Woodstock Officials Assess Festival's Destructive Closing Night

Woodstock Officials Assess Festival's Destructive Closing Night

July 26, 1999 12:00 AM ET

Call it Murphy's Law. Just a few hours after Woodstock '99 organizers convened at a press conference to pat themselves on the back about having defied critics' predictions that the three-day festival would be a logistical nightmare, the whole thing went up in smoke. Literally.

Late into the Red Hot Chili Peppers' closing set on the East Stage at Griffiss Air Force Base, bonfires began to break out at various locations throughout the crowd. As the air became thick with smoke and the flames reached higher and higher, concert goers began chucking massive amounts of trash, sleeping mats, umbrellas -- whatever was nearby -- onto the pyres. As the chaos escalated, audience members began scaling the speaker towers while others pushed over outhouses, one goofily exclaiming, "Hope nobody was in there."

At that point, fire trucks had begun to work their way through the crowd and state troopers were streaming into the area as the festival dissolved into the destructive melee that led to the night's seven arrests, five injuries and the accusation that Woodstock '99 had turned into a riot, complete with batton-wielding policemen and looting.

Today, the authorities were appreciably downcast as they tried to explain away the previous night's disastrous events.

"Riot would be an overstatement in my opinion right now," said Rome's mayor Joe Griffo. "I believe that the reason the word 'riot' was used was because that's the section of the penal code that the individuals have been charged [with violating]. I believe that you people are using the word 'riot.'"

Griffo, like the other authorities present, also stressed that there aren't enough facts to make any final judgments just yet, and he attempted to allay fears about police and security mishandling. He did point out, however, that the bulk of the damage is thought to have been caused by "a small percentage of the individuals," or "a few assholes" as Woodstock co-promoter Michael Lang has called them.

"I don't think it was an anti-Woodstock statement," said Lang. "I think it was an anti-establishment, anti-everything, anti-anti statement. They were really tearing down their own facility."

As for the facility, Lang said he was uncertain where the next Woodstock would be held. Griffo, meanwhile, who had expressed his willingness to have the next Woodstock festival in Rome less than twenty-four hours earlier, today said he'd have to "reassess," taking into consideration the community's welfare.

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