What is it about Woodstock? Just thinking about it invokes it’s own genre of sights, sounds and smells. Woodstock is probably the best known festival of all time.
Although I wasn’t able to attend the original I’m sad to say, as it took place in the year I was born, but it’s 30 year anniversary was a definite “must do” on mine, and my sweetheart’s bucket lists.
I would have to say, and I doubt anyone would argue, that Woodstock ’99 was by far, the most controversial of the three Woodstock festivals. The music and mayhem of the 3-day-monstrosity was more than I could even contain in my measly little brain. As for the fire and water bottles, well…those are now part of the etching in my mind too.
The 3rd Woodstock; 30th anniversary of the original was slated for July 23-25, 1999. Known as Woodstock ’99, the festival was held at Griffiss Airforce base in upstate New York’s Mohawk Valley outside Rome, New York. According to Pollstar Magazine concert figures stated that the concert grossed $28.9 million making it the biggest concert gross for 1999. Approximately 187,000 tickets were sold. Being part of the massive crowds, it definitely seemed to me like there were many more than that, but I wasn’t counting people at all, I was counting my lucky stars to have made it out alive.
As one concert-goer spewed on the hollywoodvulture,
There were a dozen corporate sponsors, resulting in a vast array of extremely overpriced crap. One bottle of water (which is, for the record, a necessary component of human survival) would have set you back $4 . The festival grounds also had an inadequate amount of bathroom facilities. Throw in the added discomfort of blistering heat, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for ruination. The facade of a peaceful musical happening crumbled rapidly as people became more dehydrated and worse for the wear. Sure, the acts may have been A-List (Rage Against the Machine, Metallica, Sheryl Crow), but the living conditions were grade Z. Those in attendance, from hippies to metalheads, just couldn’t handle their shit and they lost it.
In an interview with USA Today, MTV correspondent Kurt Loder recalled the negative aura: “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.” It culminated during the final performance of the festival. The Red Hot Chili Peppers took the stage and, by the time they came out for an encore, fires erupted, looters went amuck, fights broke out, and there were at least four reported rapes. To quote one of the headliners, Elvis Costello: “What’s so funny ’bout peace, love, and understanding?” When it came to Woodstock ‘99, those things weren’t so much funny, as unattainable. Concertgoers weren’t respected by the organizers, and, in turn, the anger of a generation ignited into flames.
So that is mostly true, but I guess it depends on where you were staying during the festival. Overall, our experience was pretty great, but to tell you that it was anywhere near what we expected would be a lie. I thought peace, love and music would rule the air, but unfortunately the corporate takeover left a bad taste in most dehydrated mouths that attended. Anyway, here’s our story of the wild weekend:
My better half -Jim and I left Florida two days before the start of the festival with our $150 tickets, and all of our necessities– including the camping gear we’d need, stuffed into a couple duffel bags and crammed into the overhead bins on the airplane headed for New York. (I still can’t believe they let us carry it all on the plane). And I have to give Jim credit for actually fitting all that stuff into those two carry-on bags. It was like trying to make 40 lbs. of potatoes fit into a 10 lb. sack…he’s an organizational master!
We were more excited than I’d like to admit, like two little kids making their way to Disneyland for the first time. And who wouldn’t be? We were going to see a whole slew of our favorite bands! Including Live,Collective Soul, Mickey Hart, Creed, Buckcherry, Bush, Jewel, Offspring, Dave Matthews, and the monster list goes on!!!!! We spent the whole flight mulling over the list of performers, their time slots, and who we would make time to see on which of the three simultaneous-non-stop-musical stages.
(Speaking of Collective Soul……they’re having a blog contest until June 15, 2009…..get yours out there pronto to win awesome prizes!)
I’m so glad we were too excited to wait, and had decided to leave a couple days early so we could pick out a prime camping spot. After the 3 hour flight from Florida, renting a car (that was an ordeal in itself), and driving to Rome, NY we finally arrived at the air-force base where the festival was to take place. They weren’t letting anyone in yet, but we could see from the road how large the area was. Immense is not even close to describing how huge this air-force base is.
