The Hippies Ruined Woodstock 99

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For a brief moment in time, the coolest new scene in America was embraced by red-assed frat boys, shit kicking burnouts, and basement-dwelling nerds. I counted myself among the latter in 1999, the year some bold capitalists decided to stack the biggest bands in Nü Metal on a megafestival bill alongside Dave Matthews Band and Counting Crows. Almost half a million fans attended. They were there to rap. They were there to rock. Above all, they were there to see some fuckin’ titties, man. It ended in literal flames.

It didn’t have to be this way. The group responsible for the Woodstock ’99 debacle also organized Woodstock ’94 and the original Woodstock Music & Art Fair. Of the three, only one of them wasn’t an utter disaster. Their incompetence destroyed Woodstock ’99.

To see the carnage of Woodstock’99 firsthand, to fear for your safety amid the looting and fires, to thirst for water and a usable port-a-potty… you’d have to ask someone that was actually there. In 1999 I was 12 years old and glued to the television as FOX presented a two-hour special of highlights from the festival. A wise adolescent, I had the foresight to tape the broadcast so that I could watch performances by Limp Bizkit and KoRn over and over and over. For months, I’d rewind the tape and watch my favorite 30-something white trash musical heroes rap about the cruelty of girls and parents as I flipped through the latest copy of Musician’s Friend catalog and pined after the 7-string guitars, my lack of which was surely a young man’s lone barrier to Nü Metal stardom.

I’ll have these performances burned into my mind until the day my memory finally gives out. I can see future Michigan congressman Robert James Ritchie taking the stage in a pristine white fur coat before delivering a throat-shredding, “My name is Kiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiid” and kicking into the bounce riff of “Bawitdaba”. I picture Fred Durst crooning George Michael‘s “Faith” while riding a discarded piece of plywood. I hear Rage Against the Machine‘s Tom Morello shredding the raddest fucking Nintendo guitar solo ever on “Know Your Enemy”. FOX took great care to highlight some of the best performances across the entire festival. (I’ve since watched untold hours of footage from this festival via the official VHS Woodstock ’99 release and, now, almost every full show on YouTube.) Tacked on at the tail end of the broadcast was a minute or two of somber reflection on the chaos that upended everything. The reason Woodstock ’99 is remembered beyond the fond Nü Metal memories of aging weirdos like me, is because the entire festival eventually got torn apart by attendees.

As KoRn and Limp Bizkit performed, witnesses reported seeing women being sexually assaulted. Later in the fest, as the Red Hot Chili Peppers covered “Fire” by Jimi Hendrix, an inferno swallowed an audio tower. Soon after, kids started additional fires with piles of discarded trash, eventually tearing apart fences, looting vendors, and ransacking toppled ATMs. Riot cops eventually came in and cleared out the festival grounds.

There was an immediate rush by the media to decry obscene rap/rock performers for riling up the hoodlum attendees and whipping them into a criminal fury. To this day, I see Woodstock ’99 held up as proof of the creative and moral rot inherent in youth culture and aggressive music. But it is incredibly lazy to place the whole of the blame for this disaster at the DC Shoe-wearing feet of Limp Bizkit fans. A group of worthless rapists certainly victimized innocent women, an inexcusable crime, but property destruction at the festival was result of a dangerous environment that was entirely the fault of Woodstock ’99s organizers.

Conditions were awful for festival-goers. After purchasing high-priced tickets, attendees were not allowed to bring in food nor water, instead forced to buy $4 bottles of water or stand in long lines for one of the few working water fountains. Temperatures reached 100 degrees during the day and there were no shady areas to cool down. Toilets and showers were woefully insufficient and quickly rendered unusable. Security was understaffed for an event hosting almost 500,000 people. Despite these negligent oversights, organizers made to sure to secure plenty of corporate sponsors and vendors, all eager to grab another dollar or two.

Most egregiously amid the media uproar was the chorus of professional scolds disdainfully remarking that Woodstock ’99 had somehow sullied the legacy of the original Woodstock Music and Art Fair. Yes, Woodstock ’99 was a shameless cash grab thrown together by greedy organizers. In that sense, it could not have been more similar to the first festival.

Nostalgia-addled Baby Boomers love to point to the original Woodstock as a peaceful Happening to celebrate love and anti-war sentiments. In reality, it was a FEMA-grade shitshow put together by a trust fund kid and a Capitol Records executive. The pair, alongside their two buddies, set out to make a few bucks off of hippies in the burgeoning counter cultural movement. The organizers willfully lied to the community about the size of the concert by selling 250,000 tickets for a space designated for 50,000. A total of 500,000 people showed up. After running out of food on the very first day of the festival, the Catskills community had to pitch in to make sandwiches for hundreds of thousands of hippies without food or water. It was delivered, alongside performers, via air lift from the nearby Air Force base. Hippies intercepted a food truck that was en route to the festival and looted it clean. Three kids died at the festival, and lord knows how many people were assaulted given the predatory nature of many during the “free love” era. None of these facts matter much to Baby Boomers, of course. Moralizing and self mythologizing tend to get in the way of genuine reflection.

