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10 Things We Learned from the Woodstock 99 Documentary

woodstock 99 documentary
Caption by Photographer Andrea on Flickr: This is all I saw of Dave Matthews Band at Woodstock. This and one other picture. Woodstock was Hell on Earth: 90F in the shade, if there was any; food was exorbitantly priced; no resting places, save a hangar or two showing movies with hideous echo; and the very fact that the event was held on an Air Force base that used to house nuclear weapons (according to rumor, though I believe it.) So much blacktop, so many angry, heat-exhausted people, too little toilets.

Netflix recently released a Woodstock 99 documentary, covering what happened at this fateful festival as well as why things went so wrong. But beyond changing the lives of the people there, Woodstock 99 changed the way music festivals are set up today.

Read on to learn more about the Woodstock 99 festival and why it went so horribly wrong.

What Happened at Woodstock 99?

Woodstock 99′ was a planned revival of the original Woodstock festival, which took place in 1969. Back then, the festival was known for representing peace and love and bringing people together no matter what the circumstances.

The organizer of Woodstock 69 wanted to put on a similar festival. But unfortunately, times had changed. The kids were different, the music was different, and the overall vibe was not one of peace and love. Instead, it was one of rage.

By day two of the festival, things were falling apart as there wasn’t enough food, water, or security for everyone to enjoy the festival. Several women were raped or taken advantage of.

While nudity at Woodstock 69′ was common, the attendees of the 99′ version of this festival were unprepared for the disrespect to women that occurred.

By day three, the festival was a mess, with garbage strewn everywhere and sewage contaminating the water. Many attendees left.

Those that stayed were disappointed when the festival ended, and instead of leaving peacefully, they began to riot, destroying and burning everything in sight.

woodstock 99 aftermath
An attendee at Woodstock 99 who was hit by the “mud people.” Many learned later that mud was mixed with sewage. Photo by Megadem on Flickr.

Where Was Woodstock 99?

Woodstock 99 was held in Rome, New York, at the former Griffiss Air Force Base.

 

How Many People Were at Woodstock 99?

The Woodstock 99 attendance is recorded at over 400,000 people, though the organizers reported that only 186,983 tickets were sold.

The organizers underreported because the venue had a capacity limit of 250,000. The overabundance of attendees likely explains why so many issues arose in terms of not having enough food, water, or toilets for all who attended.

How Many People Died at Woodstock 99?

Despite the chaos, only three people died during Woodstock 99. Two men died from heatstroke, and one woman was hit by a car as she left the festival.

Woodstock 99 Aftermath

After the festival came to an end, there was debris everywhere. During the riots, many attendees had burned several tractor trailers causing them to explode.

It took State police to stop the riots and three weeks to clean up the mess. It also cost the organizers $78,000 to re-sod the areas where the stages were.

Not to mention there were 5 cases of rape reported. Additionally, the New York State Health Department treated 5,162 people in relation to the festival.

Some were dehydrated, others had done too many drugs, and some had trench mouth, a condition that comes from drinking contaminated water.

 

What We Can Learn from Woodstock 99 Documentary

1. Bottled Water Needs to be Free

One of the main issues plaguing Woodstock 99 is that it was much hotter than the original Woodstock. Two of the deaths which occurred happened because people were getting heatstroke.

While there was a free water spigot available, it was contaminated by feces leading to trench mouth. Many of the medical issues could have been avoided if bottled water was free.

2. Shade is Necessary

The creators of Woodstock 99 didn’t think about providing shade for festival goers, and like free water, this alone could have helped calm some of the tempers, which were beginning to peak by day

3. You Need to Know You Can’t Recreate the Past

The organizers of the festival wanted to create the sense of peace and love they had in 1969. But they neglected to realize that the world was different 30 years later.

People weren’t interested in peace and love anymore, rather, they were interested in expressing their anger through music and mosh pits.

4. Monetizing a Festival Changes Attitudes

One of the big reasons Woodstock 99 was held at the former air force base was because the organizers wanted to prevent people from getting in for free, which is what happened at Woodstock 69.

While they did prevent people from getting in for free, this created a mob of people who felt entitled because they had paid a high price for their tickets.

It can’t be said for sure, but perhaps that getting in free in 1969 is what stopped riots from occurring, as they had food shortages there too, but no one complained—because many of them hadn’t paid a cent!

At Woodstock 99, everyone had paid such a high ticket price they felt there should at least be food and water available for them.

5. The Herd Mentality is Dangerous

Just because Woodstock 99 is behind us doesn’t mean we can’t still learn about the dangers of the herd mentality.

Once a riot or stampede gets started, it’s hard to stop, and this still happens today, just look at the Travis Scott Festival in 2021.

6. Waste Management Needs to Be a Priority

One of the reasons the water was contaminated was because waste management didn’t empty the porta potties (nor were there enough). At a festival of this size, waste management needs to be a priority.

7. There Needs to be Grass

Many of the complaints of Woodstock 99 had to do with it being at an old air force base, as all of the excess cement really attracted the heat.

There wasn’t enough grass to camp on, so many ended up having to lay on the hard cement. This caused people to lose sleep and tensions to rise.

woodstock 99
Tent City at Woodstock 99, photo by Aaron Ouellette on Flickr.

8. A Festival Needs Plenty of Medical Care

Because drugs were not taken away from attendees, many took them at the festival, and this, combined with no water, is a dangerous combination.

Many report that there wasn’t enough medical staff at the festival, and this could have been part of what led to the riots as people felt they weren’t cared for.

9. Proper Security is a Must

For Woodstock 99, volunteers were paid $500 and given a yellow shirt, and were told they were security.

This was not sufficient to stop the rapes and assaults which happened during the festival. Any music festival should have proper government security.

10. You Need to Be in the Right Mindset

Most of the above mistakes occurred because the organizer of Woodstock 99, Michael Lang, was still stuck in the 1960s. Times had changed, and people had changed.

He even reported that the reason he didn’t have police there was that he didn’t want people thinking it was a police state which is a common 1960s mentality.

But the reality is the kids of the 70s and 80s who attended the festival needed that security (clearly) as it may have gone a long way to prevent the rapes and assaults which happened.

Additionally, the feeling of love and peace Lang assumed would be there was not part of the newer generation.

Overall, the creators of Woodstock 99 were trying to re-create an event that simply can’t be created, and the result was an absolute disaster.

 

Woodstock 99 Lineup

Woodstock 99 had a huge lineup of artists, some who were well known and others who were up and coming. The emerging artist’s stage lineup is not included in this article but can be found here.

Friday:

Saturday:

Sunday:

 

Written by Hope Davis

Writer, because it's the only way daydreaming pays.

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