Trainwreck: Woodstock 99 – Netflix docuseries proves we’ve learned little from the toxic horrors of the infamous music festival

northEtflix’s new three-part series about the absolute horror show that was Woodstock ’99 opens in an appropriately dramatic way. “This is Bosnia?” a festival-goer asks, as he looks through the rubble of the three-day event that was less “peace and love” and more “violence and arson.” The air is thick with smoke from recently extinguished fires. The porta dump urinals sit among the ashes. Gigantic lighting platforms lay flat on the ground. If you thought Glastonbury’s 6am Stone Circle scene was messy, you haven’t seen anything yet.

Train Wreck: Woodstock ’99 details an event that seemed destined for disaster from the start. Michael Lang, who organized the original Woodstock festival in 1969 when he was just 24, was never too interested in doing another. A 25th anniversary event in 1994 was a flop, with poor security and two deaths at the venue. In an interview filmed before he died earlier this year at age 77, Lang admits he thought it was impossible to recreate that free and easy spirit of the late 1960s, when young people came together in the wake of Vietnam, to show that there was a kinder way. way of doing things. In fact, it was another disaster that convinced him to resurrect the festival: the Columbine school shooting in April 1999. Lang’s ambition was to unite young Americans and show them a world free of violence, and that a peaceful way it was possible. Unfortunately, the chaotic scene that developed seemed to be as much the fault of the festival organizers as it was the punters. Now, 23 years later, they still refuse to take the blame.

Woodstock ’99 was a perfect storm of pissed off, wild kids, oppressive heat, and a production team that cared little for the well-being of the 250,000 people who had bought tickets to the three-day festival. Unlike the rolling grassy hills of the bucolic 1969 version, Woodstock ’99 took place in the unscenic surroundings of a military base in Rome, New York, in July 1999. Although temperatures of over 100° were forecast F (38 °C) for the weekend, Water and food were taken away from attendees when they arrived at the venue. The base, a paved airstrip, was also severely lacking in shade. “Oh my gosh, there’s so much asphalt,” recalls one of the production crew, after seeing the location for the first time.

Also very different from the original festival was the lineup. While Woodstock ’69 featured the popular styles of the Grateful Dead, The Band, and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, Woodstock ’99 featured the mosh pit mayhem of Limp Bizkit, Korn, and Kid Rock, all playing under the motto: “It’s not your parents Woodstock”.

Looking at Train Wreck: Woodstock ’99 has a peculiar familiarity. Although I wasn’t there, a month later I was at my first festival. Reading 1999 played host to many of the same bands, including the Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Offspring, and while there certainly wasn’t as much horrific violence, the clips of teenagers running wild after dark definitely set some bells ringing. As are the mentions of groping in the crowd. The swirling images of mosh pits took me right back to that dirty weekend in Berkshire 23 years ago, and made me glad to be older and confident enough to tell the unruly hands of a crowd where to go.

Sheryl Crow was one of the first actresses in the ill-fated Woodstock reboot, and already an aggressive element in the crowd began to make itself known, with men yelling at the star to “show us your boobs.” This escalated over the weekend, with numerous sexual assaults and four rapes reported. Add to this the lack of trained security, a lesson the festival’s promoters should have learned but last year’s Astroworld tragedy shows they haven’t, and the young crowd was as dangerous as it was vulnerable. One of the most harrowing moments in the new documentary comes when we are told of an incident on the set of Fatboy Slim in which a truck is commandeered and driven into a crowd. Then someone chillingly describes seeing a young woman passed out and naked in the back of the truck, a man hovering over her and buttoning her pants.

Crowds of women were groped in the crowd, and we are shown horrific videos of them having to physically remove strangers’ hands from their breasts. Festival promoter John Scher does a terrible job of taking responsibility for such attacks. “There were a lot of women who voluntarily took off their tops, you know?” he says, shrugging. “And then you get into a mosh pit, it makes you surf the crowd: could someone have touched her breasts? Yes, I’m sure they did. What could I have done about it? I’m not sure I could have done anything.” How about security kicks the men out to blame, John? How about a zero tolerance sexual harassment policy? Try harder, John.

Festival goers set fire to Woodstock ’99

(Netflix)

By the last night, gamblers were so unhappy with conditions (the drinking fountains were contaminated with water from the toilets, leading to cases of trench mouth, and the price of bottled water had skyrocketed to an outrageous $12) that they full-scale anarchy was underway. letters. When the secret Prince/Bob Dylan/Guns ‘N Roses rumor closing the festival failed to materialize, Woodstock ’99 began to eat itself up. One hundred thousand candles were given out for a vigil against gun violence without the knowledge of the fire marshal, which were used to start large fires in the crowd. Trucks and tankers were also set on fire.

The mob mentality rapidly descended and merchandise stalls were looted, lighting rigs were toppled and ATMs were smashed to bits. As the production staff barricaded themselves in their office, state police officers with batons and shields arrived to shut down the festival.

What is interesting is that, despite the shortcomings of the staff, the majority of bettors interviewed in Train Wreck: Woodstock ’99 I had a good time. A great moment, in fact, something they say was enhanced by the feeling of chaos. I’m sure the girl in the van and those who were bullied wouldn’t give the same answer, but for some of these kids, their first taste of freedom was eye-opening. Still, that’s no excuse for festival promoters to refuse to be held accountable for what happened at Woodstock ’99. And with Michael Lang dead and John Scher still convinced there was nothing he could do, it seems a proper apology will never materialize.

‘Trainwreck: Woodstock ’99’ is now available on Netflix

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