HBO’s documentary Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage, directed by Garret Price as a part of their Music Box series, seems to pose Woodstock ’99 as a seminal concert shitshow, like 1969’s Altamont, that somehow, in its dissolution into hormone-driven madness, which included chucking $4 water bottles at Wyclef Jean and The Offspring, rolling around in shit and piss, sexually assaulting the ladies (but what festival doesn’t have that?), and throwing soft pretzels into giant bonfires made of pieces of the stage and equipment, foretells the chaos of the present. Your faithful co-founder Emily Colucci and contributor Alexandria Deters weren’t too sure about that. But we did have lots of thoughts about the late 90’s festival of filth and trash and what we would do if we forked over the hefty ticket prices to attend, so we had a chat about it:
Emily Colucci: Though the film didn’t articulate this precisely, what director Garret Price and some of the talking heads imply is that Woodstock ’99 and its angry white man audience were akin to the seething young white man anger that brought together groups like the Proud Boys. I don’t quite buy that. Though certain events like 1979’s Disco Demolition Night can be seen as a precursor, Woodstock ’99, to me, instead seems more like a hilarious indictment of the Boomer romanticism of its own past. Woodstock ’99 descended into abject insanity because of the horrendous Fyre Festival-like planning of Woodstock 1969’s co-creator Michael Lang and the rest of the organizers, which featured security guards that basically got the job for free concert tickets, a venue covered in black-top cement during some of the hottest days of August, and overflowing Porta Johns, flooded showers, and barely any free drinking water. A mess. In the documentary, Lang and others opine about how peaceful and loving the original Woodstock was, but that was also bad enough that the U.S. Army had to fly in supplies. And even if they did intend to create some hippie love-fest, why was everything so goddamn expensive? As Megadeth closed out the festival: “Peace Sells…but Who’s Buying?”
What did you think about the documentary’s assertion that Woodstock ’99 can be seen as somewhat of a cultural precursor? Did you think they made a valid argument there?
Alexandria Deters: Naw, I think if anything it showed how hyper-focused they were with only looking at MTV as the frame of reference. Rather I think it is an example of how the culture was starting to radically shift, and by 1999 it was very apparent, especially at Woodstock ’99. Because, to be honest, MTV, as they even said, was changing and did not have the pull it used to. It was also super annoying for them to keep discussing how this was “the tour” of 1999. Come on…look at the Warped Tour ’99 line-up. Now THAT lineup and tour were for sure a cultural precursor. Woodstock ’99 was more like the death rattle gasping breath of trying to recreate Woodstock, like with Woodstock ’94.
Woodstock ’99 was massive and massively hot. It was full of too many people for comfort to be attainable. People were passing out and it was dangerous. I get it. But what of David Konig, one of the security officers, who mentions having to work on the recovery after Hurricane Katrina and says that Woodstock ’99 was worse?! I call bullshit. I mean, what are the standards for terrible here? I feel like everyone was being a bit of a drama queen. Do you think Woodstock ’99 was as bad as David says or is he just an old man getting lost in telling his favorite dinner party story?
Emily Colucci: It’s certainly not as bad as Hurricane Katrina! Just compare the death toll. That feels like a simple answer to that, even though anyone dying at a goddamn music festival is shameful for the organizers. And what’s with America’s impulse to compare tragedies anyway? It just seemed like a line that would be perfect for a documentary promo. I’m sure the filmmaker enjoyed that one.
Speaking of Price and your aforementioned MTV, another criticism I had was that it seems as if many of the cultural commentators featured in the documentary (including the New York Times’s Wesley Morris who also made some incorrect pop observations in the Times’s own Britney documentary) made sweeping generalizations about the music and culture of the late 1990s that, to me as someone who was the target age of 14 in 1999 and a major Korn and other nu-metal fan (yes, even Limp Bizkit), rang fairly false. That it was a battle between the boy bands versus nu-metal. That nu-metal fans were entirely angry white frat boys. That somehow there weren’t opportunities for nu-metal audiences to see rappers like DMX, except The Family Values Tour a year earlier featured Ice Cube. They also seemed to act as if all the nu-metal acts were the same, but to me, I don’t think you can get all that different politically between Trump’s buddy Kid Rock and communists Rage Against the Machine.
As someone who was much younger in 1999, what did you think of the depiction of the late 90s music culture? Am I just being crotchety about my own fading youth?
