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Woodstock ’99 Burns Its Own Mythology

Woodstock ’99 Burns Its Own Mythology

It might seem strange for a festival whose slogan was “three more
days of peace, love and rock & roll” to have ended with fires,
looting and riot squads, but if you were one of the more than
250,000 attendees at Woodstock ’99, that ending probably didn’t
come as a big surprise.| After all, this wasn’t your parents’
Woodstock — everything about it was faster, bolder, louder, more
expensive and, ultimately, more explosive.

It would be virtually impossible for any musical event, no matter
how glorious, to compete with the original love-in. Over the past
thirty years, looking back through rose-colored glasses has turned
that festival into one of the most highly romanticized events of
the twentieth century. Trying to replicate something so soaked in
nostalgia would be a tall order, almost doomed to negative
comparison from the start. In truth, Woodstock ’99 will no doubt
prove to have been as much of a defining moment for its estimated
quarter-million attendees as the first festival was for the
half-million hippies that descended upon Yasgur’s Farm in the
summer of 1969.

Like the ’69 event, Woodstock ’99 was as much about capturing a
moment in rock & roll history as it was about making rock &
roll history. The forty-eight bands that played on either of the
festival’s two main stages comprise a snapshot of modern rock
music. From Korn’s funk-metal and the Chemical Brothers’ big beat
to DMX’s stripped-down hip-hop and Jewel’s sexy folk music, these
were the acts that most emblematize what gets our mojo working on
the eve of Y2K.

Admittedly, the composite cultural picture drawn by this Woodstock
would frighten the folks who came out for the first one. It’s a
picture of a generation that might answer the question, “What’s so
funny ’bout peace, love and understanding?” with a punch in the
nose. At this festival, the best measure of how well a band’s set
was received was the number of injuries sustained during the course
of their performance.

Taking rock & roll’s visceral aspects to their most extreme,
bands like Kid Rock, Korn and their star pupil, Limp Bizkit,
generated nearly as much aggression in the crowd as their music
displayed on stage. On Friday night, as Korn vocalist Jonathan
Davis flailed around the stage in a kilt, stretchers were being
passed over the heads of audience members so that kids who had
gotten hurt could be strapped down and rushed off to one of the
site’s nine medical units. During Rage Against the Machine’s
blistering set, a steady procession of ambulances raced out of the
unit closest to the stage, bound for the nearby St. Elizabeth’s
Hospital.

It was about two-thirds of the way through the Red Hot Chili
Peppers’ set when the three days’ worth of rebellion came to its
most destructive end. Despite the on-stage pleas of concert
co-promoter John Scher, who noted that “the fire near the main
tower is not part of the show,” screaming kids began lighting the
mass amounts of trash strewn about the site on fire. As the rioting
concert goers danced and jumped across the growing flames, others
scaled the forty-foot speaker towers and balanced precariously
above the melee and echoing explosions. Semi trailers burst into
flames, vendors were reportedly looted and, ultimately, riot troops
and fire engines poured onto the base to squelch the widening
conflagration.

The fires were the logical extension of what had been a
motivating force during the entire weekend — sheer pleasure, at
any cost. For some, that meant risking an ankle injury to dance
around in the mud. For others, it was ingesting potentially lethal
combinations of narcotics. And, as those who tuned into the
Pay-Per-View special already know, many Woodstockers just wanted to
get naked; some who did suffered sexual assault.

In the end, though, it would be a shame if Woodstock ’99 was
remembered only for the way it ended, because that’s certainly not
how people who were there will recall it. Rather, with a set of
their very own rose-hued glasses, those who spent the past three
days in Rome, NY, will recall Woodstock ’99 as the best rock &
roll experience of their lives – a musical event so perfectly
of-its-moment that replicating it would be just as impossible as
replicating either of the other two.

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