We thought it would be beneficial to get a feel of the area, and decided to drive around Rome to see the sights and to check out places of interest. A few miles or so from the air-base we found a beautiful state park (Delta Lake State Park) and since they weren’t letting anyone into the festival yet, we decided to set up camp there. Little did we know how important finding this prime spot would be, but as the weekend wore on we soon found out we couldn’t have found a better place to lay our weary heads.
After shopping for all our perishables, and setting up our camp–with our tent propped up perfectly, Jim set to his favorite part of the whole camping scenario; creating the biggest fire he could muster. He was still gathering more wood (as apparently I hadn’t acquired enough for his tastes), I think he was making sure to have enough wood for the second coming, and since I wasn’t going to encourage him, I decided to just keep my mouth shut, kick back, and enjoy the scene play out. I was just getting all cozied up in my camping chair- had my glass of wine, and was all set to enjoy a nice warm, crackling fire when we saw a few guys making their way over to our campsite. I told Jim that it was probably the park security coming to tell him to dial the flames down a few notches as he really is a bit of a pyro (aren’t all men? What is it with guys and fires? I’ll never understand the man/fire relationship) and some have to outdo the next guy so they can have the biggest fire of all– Jim is one of those that always has to have the biggest fire…always. But as it turned out, the strangers were not park rangers at all, it was a just gang of fellow campers who were interested in the “awesome fire, dude!“.
Fire is definitely some kind of calling for men. The bigger they are the better. It’s like men see a big campfire and say, “I must see the maker of this great fire!” Well, all I can say is, thank GOD the park rangers didn’t come and break up the party by taking Jim off to park ranger jail for making too big of a fire. I didn’t want to be alone in that campground surrounded by thousands of strange, wild men enlivened by all the fires blazing throughout the place. God only knows what could have transpired. Thank goodness the strangers turned out to be some great guys who were set to party like it was the end of the world…(that in itself lent Jim to make instant friends with them) but there were many more similarities they shared, like; they were quite impressed with Jim’s fire building techniques and said they had to come over to our camping plot to see this man who had made such a “bitchin’ blazer”. And since these guys turned out to be from Jersey (not far from one of Jim’s old stomping grounds) there was another similarity, and we all became quick friends. It wasn’t long before they asked if they could set up camp next to us so they could enjoy the fruits of this mighty blazer.
I sat back and watched while these four Jersey guys set up their camp, and as they were unpacking the vehicle I noticed that their necessities were quite different from our own…it seemed party materials were deemed the most important part of the whole affair. They had enough, it looked, for a decade of decadence. OMG! They just kept going back and forth to the back of the truck and returning with more and more. I saw case after case of alcohol carried out of the back of the truck– at least a case of vodka, a case of whiskey (good ole Jack Daniels), a case of rum, enough beer to fill a semi, and more bags of drugs than I had ever seen on any TV Cops episode. Were these guys planning for the end of the world? Well, no matter their reasons, we had to help them get rid of some of it, I mean, c’mon, it was a momentous occasion, and they couldn’t possibly do it all alone! And yes Mom, I did partake in the smoking of marijuana, and I did inhale, but really, what did you expect? It was Woodstock!!!
Anyway, we made it through to the next day alive, and all went down to the base to see if they were letting anyone into the field. Yeah! It was a go! And man, the thousands of people in line were already starting a ruckus…it was a scorcher, and you know how people get when it’s hot, and you throw in drugs and alcohol; they get grumpy and impatient. I actually felt bad for the security guys checking all the people before letting them in, they were getting the grunt of the malcontent. It really didn’t help that they weren’t letting in batteries or alcohol (yet, tons of people got in with it, and much, much more of the so-called illegal contraband), but thanks to our ingenious plan, and proper execution, we filled our backpack with packed ice, sunblock, bug spray, vodka disguised as a few harmless water bottles, and of course real water bottles. We found out later that we were quite a minority who had thought of needing such things.
After getting through some of the tightest security I’d ever dealt with, we finally made it into the field…omg! it was beautiful, and absolutely gynormous!
The heat was already starting to get to some people. And water was going for about $4 per bottle, and having to wait in line just to pay for it wasn’t making anyone really happy, but hey, we were at Woodstock! So most made the best of it. You should have seen the looks we were getting when we pulled out iced water bottles from our backpack. We could have made a fortune that day selling cold water and ice. But there really wasn’t enough that would have fit in the little backpack that we could have sold anyway. By the end of the first day, one of the chain link fences had become its own work of art when people began placing their empty plastic water bottles/soda bottles through each hole of the fence and created a plastic art wall of Woodstock ’99.