Festival co-promoter John Scher blamed the chaos of Woodstock 99 on “an organized group, a cult, a club or something like that”.  I suppose reckoning with the reality that extremely fucked up things happen when hundreds of thousands of people are crammed together in awful conditions is much more difficult than simply blaming Fred Durst for causing the Nü Metal Altamont (The Altamont disaster, if you will recall, occurred mere weeks after the original Woodstock).

Woodstock ’99 was both the apex and nadir of Nü Metal. This new, dangerous amalgamation of rap and metal burst forth to headline the biggest festival of the late 90s. Once there it immediately shit the bed. The blame lies on Michael Lang and his fellow organizers for being so fucking bad at their jobs. Had they cut fewer corners we might still see festival lineups with Jewel and Insane Clown Posse side by side. Now we’re left with cookie cutter LiveNation and iHeartRadio festivals, each with damn near-identical lineups of buzzworthy rappers, DJs, indie rock, and a sprinkling of washed up reunion acts. Inexplicably, the Red Hot Chili Peppers will be at all of them.


This piece originally ran in Street Fight #5. You can find a physical copy here

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  • Speaking of 7 string guitars, I played one (an Ibanez) for the very first time just last week, through a Marshall JVM410H. Fun, but I lack either the stupidity or intelligence to make the most of the extra string.

  • Eliza

    I wonder if children will learn about this piece of history in class 50 years or so from now.
    https://media.giphy.com/media/xT9DPLHXmrqzMRjSQo/giphy.gif

    • Óðinn

      Same as they did 50 years ago. ABH (Always Blame Hippies).

  • The Arm(KJM)

    On a similar note, I’m giving next week’s Iron Maiden/Ghost concert a pass. I’m officially too old to care about seeing any band in sweltering 90-95F heat, only indoor shows in Summer from now on.

    • ME GORAK™✓ᶜᵃᵛᵉᵐᵃⁿ

      ME NOT GO CUZ NOT FEEL LIKE TRIP TO CHICAGO!!!!!!!!

      • The Arm(KJM)

        Getting home from Mansfield sucks unless you drive, and even then it’s pretty bad. I’ve been stuck in that lot for hours.

  • frozengoatsheadupanunsarse

    Hippies ruined everything maaan. Should have just skipped from the Beats to the punks.

  • Howard Dean

    I remember watching Kurt Loder and all of the other MTV talking heads reporting on Woodstock ’99. The thing that was the most aggravating about it all was everyone’s mock surprise. “My god, this massive crowd of drunk, horny, overtired and underfed kids just went crazy! Why, the darn kids these days!! Society is out of control!! Remember Haight-Ashbury in ’67? That was pure, man. That was real.” As if giant crowds of people under duress had never run amok before.

    Good times.

    http://www.allnewyorkcityrealestate.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/large_0726-WOODSTOCK-3.jpg

    • Howard Dean
      • Boom

      • Óðinn

        Gives the townies something to do after you leave. 😉

    • TheGranulatingDarkSatanicMilfs

      Yeah, nice selective memory that prick had. I have one word for him: Altamont

    • more beer

      Kurt Loder is a huge fucking douche bag. A friend and I ran into him outside of Morbid Angel in 91. For some reason there was re-entry at that show, it was like 120 degrees in the venue. So we were running out to get a cold beer at the bodega. Well that prick was doing some bullshit for MTV news about death metal, but wouldn’t go into the club. He accosted us and asked us some stupid question. Our response was “if you don’t get the fuck out of our way so we can get beer, we will kill you!” Needless to say he didn’t use our answer to his question on MTV News. He did use a friend of ours screaming “Kill For Satan” at him in his segment.

      • Óðinn
      • Howard Dean

        Hahaha, that’s fucking awesome! This comments section has been a treasure trove of great stories.

        • more beer

          Yes it has, but no one can get between some sweaty metalheads and a cold beer. That is a capital crime.

          • Óðinn

            Yeah, I remember some Christian protesters confronting us outside a Slayer convert back in the day (must have been late 1989 or early 1990) . Back then, I’d pretty much fight anybody for any reason. And I wasn’t the only one. It was a Slayer concert. They ended fleeing so they wouldn’t be mauled by a bunch of drunk Slayer fans.

          • more beer

            That is what they would have deserved. They had no business being there in the first place.

  • RJA

    So let me get this straight – you DON’T want me to blame Fred Durst or Kid Rock?!!

