Woodstock '99 Begins

Woodstock '99 Begins

July 23, 1999 12:00 AM ET

As the snaking line of cars inched its way through the heart of downtown Rome, N.Y., Thursday evening, it was hard to imagine the Romans knew what they were in for.| The first 60,000 of a projected 300,000 concert-goers (radio reports have estimated as high as a million) had made their way to the site of Woodstock '99. Spirits were running high, even as delays made it seem like they might never make it to the event.

Route 46, the main road to the decommissioned Griffiss Air Force Base concert site, had taken on a parade route vibe, with residents of this sleepy upstate New York hamlet (home to the World Series of Bocce) waving, flashing peace signs and excitedly hollering at the seemingly endless procession of cars headed through town.

Traffic moved at a crawl throughout the night and into the early hours of the morning, as cars carrying droves of kids from locations as far-flung as Florida, Ontario and Michigan attempted to reach the base. But despite the long wait, those who were concert-bound -- a throng of kids whose median age seemed to be around nineteen -- seemed unfazed, and they happily shouted back at the Rome locals as the sounds of some of the coming event's performers poured from their car stereos.

The scene at ground zero -- the dauntingly large Griffiss Park -- was much the same, with kids retaining remarkable composure in the face of the utter chaos that already seemed to be taking hold. Hardly anyone, including event employees equipped with flashlights and a vague appearance of authority knew where to go or how to get there.

The official festivities began at noon today with a set from last-minute festival add James Brown, but the weekend's music got rolling last night with a concert featuring George Clinton and the P-Funk All Stars. A two-hour-long set drew a large crowd, and even after it ended around 12:30 a.m., people continued to mill around for hours. Around 1 a.m., a huge assemblage gathered to try and beat the Guinness Book World Record for most frisbees simultaneously in the air, making the sky nearly as littered with yellow promotional discs as the ground already was with pizza boxes, soda cans and tired kids.

Of course, it's only the beginning. As the traffic snarled to increasingly stupefying heights, technicians tested the monstrous lighting rigs and laser shows and campers struggled in darkness to set up their temporary homes, the night was pregnant with expectation. The next sixty hours remain to prove whether the much ballyhooed thirtieth anniversary lives up to its pedigree.

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