When it comes to music festivals, Woodstock was the event that started it all back on August 15, 1969 in Bethel, New York and set the tone for the quintessential flower child event in the time of free love and the counter-culture movement. And in 1999 its founders wanted to bring it back for a whole new generation. Little did they know that this was a new time and era where love had been replaced by aggression and which would ultimately become to be known as ‘the day the music died.’ Woodstock 99: Peace, Love and Rage is this story captured by the people who were there and it’s a thoroughly intensive and savage documentary experience that has to be seen to be believed.
Directed by Garrett Price, the film tells the story of Woodstock ’99, a music festival promoted to echo unity and counterculture idealism of the original 1969 concert, but instead devolved into riots, looting and sexual assualts.
In terms of its documentary experience, Woodstock 99: Peace, Love and Rage places you firmly on the ground, and features interviews with the promoters, artists and concertgoers who were there to experience the festival that would turn into madness in the course of three days. As a viewing experience, director Garrett Price holds nothing back and uses the three-day experience to pull everything together and build a timeline of the things that were to come with this crazy and uncontrolled music festival experience. As an audience member, you are right there as things begin to go crazy, and with on-the-ground video footage, you feel like you are a part of the madness that is happening before your eyes.
From the moment you feel this documentary starts you can just sense things are about to go wrong. This is a place where youthful idealism on the part of organizers, who were there for the original festival, has been replaced with nothing but corporate greed and a quick route to profit. And with motivations like this is it any wonder why Woodstock ’99 went so bad, so quickly. Where the original concert had taken place on the sprawling green growth of a New York farm, Woodstock ’99 would instead take place on the abandoned ruins of a former military base in Rome, New York, which to the organizer’s enjoyment had a sustained gate to control it’s visitors inside and stop any form of gate crashing. Add into the mix 400,000 guests and sweltering heat and you had the gestation for the chaos to come.
From exuberant ticket-pricing to extensive vendors and over-priced products, including water at $4 a bottle (and we’re talking 1999 here), a lack of property sanitary areas, including usable toilets and properly segregated shower stations for men and women, little shaded areas, incompetent security personal and a mile-long trek between the musical stages for acts that included Limp Bizkit, Korn, Metallica, Kid Rock, Creed, Bush, The Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Rage Against The Machine, it’s clear that things went wrong very quickly at Woodstock ’99.
Mixed into this is a new generation, who are no longer interested in the hippie leanings of their parents, but who are instead being raised as a new generation of headbangers and who are being led forward by the fuming aggression of the nu-metal beast by bands such as Limp Bizket and Korn, and all of them were out to wreck stuff as Woodstock ’99. The paradox between these aggressive bands lining a festival of ‘peace and love’ is not lost on anyone, and when Limp Bizkit took to the stage on the concert’s Saturday night, you can just feel the energy that is about to be set loose to rage. And it does. With a pent up and raw aggression, a whole legion of drunken frat boys begin to trash the place and it only gets worse from there.
Alcohol, heat and anger soon led to dehydration and aggression, and many people had to be carried out due to heat exhaustion and dehydration. Then you get to the pack like aggression of a roused up audience of young frat boys, which meeting with the sexual liberation of Woodstock would lead to a host of sexual assaults and rapes, and it’s chilling to see this unfold before you. 1999 was the era of the Columbine shooters mixed in with the 24 news cycle of CNN and MTV, which had completely gone corporate, alongside the sexual freeness of a burgeoning internet that was becoming the place for pornography and the Girls Gone Wild archetype, and all of it hit like a sledgehammer here at Woodstock ’99. The stories you hear are chilling and it’s a true breakdown of civilization’s sense of societal values within the confines of Woodstock ’99. Then the Red Hot Chilli Peppers take to the stage.
On the final Sunday of the Woodstock ’99 festival, the audience had had enough and this festival had turned into its own third world country. Hunger, dehydration, exuberant filth, a mass of violence and sexual assaults, and a burning hatred and anger for the festival and everything around them led concertgoers to rage. And they did. Beginning with the Red Hot Chilli Pepper’s act on Sunday night, they soon took candles that had been provided by PAX, given to them to hold a candlelit vigil against gun violence, and instead started bonfires that soon turned out of control. Anthony Kiedis remarked that the fires ‘looked liked something out of Apocalypse Now’, and launched into a rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Fire’ that lent to the crazy becoming out of control. Soon the whole festival was on fire and you can only watch on as Woodstock ’99 descends into a living, breathing Lord of the Flies.
While Garrett Price does allow concert organizers Michael Lang and John Scher the chance to take responsibility for the failed festival, neither of them display any signs of actually owning up to the failures that followed. Audiences are left to wonder, how could this literal ‘horror movie’ of a concert unfold before their eyes, and soon come to the realization of how could it not. Everything was stacked against any notions of peace and love in 1999, and instead simmering rage, excessive violence, a sense of sexual liberation that was soon perverted, and the destructive power of mother nature herself soon turned on Woodstock ’99 creating a hellish event and landscape.
Woodstock 99: Peace, Love and Rage is a savage, intense and ultimately fascinating documentary of how a once-celebrated music festival completely went off the rails and of a portrait of a society where rules and laws no longer exist. It’s a timely documentary and one that has many lessons to teach its audience, and its lessons are ones you certainly would not wish to forget.
Woodstock 99: Peace, Love and Rage will be available to stream on Neon on October 15.