    • Wild, right!?

      • Óðinn

        Wild, Right (*not associated with the alt-right).

  • sweetooth0

    as shitty as things got with Woodstock 99 I have to admit watching the footage of Megadeth close it out playing ‘Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying’ while the festival was being burned to the ground was fucking legendary!

    • Óðinn

      Agreed.

  • Señor Jefe El Rossover

    OG Woodstock had some killer performances though

    https://youtu.be/UMPcfJpklD4

  • Óðinn

    I retroactively blame Kid Rock because he supported Trump in 2016. He probably still supports Trump now after Trump’s douchey son yesterday admitted he colluded with the Russians along with Trump’s douchey son in law.

    • Señor Jefe El Rossover

      Isn’t that the plot to Minority Report?

      • Óðinn

        Maybe. I haven’t see that film.

        ….and if Kid Rock is in it, I never will. 😉

        • Señor Jefe El Rossover

          Ah. Well the whole idea is stopping a crime before it happens. Judgement based on future events.

          No KidRock, but yes Tom Cruise

          • Óðinn

            Haha! I remember that one now. I actually went through a very long phase during which I refused to see any movie with Tom Cruise (other than Magnolia).

          • Edge of Tomorrow >>>>>>>>>>>>
            Emily Blunt >>>>>>>>>>>>>

          • Óðinn

            Yeah, it was pretty good.

        • But Kid Rock IS in Joe Dirt which rules

    • Brutalist_Receptacle

      HE DID IT ALL FOR THE NOOKIE

  • President Chester A. Arthur

    I was there. It was exactly as you described. Some of the shows were cool to see with that kind of a crowd, but by the third day it was like a fucking refugee camp. I ran out of money on the second day, and people were passing out from heat exhaustion all over the place, They were charging 12 dollars for a frozen pizza and 4-6 for a bottle of water. I saw security guards empty people’s coolers on the ground and confiscate bottles of water. People were pissed. I was at the Megadeth show and lost my girlfriend in the crowd as the festival burned on the other side of the field. Never been so scared in my life as when the riot police showed up. I saw some kids steal one of the cop’s ATVs and start riding it around as one of the vendor trucks exploded behind them. It was kind of fucking awesome actually.

    • Vault Dweller

      “I saw some kids steal one of the cop’s ATVs and start riding it around as one of the vendor trucks exploded behind them.”
      This line made me feel like I really missed out on something I wanted to see.

      I was a bit young for Woodstock, so I listened to it live on the radio. It amused me to listen to two rural Maine DJ’s attempt to explain without objectionable phrasing that Flea was playing while only wearing a single sock…

    • Óðinn

      I basically watched the whole festival on pirated pay-per-view. Back then you could buy a cable box that unscrambled all the blocked channels for like $100. Anyway, Woodstock ’99 was fascinating. Watching it was all I did that weekend.

    • Óðinn
  • Lord of Bork

    I’m going to butt in to defend the original Woodstock for a minute, if only because my dad has a funny story about his car breaking down on the way there.

    Yes, two people died at Woodstock. However, one was from a heroin overdose (gonna go ahead and call that one user error), and the other was when a sleeping hippie got run over by a tractor in a neighboring field (again, seems like user error). However, aside from that the problems that arose were due to the scale of the event rather than the actions of the promoters or the audience; nobody thought they’d attract the crowd they did, and they accordingly didn’t have the logistics to support it without outside help. Given the sheer scale of the event it was a remarkably tame affair that generated amazing performances and cultural touchstones that continue to resonate 50 years later.

  • Óðinn
  • Dental_Damnation

    I honestly think some of those same norms who go to these cookie cutter fests you talk about are the same that we’re in attendance at Woodstock ’99. I’ve seen norms attend a metal show on a weekend as a lark in some venues purely to FSU prior to heading to a nightclub to find someone to take advantage of in a drug/alcohol inebriated state. I’ve also seen norms at work who actually get visibly aggravated at the sound of distorted guitars and screaming vocals. Unlike metal heads who understand the therapeutic nature of the music, most ppl get angry and confused when they listen to it. Seems to me Woodstock ’99 was the proverbial perfect storm in all aspects

    • Howard Dean

      I kept reading FSU as “Florida State University” and was really confused until I realized it meant “fuck shit up.”

      I watched way too much college football growing up.

  • more beer

    I chose to stay home and spent the weekend drinking on the Lower East Side. One of the best decisions of my life.

  • Max

    I actually think this might be the best thing you’ve ever written, Joe.

  • Óðinn

    Darn hippies. They ruin everything.

    http://i.imgur.com/s0ZwT.gif

  • PostBlackenedWhaleGaze

    This is one of the best articles I’ve read on this site.