Over the weekend, I carved out time to watch Woodstock 99: Peace, Love and Rage, the documentary about the disastrous 1999 music festival. It was released on Binge earlier that week, but I decided to wait until the weekend to watch it because I had heaps of shit to do and I sensed that after watching the doco, the abject horror would occupy my mind and it would take days to recover, and I simply couldn’t bear the distraction.
Turns out, I was right. Because I watched it on Friday night and I spent my whole weekend lying in bed curled up in a ball, replaying the scenes I had witnessed in my mind. I still can’t stop thinking about it.
Okay, let’s start from the beginning: when you hear the word ‘Woodstock’, you think of the epic ’60s festival, complete with images of hippies dancing in a field, smoking weed, and listening to the likes of Jimmy Hendrix and Janis Joplin.
But did you know the dude who co-created Woodstock put on another festival in ’94? Well, that show was a success, too, featuring acts like Sheryl Crowe and The Cranberries. And so they did it again in 1999 and it was, well, a disaster feels like the mother of all understatements.
While Woodstock ’94 featured a similar peaceful, loving vibe to the OG, by the turn-of-the-century, Nu-Metal (Korn, Rage Against The Machine), had become all the rage (pun intended), and so they decided to cater to the contemporary direction of music by booking Nu-Metal acts.
So what happened next? Poor planning, boomer narcissism and white male privilege led to rioting, sexual assaults and multiple deaths. Woodstock 99 is widely regarded as The Day The 90s Died, and for good reason.
To help break it all down, here’s a list of fucked-up things that occurred at Woodstock 99, as highlighted in the documentary.
Pure narcissism and greed.
The festival was doomed from the get-go as the dudes who did all the planning (both of whom appear in the doco and are rather shady characters) price-gouged like crazy to a young audience who were mostly working minimum wage jobs.
For example, they charged $4 for water (which would equate to about $7 now) and they had minimal ATMs, so in the doco, you see long-ass queues of hot, sweaty, dehydrated people lining up to take out money just to buy water.
The heat. My god, the heat.
Speaking of hot and sweaty, the festival took place on an old navy base, rather than in rolling hills like the OG, and it was close to 40 degrees with absolutely no shade.
So imaging 400,000+ angry Nu-Metal fans crowded together in a mosh during the peak of summer with little access to water.
Unsurprisingly, more than 700 were treated for heat exhaustion and dehydration.
‘The Mud People’.
In addition to sweaty people, another haunting image in the doco is ‘The Mud People’. This line in the doco from a US journo haunts me: “People were rolling around in what they thought was mud.”
So basically what had happened was the toilets flooded on the first day of the three-day festival and became “unusable,” plus people were so pissed about the water situation, so they destroyed the plumping and water got everywhere.
Folks were so delirious at that point from heat exhaustion and the lack of water that they began swimming in, again, “what they thought was mud.”
It was not mud. It was human waste.
Chanting of the n-word.
During rapper DMX’s set, he encouraged the crowd of mostly white men to chant to n-word with him, and as pointed out in the documentary, the festival goers seemed almost too pleased to utter the racial slur at the top of their lungs.
The blatant misogyny and toxic masculinity that led to sexual assaults.
While the original Woodstock consisted of many incredible female acts, only three women were invited to perform at Woodstock 99: Sheryl Crowe, Jewel and Alanis Morisette. It’s pointed out in the documentary that it was a very tokenistic move as each woman was booked to perform on a different day, which made it seem like the organisers were just ticking a box for the optics.
The women who took to the stage were met with abuse from the crowd, including Rosie Perez who introduced DMX and was met with chants of “show your tits.”
The male acts certainly didn’t help matters, with Kid Rock telling the crowd that Monica Lewinsky is a “ho” and Dave Matthews remarked that “Today, there’s an abundance of titties.”
Throughout the three-day festival, eight sexual assaults were reported, of which four were alleged rapes, although it’s estimated that hundreds more occurred over the weekend but weren’t reported (one of the women in the doco who attended the festival said she set up a website for women who had been sexually assaulted at Woodstock 99 and received “dozens upon dozens” of emails).
What made things even more fucked-up was that during the doco, one of the organisers, John Scher, blamed the victims during an infuriating interview:
“There’s no question that a few incidents took place,” he said. “But if you go back in the records of the police and state police and stuff, we’re not talking about 100. Or even 50. We’re talking about 10. I am critical of the hundreds of women that were walking around with no clothes on, and expecting not to be touched. They shouldn’t have been touched, and I condemn it. But you know, I think that women that were running around naked, you know, are at least partially to blame for that.”
This man should absolutely be investigated.
By the last night, the festival had erupted into, again, the word chaos feels like an understatement. There was rioting, looting, abuse, in fact, security guards were asked to abandon their post and take cover as the festival could not guarantee their safety.
During the last night, when things seemingly couldn’t get any worse, an activist group raising awareness for the victims of the Columbine Massacre (which had occurred only a month before) passed around candles to hold a vigil.
Members of the crowd used these candles to set the stage, vehicles and tents alight, which resulted in a major blaze that required firemen to intervene, along with New York State Troopers, local police, and various other law enforcement who were called to stop the ensuing riot.
In total, there were three deaths, eight sexual assaults and 44 arrests, and overall this makes an extremely chilling statement.
The documentary outlines how the festival was dripping in privileged white male rage and this shouldn’t be viewed as an isolated incident as it didn’t disappear once the festival ended. Far from it. In fact, it’s evolved and become more insidious over time, but very much still ever-present in the current era.
“There’s this dark energy with young white males that entertainment is just perpetuating,” says one voice in the documentary. Another one later adds, “A lot of that energy just wound up in chatrooms and Reddit boards in 2021.”
Think about it. I know I can’t stop thinking about it.
Woodstock 99: Peace, Love and Rage is now streaming on BINGE.
Matty Galea is the Senior Entertainment Editor at Pedestrian who also dabbles in woo-woo stuff like astrology and crystals and has been penning horoscopes since the start of his career. He also Tweets about pop culture and astrology and posts spicy content on Instagram.