woodstock, particularly the first one, mask what actually, says Price, “played out much more like a horror film”.
Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage captures an event that devolved spectacularly, with a palpable current of misogyny, white male rage, entitlement and cynical commercialism. The facilities built at an old air force base in Rome, New York – the irony of a new Woodstock held at a military facility – collapsed under the weight of 200,000 visitors. With water sold at $4, many festival-goers went without in temperatures over 100F (37.8C). Over 1,200 were treated for medical conditions; three people died. It’s a miracle it wasn’t more – the festival ended in riots, as attendees whipped up by three days of anarchy-fueled music burned the fairgrounds. Forty-four were arrested. There were 10 reported sexual assaults, but a cursory glance at the footage – male attendees groping topless women with glee, as if free love equates to free violation – assures there were many more.
You don't really even need to watch the HBO Max documentary Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage to get a gist of what it's about. You can google search it and find 100 other articles much like the one I copied and pasted an excerpt from above.
In two words, it was a shit show.
It was actually where the term shit show derived from I'm pretty sure (more on this later).
Before I get into what I think will turn out to be 30,000 words on the topic, let me state that after watching this documentary, I was dumbfounded that we are allowed to go to music festivals today.
After watching how poorly planned, executed, and then handled in the after math by the organizers I'm still in shock that the Federal Government didn't step in and say "yah, this is never happening again guys"
Not only that, but people forget that these guys tried to pull off a 50th Anniversary Woodstock a few years ago. After all of this. It obviously got cancelled but you have to kind of respect their audacity.
As far as events go, Woodstock '99 was the absolute perfect storm of chaos. 100-degree temperatures, price gouging for water, rowdy nu-metal bands booked back to back to back on the lineup, 500,000 horned up adolescents and college aged kids on an abandoned military base in upstate New York, horrificly tone deaf and unprepared organizers and hundreds of unqualified, checked out security.
I don't want to give away spoilers right at the top because there are still so many people that haven't yet watched it. So scroll to the bottom for those.
Without spoiling the entire documentary, the fest was organized by the original Woodstock organizers, Michael Lang and John Scher (what a piece of work this guy is btw) as a 30th Anniversary tribute show. Oh, and a massive money grab.
Taking place in 1999, selling 3 day passes at $180 a pop was no joke. That's close to what some comparable festival's today GA prices are at, 22 years later.
Also, schilling out waters in the aformentioned 100+ heat for the same price as beer ($4 at the time) is never going to play well.
So these guys got off on the wrong foot with festival-goers before and as soon as they walked in the door on Friday afternoon…
Oh and speaking of walking in the door, Lang and Scher "hired" hundreds of local upstate New Yorker's to run security for them after enrolling them in an exausting 2 hour training course where the instructor coached them on the exam questions before conducting it.
When guests showed up, any personal food or drinks were confiscated and thrown in the trash, but they were allowed to keep their drugs.
A few of the real headscratchers that pop up while you're watching the doc are
1- why is a festival originally created (1969) in the name of peace and love being thrown on a military base? Did the irony ever occur to Lang or Scher? Or did they just not give a fuck?
2- I totally understand that rage music and "nu-metal" were at their peaks in 1999, but didn't organizers think about breaking up the lineup's a little bit by softening them up with some other artists? Maybe booking more than just 3 female acts too while they were at it.
I mean stacking Limp Bizkit, then Rage Against The Machine, then Metallica (who went on close to midnight) back to back to back is the definition of a powder keg. As a DJ or music curator you want to build energy gradually. You can't just throw a switch and move masses of people subconsciously. It's too startling and abrupt. But if you do it gradually you can eventually work them into a frenzy. Well this was frenzy creation 101.
The ultimate cheese dog, nu-metal group of the 90s, Limp Bizkit, taking the stage after a nice and cheery trio of Counting Crows, Dave Matthews Band, and Alanis Morisette sparked the match.
I mean look at this shit.
Throwing on what might have been the angiest band I can recall, Rage Against The Machine after them, was adding gasoline to the fire.
And then capping that off with Metallica was all but ensuring the crowd was going to absolutely lose it.