Alexandria Deters: Well, I was most likely rocking out to Disney musicals at the time, so truthfully from what I remember Woodstock ’99 was the music you would expect to hear on NOW! That’s What I Call Music: Special Angry White Boy Addition. It was all the basic very white middle-class America kind of music. I want my M(ediocre) TV, ya know what I mean? A lot of young white people spending their parent’s money. Yet, one of my major critiques of this film and the series at large is that it was very focused on just one aspect of the music culture at the time. This whole Music Box series on HBO could be fucking amazing if they just focused on the 1990s major concerts, and showed the different groups that were emerging and dying off.
You were a little tween in 1999, do you know anyone who went to Woodstock? Was it a “thing” to watch it on Pay-Per-View?
Emily Colucci: I didn’t know anyone and I don’t think I watched it on Pay-Per-View, but I do think I had a VHS tape of some of the concert. I don’t know if I recorded it on TV or bought it. But I do remember watching it at the time.
And I agree–there could have been much more context within the music scene at the time, as well as some better cultural commentary. I mean, where was the analysis of Insane Clown Posse who performed at Woodstock ’99? ICP and their Juggalo fans are a fascinating subcultural spectacle all on their own. If you watch their full performance, which is available on YouTube, it was a theatrical free-for-all, including an interlude in which Violent J body-slams a cop. ICP said ACAB first!
On the subject of the documentary’s other analyses, I thought the coverage of the sexual assaults at Woodstock was also a little off, acting as if somehow a line could be traced from Girls Gone Wild to women being assaulted at Woodstock ’99 because they were crowd-surfing or showing their painted tiddies. I don’t know about that. Maybe those girls wanted to get wild on Girls Gone Wild and at Woodstock without being groped or molested! It’s also hard for me to take a documentary seriously when they’re showing as many bare breasts as possible while finger-wagging about the exploitation of women.
What did you think of the documentary’s handling of the sexual assaults at Woodstock?
Alexandria Deters: I feel like it was discussed more as a shock factor, to emphasize how out of control the event was. It felt like tokenizing a traumatic event for views, to be frank. In the film, they interview music journalists, event promoters, and concertgoers about their own insights into the sexual assaults that happened that long weekend. Noticeably absent were victims. One woman interviewed had created a network for victims of assault after hearing of others’ experiences. A lot of men had shared their opinions and described a disturbing scene of a young woman naked after being assaulted. No follow up though and nothing about what was done to help her beyond giving her a shirt to wear. And, of course, we had one of the event planners tell us how some of the women were asking for it by how they were dressed. Like what the fuck? Where was the documentarian to ask the follow-up to that bullshit response?
Many sexual assaults happened at Woodstock ‘99; we probably will never know how many. That in itself is very disheartening and disturbing. What is more disturbing, though, is the narrative of this film making it sound like such a crazy occurrence. I wish they went into, instead, how sexual assaults happen at generally EVERY concert and festival. That it is not okay and that it is NOT unique. I go to concerts and I’ve been in mosh pits. I stopped crowd surfing because men would try to digitally assault women when they were in the air. At my first Warped Tour in the summer of 2009 while moshing around, someone undid my bikini top so that I would be completely exposed surrounded by older men (I was 17). Thankfully, I was so sweaty at that point it didn’t fall off.
The narrative of uniqueness they illustrated is so dangerous when it comes to sexual assault. It makes it seem that it is rare and out of the norm. Rather any young person going to a concert or festival should be aware that it happens often so they can protect themselves, and go into spaces prepared and aware of their surroundings. This is not some fluke occurrence that happened during the “craziness” of Woodstock ‘99. This is something that continues to happen, and yet the film pushes a narrative of “Oh wow! That is soooo crazy. Thank goodness things aren’t like that anymore!”
Which unlike the filmmaker I’m going to call BULLSHIT.
Emily Colucci: On the subject of blame, Fred Durst, for the organizers and the documentary as a whole, emerges as public enemy number 1, the man who started the mosh-pit madness. Fred was notably absent from the documentary, though it did feature footage of Limp Bizkit’s set, including their performance of “Break Stuff.” Do you think after 22 years we should find justice for Fred? Shouldn’t we just blame Moby?
Alexandria Deters: Poor little douche Fred. I think you bring up a good point. Now that we have seen the evidence, it’s obvious the Red Hot Chili Peppers caused the most damage when they started covering Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire.” I think Fred was and is being a big baby and doesn’t want to be confronted with questions about his behavior and why he is who he is. He is Fred Durst…what did they expect? I also think the film was unintentionally a bit of justice for Fred because it really just showed not only how badly everything was planned, but also just executed.
