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
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
“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.