So yah, Saturday was predictably going to be crazy. Throw in all that went wrong, which was pretty much everything under the sun, that went down on Friday, and earlier Saturday and Saturday night went even more off the rails.
Speaking of Friday, the festival, and beginning of the documentary, seemed to have started off really optimistically. People seemed incredibly hyped to arrive at the festival and see one of the biggest and sickest lineups the world had ever put on one bill.
You gotta keep in mind, this was 1999. Before you could create spotify playlists at the snap of your fingers, or pull up youtube videos of anybody and everybody - legend, or up-and-comer's alike. We were fed music via the radio and MTV. That was our conduit. With the explosion of the internet, and mp3s and subsequently Napster and p2p file sharing, the game obviously changed, but that was well after Woodstock '99. Putting together this many incredible, huge acts on one single bill was mind blowing. Nobody was doing this. There weren't bullshit, corporatized, flavor of the week festivals in every state in the country every other weekend like there are today.
Essentially, Woodstock '99 was a really big fucking deal.
So big in fact that people came in from all over the country for it. And they drove. In caravans. And even if they didn't want to camp out at the festival grounds, they pretty much had to because another fuck up that the organizers didn't take into account (and that the doc didn't detail) was that Woodstock '99 coincided with Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame Induction Weekend in nearby Cooperstown, NY. Which was the same weekend every year, and which had every hotel and motel room in the surrounding area blocked off for months in advance.
It was so bad supposedly that the organizers weren't even able to take care of the artists and many artists that didn't travel by tour bus were totally fucked- a nearby motel was forced to turn away Alanis Morissette, Howard Stern and George Clinton because there were no vacancies.
But back to Friday, and the beginning of the doc-
Everything seemed to be going swimingly until DMX took the stage.
Eddie, Chief, and I discussed the doc at length on Eddie's Dogwalk "Freeswim" last week and we hit on 90% of everything.
Including my comments on the DMX portion of the doc and the drastic turn it seemed to take at this point.
I was no stranger to this performance. I'd watched it as a kid, I'd watched it as a huge DMX fan randomly every now and then because of how legendary it was.
I blogged about it numerous times when he sadly passed away.
It was one of the most incredible live performances I've ever seen. I would have killed to experience that in person.
Never in my wildest thoughts did I ever think this would be seen as a focul point of "a generation filled with pent up anger, hell-bent on destruction and taking it out on somebody" like the documentary depicted it.
Was I or am I cool with 250,000 mostly white kids chanting the n-word in unison? No absolutely not. Super cringe actually. But I honestly didn't notice it because if you watched the entire concert, instead of dissecting that one part like producers did, you'd notice that DMX was incorporating the crowd into the show from the very first song, "Intro" (still one of the greatest pump up tracks of all time). He volleyed back and forth with the crowd the entire set. They were worked up and full involved the entire time, so that part seemed really really skewed in my opinion.
And from there the entire thing unraveled.
Again, not to spoil it but the doc takes a turn I was definitely not expecting from that point on.
It basically turns into an indictment on the bands that headlined the fest, and more so their fans. I.e. 20 something white males who the documentary hypothesizes were overflowing with sexual frustration, as well as anxiety from feelings of hopelessness for their future. They had no great war or conflict to be apart of so they couldn't "self identify" like previous generations. They just wanted to break things, cause destruction, and partake in anarchy.
All things I was unaware of before this and still don't fully comprehend.
As a kid growing up around the time, that was obsessed with MTV, and thought Kurt Loder was ten times the man Tom Brokaw was, I remembered Woodstock '99 MTV News cut ins and updates. It looked like the wildest time I'd ever seen.
Unlike Bobby Fox, whose nightmare it would be to have been in the crowd for Korn's performance on Friday night, I remember (and still feel), being so jealous of the people that got to take this in live in the flesh and be part of this giant human tsunami.
This is one of the most bad ass scenes I've ever seen. Straight pandemonium and energy
++++++ NOW FOR THE SPOILERS +++++
I didn't think the documentary gave the festival an impartial view. I felt it was very politicized and had a really negative spin.