And for sure, Moby is completely at fault. He brought all the drugged rave kids! Even the metal kids had to take the drugs to get away from Andy Dick’s horrible standup schtick!
Emily Colucci: Speaking of the planning, what I did like about the documentary (though I have some gripes about Jewel’s interpretation that youth in the 90s had nothing really to fight against) was that it showed how this descent into testosterone and heavy metal-fueled madness came at a time when things were relatively stable in America and because of this, I think the organizers had the luxury to be lax and disorganized. America was doing well economically, our biggest political problem was Bill Clinton being a bit loose with a cigar in the Oval Office, and we were still under the illusion of safety that got shattered two years later on September 11th. The largest issue at the time seems to be—and I remember being—Columbine, especially among that younger crowd and musicians like Marilyn Manson who were contemporaries of those on the Woodstock ’99 billing. Yet, in Woodstock ’99, the candle-lit vigil for Columbine became a raging inferno and an eventual riot because…well, why not? This was senseless violence derived from being bored and comfortable outside the venue, and hot, dehydrated, and driven nuts within it.
All of which, makes me wish I was there! I want to break stuff with Fred Durst, be one of the embarrassing white people singing to DMX, get covered in Faygo with ICP, and maybe, just maybe, throw some soft pretzels during a riot. This begs the question, would you rather go to Woodstock ’69, Woodstock ’94, or Woodstock ’99?
Alexandria Deters: Oof, that’s a tough one! As in tough between ’69 and ’99. A big meh to ’94. I mean, they literally described it as the last hurrah for the Baby Boomers and their kids. **barf** **yawwwwwn!**
After watching Woodstock ’99, I still only want to go to ’69. It was way cooler, more radical, and the music was better. And you know, it wasn’t on a black top-covered military base! Both ’69 and ’99 were complete chaos, but ’99 felt like a bunch of whiny white kids having a tantrum. At least in 1969, they had a reason for their underlying rage rather than just pent-up horny teenage angst and pimply anger. Don’t get me wrong, I know Woodstock was filled with horny teenagers too and both events included people setting fires to show their capitalist rage. However, 1999’s rage was the only irony (sorry Alanis!) at Woodstock, working hand-in-hand with MTV and Pay-Per-View. Woodstock ’99 was definitely not a poor man’s festival so the word counterculture here seems like a bad joke.
Then again, we both love bad jokes.
Emily Colucci: And I love watching extreme behavior! Hence, ’99 would be my true dream concert.
Alexandria Deters: Now, I know we both love the band Korn. You were a little nu-metal head whipping your hair back and forth in 1999. I noticed a lot of the singers like Kid Rock and Jonathan Davis had really scrawny nerd bodies. If you could have gone, would you put on a bucket hat and moshed to Korn? And WTF do you think was in his sporran?
Emily Colucci: I probably would have avoided the bucket hat, but then again, it seems to make sense in the heat (unless, of course, it was one of those fuzzy ones). My outfit would more likely have been treacherously weather inappropriate–all black with baggy jeans or Tripp bondage pants. But moshing to Korn? Most definitely. I did manage to get to see them in the front row as a young Hot Topic-shopping youth. I believe somewhere in my parents’ house I have a collection of guitar picks and setlists from their shows. Memories…
And for his sporran, I know I would put snacks in it. Don’t want to get peckish after all that headbanging!
Alexandria Deters: Alright, scenario time: It is day two at Woodstock ’99. It is hot. You are dirty. You are thirsty, hungover, and you have already spent $100 on just water and ecstasy (because duh!). Would you cross your heart, say a prayer, and fill up your water bottle from the trough that dude just took a bath in?
Emily Colucci: I might dry heave, but desperate times call for desperate measures! I’ve drunk worse anyway. As I’ve said before, I’ve done a shot called “Ass Juice” from a bar that plays clown porn and grandma porn on a loop so where would I get off being snobby?
So for you, it’s the third day and you’re filthy and covered in Faygo and beer. You need to bathe desperately but your options are: the communal trough, the communal showers with knee-deep dirty water, or saying fuck it, and joining the pee and poop-encrusted masses and deciding you’re a dirt person now. Which do you choose?