Tent City was just getting into full swing as people were trying to set up their gear in the tiny allotted spaces that were allowed. I’m so glad we decided to camp at the state park instead of on the actual Woodstock campgrounds they provided inside the festival grounds. There were thousands upon thousands of tents in row after row, and no one had any space to breathe let alone have a fire. How lucky we were! Tent City was endless, it seemed, and would have been the perfect ad campaign for any camping gear or tent producer in the country….at least on the first day of Woodstock ’99.
The tents were literally set up one right next to the other (more like they were stacked on top of each other). People barely had enough room to walk through the sea of tents! I don’t know how they each found their own tents in the midst of millions, and in the dark middle of the night–there’s no way I couldn’t have handled it!
Our first day was spent wandering around and seeing what the festival had to offer, and ogling the bigger-than-life crowds. I had never seen so many people in one place before. There were make-shift hospital tents for those that were injured, or just had a little too much fun, tents for lost children (yes, many adults brought their kids along and many were lost…you wouldn’t believe the amount of kids that were left abandoned while the parents partied, all the while announcers were sending out messages of “please pick up your lost children at the lost children’s tent” ). But after checking everything out, we spent most of our time at only one of the stages as most of our favorites were performing there. We did makes the rounds and got to see almost all of our favorites, but some we had to nix because they were playing at the same time on different stages, and we couldn’t be in two places at once. That was probably the hardest part; choosing which ones to see. Then the rain started, and that cooled everyone off, but it really made things messy. The air-base turned into a giant mud pit, especially around the port-o-potty/washroom area. Once people started the mud fights we headed far away from all the nut-cases, or as we fondly called them, the “mud people”.
Tent City was completely destroyed by the second night, and especially after the rain. Thousands of drunk/drugged out people were sleeping on top of other people’s crushed tents, and after the rain it was a giant-squashed-tent-MUD CITY……I wish I could have captured the enormity of the space these tents filled…you wouldn’t have believed it unless you’d seen it. Anyone have a picture of that????…..yeah, 20/20 hindsight and all that rot.
But even with the heat, the expensive water, and loads of crazy people, we still had an amazing time. Here’s a few videos from the weekend;
SEE MY WOODSTOCK VIDEO PLAYLIST ON youtube.com
All the bands we saw were fantabulous! But if I had to pick our favorites that we did get to see it would have to be the following:
- Collective Soul
- Dave Matthew’s
- Alanis Morissette
- Mickey Hart’s Planet Drum (too cool!)
- Limp Bizkit
- we missed Willie Nelson and a few others we wanted to see as there were three stages simultaneously rocking with band after band so you really had to be picky and had to make wise choices.
I’m sure by now you’ve heard of the riots, fires and complete chaos that ensued on the third night. I’d be willing to bet it was the Chili Pepper’s who got the blame, but I think Limp Bizkit and Metallica started all the riots and chaos/ craziness, and all the rioting, fires, etc. From what we saw, even Sevendust didn’t help matters any…as well as a few others…you know who you are….. they were actually trying to get people stirred up for a fight, egging them on and screaming for more. All I could think of is, c’mon! This is WOODSCTOCK, man! There’s supposed to be peace, and love here; not fire, rape and pillage, it’s not a pirate ship! We even heard that a few rioters pulled cars out of the parking lot after burning the painted walls down, and burned the cars too.
At first, Woodstock ’99 was a beautiful, amazing experience, but somehow, after 3 days of sweltering heat, drugs, alcohol, and rain turning everything into a giant mud pit, normal people changed into complete pigs and things then turned ugly. Common fans turned into beasts and fun turned into shock and horror as a simple empty water bottle thrown into the air by someone in the crowd started an all out war. After the first empty water bottle was thrown up into the crowd, then everyone was getting into it; chucking half-full water bottles, then full water bottles, then batteries, and whatever else they could get their hands on. All this was being thrown into mobs of people, knocking them in their heads, slamming them to the ground, and some even knocking a few unlucky souls unconscious. I wouldn’t doubt some were hurt very terribly.