Obviously the weekend devolved into a disgusting spectacle. The fires, the sexual assaults, the rioting and destruction are all humanity at its worst. But I was left wondering, was it really as bad as they made it seem in the documentary to people who were actually there? So I put it out on social media and asked people to give me their first hand accounts. Here are some of the better ones -
Best memory would have to be Kid Rocks opening song. It was absolutely electric. The entire place went bonkers.
Worst memories would have to be how the concerts were on tarmac, it was over 90 degrees and water was more expensive than beer. Also, the portapotties backed up and the human sewage slid down a hill into a ton of people’s tents. Many people stumbled around all weekend reeking of human waste. Saturday was an amazing list of bands, topped off by a killer set by Metallica.
We got up on Sunday and felt like their was a strange vibe of angst, anger and over the top testosterone, so we headed out at daybreak. Woodstock 69 was a celebration of love and peace, Woodstock 99 was the antithesis.
I got home, turned on the tv and saw the place was on fire with RHCP ripping up the stage.
All in all it was a wild weekend. The bands were amazing and it was an experience I will carry with me for a lifetime.
I will start with apologizing in advance for my poor gramer. I have not seen the documentary.
I had just graduated high school, my friends uncle was one of the promoters of the event. Her graduation gift was 6 free tickets and VIP passes. We had special gated parking( I'm adding this because it was almost a problem after the riots). He picked us up drove us right to a private camping area on the grounds.
I had mapped out who I was going to see and when. Go back and forth between the stages. When we got there we soon realized how big the grounds really were. Let's say I only went to the main stage.
To this day Korn was one of my favorite experiences. I had never seen them and didn't know alot about them. They came out and opened with,"Blind". You heard the symbols and they just stood there and didn't move. Then the first guitar rift was played and they just stood still until the song kicked it. I was blown away.
The showers had men's and women's side separated by plywood walls. By the end of the festival there were no walls.
Limp bizkit was the craziest mosh pit I have ever been it. The place was wild when they were.
I stayed the main stage all day that day which was day 2 I think. I remember trying to sleep all I could her was Fat Boy Slim playing at one of the Hangers.
Day 3 people had started to take down the plywood walls the went around the grounds to keep the non ticketed people out. Night fall had Red hot chili peppers closing out the show and that was when it all started. You could see speakers towers on fire while there were playing.
We had gone back to out camp site and at some point you could hear explosions. We took a wall and realized the riots had started. Refrigeration trucks had been lit on fire. Walking around vendors were guarding there items with brooms and anything they could find. Crowds yelling, "Fuck you I don't do what you tell me" they you would here a massive bang as if they had just flipped something. The had mail trucks that they turned into payphone banks. They got destroyed and touched.
We finally went to bed and woke up and saw the madness that had gone on all-night. Police everywhere, our car was on the other side of the airfield. We had to cross the runway to get to out car but I was completely lined with police. They weren't going to let us through. We had to call my friends uncle to get back to the car. - James
I haven't seen the doc but I bought the podcast about the making of it last year. They hit on the price gouging and cold business decisions, but I want to drive it home with a couple of anecdotes.
There were public water fountains. They were shitty and warm, but it was water. Sunday morning, they were turned off.
Nobody had money left, the riot was bound to happen. It was the strangest feeling, when we woke up on Sunday I could feel it in the air. Nobody said it but we all knew we were about to destroy the place. And they deserved it, I stand by that.
A girl in our group (we were all 18) was blistered sunburned, dehydrated, clearly on the verge of heat stroke. We were outside a tent that had hoses spraying mist, it cost $10 to walk through.
She didn't have it, and they didn't let her in til she got it. This chick almost dropped right there in front of them and they gave zero fucks.
The silver lining to that is, we got out of there mid afternoon and got to an Embassy Suites in Syracuse just in time to see it burn. We ordered a pizza and laughed.
TO THIS DAY THE BEST SHOWER I'VE EVER HAD. That includes any and all sexual acts performed in showers.
The further I get away from it, the less nostalgic I am about the whole thing.
As I mentioned, look into the riots at Dave Matthews that same summer and Pearl Jam the year before and 96 at the Meadows.
Preppy white kids like me were angry - fueled with drugs - it was a Frat world.