Alexandria Deters: Ohhh shit!!!!!!! I must have been going ham when ICP was playing if I got a nice Faygo crust. Hmmm…that is a tough choice, but my final answer is the weird communal troughs that were supposed to be for horses to drink out of…I mean for people to scoop water out of all week? The trough seems the cleanest place, but it may already be filled with other randos as well. But then again, I would probably be so delirious and dehydrated that I most likely would be out of my mind just banging off-beat on an upside-down trash can tripping on some bad molly.
Speaking of molly, Moby was very distressed to discover not only that his name was not on the plywood outside the Woodstock ’99 venue, but that the rave tent had become infiltrated by bros and gross capitalism! No more good vibes! Not chill man! Deep down, within the soul of your soul, do you think: a) that the staff of the event secretly hate Moby and did it on purpose or b) it was a simple oversight? And whatever the answer do you think it was actually this event at Woodstock ’99 that led to the most capitalistic bullshit music event Coachella?
Emily Colucci: I want to believe the staff was resentful of Moby’s complaining and his creeping on women like Natalie Portman, but I feel like it was probably an innocent oversight, which makes his outrage even funnier. Since we’re talking about Moby, I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up that one time our very own Lizzy Grant aka Lana Del Rey told Moby that he was “the man.” Maybe that’s why he was so secretly disgusted by the capitalism rave tent. He knows he’s one of them! And on the subject of consumerist raves, I’m not sure I buy that it was a direct link to Coachella. There have been so many other festivals other than Woodstock ’99, even if this documentary didn’t want to admit that.
Granted, this may be too morbid even for an avowed ghoul like me, but I was struck by Metallica fan David DeRosia who died while overheating in the pit (and due to some bad medical care). Mostly because I’m a little jealous! I want to die while seeing my favorite band! If I had to choose, I’d expire to either Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ “Jubilee Street” (“I’m transforming! I’m vibrating! Look at me now!”) or Lana Del Rey’s “Ultraviolence” (I’d like to go to the spoken word section that ends with “Cuz I’m your jazz singer and you’re my cult leader. I love you forever….I love you forever…” but realistically, just the introduction of that song makes me want to ascend). Which band or song would you like to be your last while crushed in a mass of people until your body gives out?
Alexandria Deters: OoooOOOOOO!!!!!!!! Ahhhh so many choices! I guess it depends on what kinda death mode I was in at the moment. I’ve always been into metal and hardcore and come on, I’ve been in a few death walls, been fucked up in the pit, and one time I even punched a girl (I think I knocked her out..oops) during Summer Slaughter Tour 2010. So it would be pretty epic to be crushed while Drowning Pool played “Let The Bodies Hit The Floor”, that shit was my jam in 7th grade! I love Bring Me The Horizon (yes, yes I love BMTH and scream and fangirl out every time I have seen them and I think Oli is a babe)“Chelsea Smile” would be pretty intense. Just some of the lyrics for example
“Repent, repent! The end is nigh!
Repent, repent! We’re all going to die!
Repent, repent! These secrets will kill us!”
But honestly, I am torn between Marvin Gaye, Dance Gavin Dance, and The Mars Volta, one of my all-time favorite singers and bands. It is tied between either “Roulette Dares (The Haunt Of)” from my all-time favorite album De-Loused in the Comatorium (2003) by The Mars Volta or Dance Gavin Dance “It’s Safe to Say You Dig the Backseat” from the 2007 album Downtown Battle Mountain. It makes me just want to mosh and hit something and cry, all my memories of high school and college come flooding back. Sadly though Jonny Craig is a piece of shit even if his voice is perfect, and when I saw him in Emarosa, I got punched in the eye by some bitch (not related technically but whatever). Finally, Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On/What’s Happening Brother”, technically two songs but they flow so perfectly together from Marvin Gaye’s album What’s Going On (1971). All the songs give me goosebumps and make me potentially cry (depending on my mood). I know three very different choices. What can I say? I’m a layered enigma; you’ll never know what I might say.
Now that we are on the topic of that sweet escape called death: Within hours of Woodstock ’99’s opening, people were losing who they came with, were lost, and the toilets were already an overflowing mess. How long do you think you would have lasted before calling it quits?
Emily Colucci: Honestly? Despite my desire to witness this shit show, I’d probably be leaving by the afternoon. I don’t like camping or heat or…you know…people. Or maybe I would make it to Korn who played on the first night… 14-year-old me probably would have forced myself to stay for that first line of their opening: “ARE YOU REAAAAAAAADYYYYYYYY?!!!!”