If you’re a regular on Netflix or the festival scene then you’re bound to be aware of the stories of Woodstock ’99. If you’re not then you’re in for a ride! We take a look at what truly went down and the valuable lessons we can all take from this Netflix documentary.
The History of Woodstock
Woodstock was pioneered in the late 60s by a man named Michael Lang. Aiming to be a mass gathering of similar-minded people, Woodstock '69 preached peace, love and music with an anti-war message towards the ongoing fighting in Vietnam.
32 musicians took to the stage in Bethel, New York including Jimi Hendrix, Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin, to give festival-goers a weekend to remember. Set over rolling hills and greenery, this festival was all about the music and coming together in harmony. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the 1999 revival.
This festival was a poignant point in music history with its ability to unite hundreds of people together to enjoy three days of music. The festival perfectly encapsulated the tumultuous times of the 60. with the fight against wars and protests for civil rights as well as the encouragement of peace and love. It's these factors that make this festival so memorable and impactful still to this day.
The Revival of Woodstock
With the ‘60s festival lingering in people's memories, Michael Lang proposed to bring back Woodstock for the millennia. An attempt to restore Woodstock for its 25th anniversary was made in 1994 but was considered a failure due to the lack of profit made from the festival and the torrential rain that eventually gave it its nickname “Mudstock”.
A revamp for Woodstock's 30th-anniversary celebration meant that Michael and his promoters were determined to make Woodstock ‘99 a success - and success means money. A quarter of a million young people flocked to the gates of Woodstock ‘99 ready to have the best weekend of their lives but little did they know, it would be quite the opposite. The positive reputation of Woodstock ‘69 meant that parents willingly sent their kids off to the festival without much concern. With the original festival having such a positive impact, many believed that this time around would be much of the same good vibes as before.
Set in Rome, New York, Woodstock ‘99 was very different to its 60s counterpart. Set on a disused airbase, this festival promised to be everything ‘94 wasn’t, with outbuildings, perimeter security and fewer fields. It was clear from day one that this event was one big party. Fuelled by drugs and alcohol, there was an undercurrent of wildness amongst the people.
Woodstock ‘99 line-up was truly epic with big names from the nu-metal scene such as Korn and Limp Bizkit as well as the Red Hot Chili Peppers closing the festival. These hardcore bands meant that festival goers were in for one hell of a show and they did not disappoint. This was quite the contrast from the 60s mellow tunes as these rock bands were notorious for their rageful sounds. It became apparent very quickly that with all the mosh pits and head-banging that the crowd became easily out of control and with a general lack of security, this was very dangerous.
The days were followed by all-night raves in an empty hangar in the air base. Teens and young adults continued to consume large amounts of drugs and alcohol throughout the weekend. By day two the site was already a mess with a lack of waste management and toilet facilities not being cleaned. This produced a knock-on effect that rattled the festival-goers - if the showrunners don’t care, why should we? The lack of community at Woodstock ‘99 festival was evident and something that did not transfer from the previous generation in ‘69. A lack of sanitation and cleanliness was a contributing factor to the downfall of the festival.
Added to the mix was also a sweltering heat. That Woodstock weekend saw temperatures of almost 40 degrees with a lack of shade and water leading to a lot of dehydration and heatstroke. One person even died due to the intense heat. It was clear that the festival runners were set on making money whichever way they could and that meant food stalls and bars with extortionate prices. Attendees were charged $4 for water at the start of the festival but hiked to $12 by the final day. Another nail in the coffin for this festival.
By the time Limp Bizkit took to the stage at the end of day two the crowd were almost ready to ignite. Frustrated by how they were being treated, the state of the festival grounds and the all-around lack of respect lead to a crowd at boiling point. Limp Bizkit closed with their hit Break Stuff almost giving the green light to let loose and encourage destruction. The sound stage was the first to be targeted due to the proximity to the crowd and left a lot of the festival goers and staff feeling uneasy and unsafe. Unfortunately, instead of taking action, Michael Lang and promoter John Scher stuck their heads in the sand and ignored the pressing issues that were derailing the festival.