You also had the Girls Gone Wild movement. We would often do some crazy shit that I'm not even going to write about but would have a conversation. Girls Gone Wild made it seem okay and acceptable.
I wasn't at Woodstock 99 - but I was at these other events around that time.
DMB Meadows 99:
Pearl Jam Meadows 96 98:
It was also the time of crazy Offspring concerts at the Palladium where you beat the shit out of people.
Looking back at it - things were bonkers and diverse. I'd go to shows like DMB and Pearl Jam, but also partied at Bad Boy Bill EDM venues, Ultra Music Fest in Miami 99, and there was another big one I'm forgetting in New Jersey.
One weekend you're doing Shrooms and smoking weed - the next weekend you are snorting lines of girl's boobs and taking ecstasy. - Brad
What’s Up Dante-
Ill see what I can remember from Woodstock LOL – was a fucking battle. I went with a group of I think 8 – two of my buddies had their girlfriends with them- and then me a and a couple others flying solo. We all were pretty big Dave Matthews Band fans, I think that was our main reason for going. So the lineup was a bit suspect for us but Wycleff, DMX, Rage against the machine and a few others made it seem like it would be a cool lineup.
I remember getting there we had to park like 3 miles from where we camped , and carrying all our shit was a pain in the Ass. We set up camp in a big open area , no trees or anything near us. It was hot as fuck so by the time we got all our shit set up we were already sweaty and disgusting- but ready for the weekend.
Day 1 we were all pretty chill, had a bunch of weed with us – and then found some acid and away we went LOL. I think that 1st day was pretty cool, we were wandering around saw a few cool bands I think Sheryl Crow, DMX and the Roots - That’s one thing too if we are putting this in context of the Documentary – When DMX was playing they made it seem like on the documentary that the whole crowd was a Bunch of racists shouting the N word – nothing like that at all. Id say 90 percent of the crowd was just hot as fuck and trying not to pass out, and enjoying the music. Definitely started to get a bit weird as it got darker though. You could feel the energy shifting as Korn was about to play. We got the Fuck out of the main stage area and as we were leaving you could definitely feel the sort of angst and whatnot. Bur once you got away from the main stage area things seemed chill again. I think that night we went to the rave area and Fatboy Slim was spinning all night – pretty sure we took some ectasy and were feeling real good. I remember having a deep conversation with two dudes from Oklahoma for like an hour, god only knows what the fuck we could have been talking about. So all in all Day 1 was Cool, I think we ll thought the rest of the weekend would be chill but we had no idea what was coming lol.
Day 2 – We woke up early on the Saturday because it was like 80 degrees by 7am and there was no shade at all so our tents were like ovens basically. Only a few hours of sleep if that but felt like we were ready to go for day 2. DMB, Wycleff, Counting Crows, Rage against the Machine all were playing this day- so we were ready to go and got down to the stage area early to get a good spot. This is where shit definitely started to get nuts. 100 degrees, the porta potty situation was real, total fucking shitshow ( literally), water situation was a mess, people were starting to get crazy. Basically everything they said in the documentary was going on, and we were sitting right in the middle of it all. I remember we all said, only way to get through this mess is more acid. So we tripped our balls off again and just lived the chaos. I remember sitting in the crow during Wycleff, and we had to face away from the stage and fend of water bottles and beer cans. It was like being in a video game, swatting them away to protect our group. We saw a dude get absolutely blasted in the face with a full beer can, was brutal. DMB was cool though and after that I think we again got the fuck out of Dodge as Metallica was playing that night. This is where the Vibe really got Dark though. People were getting pissed and Hit, again , all you saw ibn the Doc was legit.
