For those that thought that the recent Fyre Festival was a sham, wait until your memory is jogged about the disastrous Woodstock '99. All of its ugliness is brought to light in the stunning and captivating new HBO Max documentary, "Woodstock 99: Peace, Love and Rage."
Whether you were alive to experience it or not, the original Woodstock festival of 1969 is a thing of legends. Some 400,000 people gathered at a dairy farm in Bethel, New York to celebrate peace, love and music, and it is considered to be one of the largest peaceful gatherings in all of human history. It definitely was a defining event that shifted American culture forever, and it was a tremendous success to boot. So of course, someone was bound to try to capitalize on it.
That "someone" was original Woodstock founder, Michael Lang, who appears in the new HBO documentary that chronicles Woodstock 99. Having organized the original festival, many forget that there was also a Woodstock 94, which carried on the traditions set 25 years earlier. However as a money-making event, Woodstock 94 was a failure: Even though an estimated half-million people attended, only about a third of them actually bought tickets, as thousands of fans poured through flimsy chain-link fences to attend this iconic celebration in droves.
Determined to make Woodstock 99 a financial success and not just a cultural one, the event was moved to an abandoned Air Force base in Rome, NY...yes, imagine the irony of Woodstock being held within the confines of a military facility. But chaos ensued in more ways than one at Woodstock 99, forever smearing the festival's iconic name.
Once inside the walls, Woodstock 99 was simply massive: To walk between its two main stages was an over-two-mile trek on hot concrete...the weather during its four days reached well into the 100s. People were hot and miserable, but the problem was conflated ten-fold when vendors were jacking up their prices, with a bottle of water going for over $4. That was when there was even water available, because as the festival went along, water supplies ran dry. Bathrooms were not maintained so waste was flowing openly, and there simply weren't enough security guards on-hand. Things quickly went from bad-to-worse, to unspeakable.
As "Woodstock 99: Peace, Love and Rage" shows, this was a literal shit-show from the beginning of its inception. For a festival meant to harness the spirit of the original, why were angry rock bands headlining the event? Groups like Korn, Limp Bizkit, Insane Clown Posse, Rage Against the Machine, Megadeth and Kid Rock were not exactly the kind of acts found back at the '69 show. The combination of hot, irritable, mostly young white men who feel they are getting gamed by the system and being over-charged for basic necessities, are mosh-pitting to songs like "Break Stuff." Yeah, who could have ever seen this coming?
It gets worse. A man died from severe dehydration and many more were hospitalized. There were many, many reports of sexual assaults and rape.
The HBO doc gets several of the major players together to reminisce about their experiences at Woodstock 99. From the perspective of the show's organizers and promoters, much of the blame is directed at MTV, who at that time was leading teenage pop culture with their must-see shows like TRL (Total Request Live) hosted by Carson Daly. The crowd at Woodstock 99 despised the recent turn MTV had recently made towards a younger audience, and their presence just stoked the unrest.
If there is anything to criticize, it's that this film undercuts itself. At one point, they mention that people actually forgot that not everything went smoothly at the original Woodstock...they credit a 1970 documentary as reinforcing public perception about what went on there. Most younger people who weren't alive during Woodstock only know of Woodstock from this documentary footage. But this new HBO documentary seems to think that the 1970 documentary didn't paint a full picture, or in other words, wasn't an inclusive, accurate interpretation.
Could "Woodstock 99: Peace, Love and Rage" be suffering from the same ailment? If they blame the earlier documentary as not accurately representing the festival, isn't it possible that they are somehow misrepresenting Woodstock 99? It's at least a fair question.
Also, to reiterate: A man died at Woodstock 99. The build up to this death is a major part of the new documentary, but once it comes, it's never mentioned again. Why wasn't this made to be more a big deal?
Watching "Woodstock 99: Peace, Love and Rage" is like fixating on a ticking time bomb: You know what's coming and it isn't good, yet you can't seem to look away. Every generation has its decisive moments in history, and Woodstock 99 is a great reminder that if it's true that the past often repeats itself, it needs to do so organically. Peace and Love cannot be manufactured...attempting to do so will only lead to rage.
["Woodstock 99: Peace, Love and Rage" is the first film in the new HBO documentary series, "Music Box," which looks to explore pivotal moments in the world of music.]
Genre: Documentary, Music.
Run Time: 1 hour 54 minutes.
Directed by Garret Price ("Love, Antosha").
"Woodstock 99: Peace, Love and Rage" is streaming on HBO Max on Friday, July 23rd, 2021.
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