When we saw this chaos starting, both Jim and I knew it was going to get ugly, and we looked for a safe spot to hang while still being able to enjoy the show, but there weren’t many. We did manage to find an abandoned semi-trailer that we sat under to protect our heads from flying batteries and full water bottles, and God knows what else. But the enraged crowd seemed to get angrier and meaner by the second, so we decided to head back to our state park campsite back up the hill. I’m so glad we did, as even up there we could hear the bands playing in the distance so we didn’t feel like we missed any of the good stuff. Not only could we hear the bands perfectly (Bush sounded like they were right there with us) but we could also hear the crowds screaming, the music was like a background to the mayhem, fires and complete societal breakdown. Then there was us; our little party group, having a blast living it up in harmony at our campsite with the Jersey boys, our bitchin’ fire, and our water bottles filled with vodka, (well, plus all the other stuff). We all sat around Jim’s awesome campfire while listening to the concert down the hill, roasting marshmallows, and actually enjoyed the meaning of a peaceful Woodstock ’99…
Ahhhhhhhh…..now that was livin’ and much more like the Woodstock that should have been.
But I still feel for all those people that had to sleep in Tent City….I would probably have started a riot too.
Artists at Woodstock 1999:
- The Brian Setzer Orchestera
- James Brown
- The Chemical Brothers
- Collective Soul
- Elvis Costello
- Counting Crows
- Sheryl Crow
- The Dave Matthews Band
- G. Love and Special Sauce
- Bruce Hornsby
- Ice Cube
- Insane Clown Posse
- Wyclef Jean
- Kid Rock
- Limp Bizkit
- Love Lobos
- Alanis Morissette
- Willie elso
- Mike Ness
- The Offspring
- Our Lady Peace
- Mickey Hart’s Planet Drum
- Rage Against the Machine
- The Red Hot Chili Peppers
- The Roots
- Rusted Root
- The Tragically Hip
Anyway, after a full weekend of partying, dancing, and enjoying the all out best show I’ve ever seen live, I learned something. People are pigs. You wouldn’t believe the mess people left behind. C’mon, is it that hard to pick up your own garbage?
All in all it was a fantastic experience (besides the riots, fires and general mayhem)….
something we’ll never forget.
by Steven R. Rochlin
Some people were not just content with watching the fire. They wanted to celebrate inside it! Seen to the right are two young men rejoicing while standing on a piece of the 4′ x 8′ plywood on top of the fire which was part of the wooden wall that surrounded the Woodstock ’99 festival. This photo was taken about midway into the riot. Eventually the fire seen here grew to about three times it’s size.
Death defying leaps were made by some youths as they jumped over the fire itself! If you look carefully at the top center of this photo, you can see a rioter in mid jump over the fire itself. Fortunately he was not hurt and landed safely on the other side with just some burnt hair.
Seen here are many of the rioters celebrating their feat of toppling over the tower. This is also proof of just how very sturdy this structure is as over two dozen individuals have a good time on it.
Here is another photo of the burning trailers. You can easily see the smoke pouring into the air. Not just from the trailers, but also from the field behind them. The rear right half of this photo shows the East stage which is approximately eight blocks away (rounded top structure).
Here is a close up of one of the burning trailers. As you can see, the legs which held the front part of it have collapsed due to stress. These were air conditioned trailers used to hold food or ice for vendors throughout Woodstock ’99. On the left side of the trailer you can see where the extreme heat has taken its toll. Since i felt more detail was needed, seen below is a closer photograph of the severe damage.
This photo shows the severity of the damage caused by the fire-wielding rioters. The side of the trailer closest to us suffers from ruthless heat damage. You can easily see how the heat made the metal bend as well as the discolorations associated with such exposure. i want you to pay close attention to the rear of the trailer as the heat has literally burnt it away! If you carefully look on the ground below it you can see what is left of the wheels and supporting structure that make up trailers such as this. Even though the firemen did a great job at containing the fires, some of these trailer like this one still smoldered hours later. Are the ground were red embers still burning away.
Lastly, here is a side view of the Mercedes that was turned over and for the most part destroyed.
The above pictures are from; http://www.enjoythemusic.com/woodstock/72799.htm
Like I said, it was a weekend we’ll never forget!