Day 3- We got up on Sunday and were all fucking cashed. I remember we all agreed we needed to get the hell out of there, we could feel shut bubbling and knew shit was gonna go down. I remember we packed up and had so much shit- and the girls with us were so tired and spent that they really could even carry their own shit. We had like a 3 mile walk and no clue how we were gonna get all our shit out of there. I think we started walking to our car in the afternoon and it took us forever to make progress. At this point people were destroying shit and it was about to get crazier. We found a long fence post that had been knocked down, and strung all our bags across it and hoisted it up on our shoulder like carrying a Medieval Chariot or something. Was the only way we could get our shit out of there. People were stopping us and taking pictures telling us it was genius LOL. We were walking out right past the stage when the Chili Peppers were playing and we were seeing all the fires and looting and shit. Fucking Nuts. And worst part of it all we finally get back to our car and it wouldn’t fucking start, battery was dead. And of course we didn’t have cables , took us forever to find some so we could get the fuck out of there. We left and drive straight back to Westfield State from there, Ive never been so tired in my life driving but we just needed to get the fuck home. - Brian S.
I think we've met at some point, I'm a friend of Blackie, Rob, Gordie, etc. Blackie just sent me your request to hear some Woodstock '99 stories and I've got a few. Let me tell you, the doc only covered a fraction of how crazy it was.
First, and this isn't a great story but sets the tone, my two friends (Brian and Kevin) arrive after driving to Rome, NY, from Leominster, MA. I'm 42 now, so that would have made us 20 at the time. We didn't bring much with us as we didn't quite grasp the concept of what was about to happen. Duffle bag of clothes, a couple tents, that's about it. We end up finding a place to set up our tent in the middle of an area covered in wood chips between trees where thousands of others had set up shop as well. Our tent neighbor, Rich, was an older guy with a red mustache who brought NOTHING with him besides a tarp and a couple bottles of whiskey. He attached the tarp to the adjacent tree and that was his "home" for the next 3 days. Every morning we'd wake up after probably 2-3 hours of "sleep" and Rich would pass the bottle around and we'd all take sips of our "wake up juice" as it was known. The reports of excessive heat are spot-on, I'm not kidding when I say it felt like 120 degrees relentlessly all weekend and you can imagine the heat produced inside our tents if we were looking for refuge.
I guess my best story of the weekend consisted of dropping acid on Day 2. Day 1 was about getting the lay of the land and digesting how barbaric this weekend was about to be. We (Brian, Kevin, and I) had to navigate what seemed like miles between the two main stages, sticking together because there really was no way to find each other if we went our separate ways, and the idea that drugs were not for sale, but rather given away aggressively by everyone "helping" each other get high and maximize their Woodstock experience. Kevin, my buddy, surprised us with some acid and after some friendly peer pressure, the three of us let that innocent-looking tab dissolve on our tongues. Probably within 30 minutes, my eyeballs felt like they doubled in size and it brought a jolt of energy which lasted for the next 12 hours. We watched bands at the main stage, saw a million topless girls, and didn't require much food since the drugs and adrenalin completely took over. As day turned to night, we ventured over to the rave tent and discovered there was a frisbee giveaway nearby earlier in the day. Well every person at the rave ended up grabbing frisbees and it turned into the all-out frisbee battle. And it wasn't malicious, just thousands of people throwing frisbees at each other and randomly in the air. It was an absolute spectacle and I'm imagining 80% of attendees were feeling the exact same effects from their drug(s) of choice. We survived the battle and tried to head back to our tent - on our way we found a grass field and a rabbit caught our eye. Mind you, I don't know if there really was a rabbit there, but we thought so. We ended up chasing this "rabbit" for what felt like 2 hours (it was probably 10 minutes) and then noticed the bright moon in the sky. I thought the moon was now chasing us, maybe in defense of the rabbit, or maybe it had its own agenda? Next thing you know, I'm running away from the moon and my two friends have absolutely no idea where I'm going. The one thing about the moon, it's huge. And there's really no escaping it. Brian and Kevin caught up with me, assured me everything was fine, and somehow we made our way back to the tent. I don't recall how we got there or sleeping that night, but I will never forget that day as long as I live.
Oh, and the bathroom stories are true. Shit was overflowing the seat in every porta-potty and there was no place to shower once the showers turned into alternative bathrooms. I'm so glad I went but had I known what I was walking into, I would have NEVER gone. Glad I'm here to still talk about it haha.
Good luck with the blog!
So sounds like it was an absolute nightmare.
A few of the things I didn't get a chance to jump into fully on the podcast with Eddie and Chief but bullet points I'm sure lots of other people also noted while watching-
- James brown opening up. What a start. Talk about a kick off to a festival. The Godfather Of Soul!