By day three the crowd is unpredictable and angry. Whilst some were totally fed up and decided to leave, the suspense of a secret closing act kept many at the festival. Unfortunately, the violence only increased as the night drew to a close. In order to create a peaceful and reflective moment, Michael Lang decided to pass out lit candles to pay homage to those who lost their lives in the Columbine School Shooting just a few months prior. Sadly, this added fuel to the fire, quite literally, of an already unstable crowd. With fire came more destruction and contributed to the downfall of the festival.
What We Learnt from Trainwreck: Woodstock ‘99
Netflix's Woodstock documentary highlighted some of the poignant factors of the failure of this event and here is what we believe to be the cause:
Lack of Sanitation: The festival lacked serious sanitation and cleanliness. By day three partiers were being diagnosed with Trench Mouth due to the water being contaminated and dirty. Bins were overflowing with rubbish due to a failure in waste management and a lack of respect from the attendees for their surroundings. It took a total of 4 weeks to clean up the site once the event had ended and resulted in over 1200 tonnes of waste.
Lack of Security & Safety: Woodstock ‘99 was out of control. The general lack of security meant that the festival was completely understaffed and not taken seriously. Their “Peace Patrol” units were ultimately just kids in yellow t-shirts who didn’t take their role very seriously. This lack of security meant that conditions were unsafe, lots of individuals were hurt and 3 people died.
Lack of Respect/Care: Possibly one of the biggest factors that contributed to this failed event was the lack of respect and care. It's evident through the documentary that the higher-ups only cared about profit and were willing to let the festival fall into ruin and sacrifice the well-being of the guests for their own gain. Medical facilities were not cut out to deal with a festival of that capacity as supplies and space were dwindling as more and more people developed dehydration and heatstroke. Not only that, the festival attendees themselves showed a lack of respect for their surroundings and each other. You only have to look at the pictures of the festival to see the disruption and destruction. Concert goers were easily sucked into the mob mentality encouraging others to tear down walls and stages.
Focus on Profit: From the start, making a profit was always the goal of Woodstock ‘99. After the failure of Woodstock ‘94 it was clear that the producers had to change things up to make the event successful but this was done at the cost of the guests. Corners were cut wherever possible and budgets were reduced which contributed to the lack of security and safety at the event. The promoters sold the rights to food trucks and TV channels which increased costs for the attendees and cemented its capitalist ideas. This festival wasn’t about people coming together over music during hard times, it was about making as much profit as possible.
Poor management: Woodstock ‘99 had the grounds to be another successful event but poor management and a lack of responsibility was truly its downfall. Michael and John completely buried their heads in the sand when things started to turn sour instead of being proactive and keeping on top of the issues. They tried to control the narrative for the press and downplayed their failings. Nobody took any responsibility and still to this day, Scher remains detached from the problems at heart.
Misogyny: One of the saddest things to report is the allegations of rape and sexual assault that were rife at the festival. Nudity was common at the festival as many people wanted to let their inhibitions go as well as the fact that it was scorchingly hot. Unfortunately, many saw this as an opportunity to have access to women's bodies regardless of their consent. Due to the lack of security and the consumption of drugs and alcohol, many individuals were left vulnerable leading to a report of 5 rapes and a litany of sexual assaults. The promoters and producers again took no responsibility, adopting the “few bad apples” mentality rather than admitting their failings to organise a safe event.
Festivals in 2022
Thankfully in today’s world, festivals are a safe and pleasant place to be - even at the heaviest of festivals! A lot can be learnt from the Woodstock 1999 documentary to help implement safety measures and ensure festival goers not only have a good time but are safe and healthy.
That being said, scenes at Reading & Leeds Festival 2022 were compared to Woodstock with tents and rubbish being set alight on the final evening of the event. It begs the question, have we really learnt anything from Woodstock 1999.
You can watch Trainwreck: Woodstock '99 on Netflix. You can watch the trailer here: