Greetings again from the darkness. Character is revealed in the most unexpected places, and often at a time when one has a bit more freedom than usual. Like the mosh pit at a music festival. You may wonder why I’m disgusted and saddened at what stuck with me after this documentary. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the music. Instead the takeaway from Woodstock 99 is that far too many young men easily succumbed to aggressive and animalistic behavior, and worse, seized the opportunity to abuse women who were simply trying to have a good time. Of course, this was 22 years ago. Maybe we feel better about young men today.
Garret Price, the film’s director, begins by admitting Woodstock 99 played like a horror film, so we brace ourselves for what’s to follow. If you’ve seen Michael Wadleigh’s 1970 documentary about the original Woodstock festival, then you know it’s a blend of some of the best live music of the era and a peek at the ‘peace and love’ counter-culture so prevalent in 1969. To really grasp this version of the 30th anniversary of that first festival, you should know that promoters John Scher and Michael Lang were coming off a very successful and smooth 25th anniversary Woodstock festival in 1994 (Lang was also behind the 1969 festival). 1999 was also the year of the Columbine shooting, we were on the brink of Y2K, and cell phones were quite scarce. The promoters thought was this would be the “last hurrah” for baby boomers. Instead, the festival is referred to as “the day the nineties died.”
The miscalculation by the promoters was in demographics. The transformation of MTV had skewed to younger viewers, and the “Girls Gone Wild” mentality seemed to feed the fantasy of every young male. “New Rock” featuring bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit played up misogyny, homophobia, and aggression. This was the antithesis of where society is headed today. On top of all that, the sweltering heat and overpriced fluids affected behavior, and a water shortage combined with mud pits that were actually raw sewage turned the festival into a nightmare. And then things got worse.
The 1969 music corresponded to that festival’s mission, but thirty years later, Kid Rock in a mink coat and Fred Durst inciting idiocy created a much different environment. Moby is interviewed throughout this documentary offering insight into the festival and how things went wrong. The lineup included only three female acts: Alanis Morissette, Jewell, and Sheryl Crowe, and they were scheduled one per day for the three day festival, meaning many of the other acts seemed to spur the aggression in the massive crowd of 400,000.
With nostalgia non-existent, commercialism booming, and what Jewell terms “fake rage” the calling of the day, rioting, looting, fires, and sexual assaults became the festival’s legacy. Price’s film (produced by former sportswriter Bill Simmons) allows us to watch how quickly things go sideways, and any thoughts of peace and unity disappear. It’s quite a snapshot in time of a generation and culture that was spinning out of control.
Streaming on HBO Max beginning July 23, 2021