- The stages were A MILE APART. ONE MILE! On an airforce base! All those tarmac's just roasting in the sun all day long. Attendees were probably spot on saying it felt like it was 120 degrees on the ground. Also one thing airforce bases definietly don't have? Trees. So not only was there zero shade cover anywhere on the festival grounds, but there was no frame of reference for you if you needed to go to the bathroom, or grab food, and then meet up with your friends in an hour or so. You couldn't say, meet by the trees near so and so. It was just one giant wide open space with two monster main stages a mile away from each other. Nightmare.
- People forget how dope LIVE was. Fuckin bangers. I loved this band when I was younger. Would have killed to see them in person.
- Andy dick bombing on stage between acts is so perfectly on brand.
- Three words. Pay phone banks. We got into this on the pod but there were no cell phones. You got lost there and you’re the definition of fucked. It's insane to think that peopel were leaving each other notes at a "Lost Loved Ones" tent like it was the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina or something.
- Bold move going cash only for vendors and then having like 2 ATM machines in the entire place. Mr. Portnoy would be proud
- I had no idea how big of villains MTV were. Seeing Carson Daly get booed into Bolivia and almost stoned to death with bottles when he stepped on stage was a wild sight to see.
- Moby is still such a squid.
- There was reportedly 500,000 people at 1969 fest. Organizers claim they capped this one at 250,000 but my friend swears to me there felt like it was double that.
- Dmx's It's Dark And Hell is Hot "Intro" goes harder than anything and there’s nothing close to it
- Totally forgot how over the top the "Girls Gone Wild" movement was and how in your face the commercials were on tv almost everywhere after midnight. What a time to be alive.
- The Offspring fuck hard. They're also geniuses as I informed Chief of on the pod.
- They way they acted like this was unprecedented with girls wearing bodypaint, and next to nothing clothing wise was such a farce. Have any of these producers been to a music festival in the last ten years? It's like Halloween on steroids.
- The Korn crowd on Friday night holy fuck.
- The EMS worker saying it was a worse situation than he experienced during Katrina was wild
- People sleeping under trucks so that they could escape the sun was wild
- No idea how they didn't frame this for reference since they kept harping on it, but I have to guess that charging $4 for a water in 1999 was like $15 today?
- The footage of people literally rolling around in raw sewage and shit was a tough scene
- They did Kid Rock's dj really dirty in this by taking a cheap shot at him. That wasn't just some nobody you clowns that was the one and only Uncle Kracker
- Jewel still looks good
- The trash can bangers. I would have fucking lost my mind having to listen to that non-stop around the clock and killed everybody
- Verne Troyer introducing Limp Bizkit is an all time moment. Peak 90s. People forget how big Verne Troyer was (pun not intended). Eddie is a big "Surreal Life" guy like myself and we need to do a Dogwalk episode on how ridiculous of a show that was.
- The "Rave Hanger" needed it's own hour of the documentary. Must have been zombie land.
- Creed was just laugh out loud funny. Scott Stapp and his never ending obsession with Jim Morrison, bringing out the Doors guitarist Robby Krieger for a terrible rendition of “Roadhouse Blues” that went so far over everybody's head that was there. Cringe city.
- Why didn’t they show Insane clown posse even once in this doc?
Performing on the East Stage on Friday night before George Clinton’s Parliament/Funkadelic, ICP was the first act to incite the crowd “by throwing $100 bills into the audience and watching gleefully while a melee ensued,”
- Ending with a comparison to "Coachella" and making it sound like that is the ultimate example of "festivals done right" was high comedy. Such a fucking joke. One of the biggest price gouging, clout chasing, spectacles on Earth.
p.s. - they didn't mention this in the doc but Trent Reznor has no love lost for Fred Durst.
p.p.s. - They had a "movie tent" where they screened movies around the clock? Ok Woodstock.
p.p.p.s. - if you want to read a fantastic counter-argument to the documentary's bias, check out this piece from Chris Riemenschneider of the Minnesota Star Tribune who was there all three days and gave his account.