The more things change, etc.

The passage of time is such a kick in the head. Last April seems like a million years ago; the turn of the century was just last week. You have entered Philosophy Chat with Adrienne.

Not really, mostly because I am 100% unqualified to host Philosophy Chat. I am, however, 100% qualified to talk about Fred Durst from Limp Bizkit1 being an idiot. Because, indeed, he is.

I didn’t really need Woodstock ‘99: Peace, Love, and Rage to make that fact clear. It is nice that this documentary on HBOMax confirms what I already knew. Having your impression of a person confirmed is always reassuring.

But why is Fred Durst an idiot? We’ll get there. And know that we will meet many, many other foolish2 folk along the way. First, tho, a brief recap, just in case you are older or younger than me and don’t remember Woodstock ‘99:

There was a big music festival near Woodstock, NY, in 1969. It was hailed as three days of peace and love, which was true-ish but it was also three days of chaos that came *thisclose* to sliding into total3 anarchy. As a culture, the way we remember it is through the film4 that came out later — and that film makes it seem like bliss where everyone wore flowers in their hair, frolicked in the mud, and laughed about the brown acid. The Woodstockers ended war, too, or so I’ve been told by those who were there.

In 1994, Michael Lang (who was a major player in Woodstock ‘69) and John Scher decided that the world needed another Woodstock, one that would capitalize5 on the 25th anniversary of the first. Despite some big bumps,6 Woodstock ‘94 was a success in all ways but one: Lang and Scher were convinced that they didn’t make enough money because there were gate crashers.

Five years later, they decided to do it again. This time it would be held in Rome, NY, on the site of a former military base. There would be no gate crashers because the whole property was surrounded by walls. Plus they would make sure that concert-goers were forced to buy water and food once inside. Plus plus they seem to have spent no money on ramping up the infrastructure7 needed to support a temporary city of 50,000 people. Or on security to protect same.

You can already see how this will all go terribly wrong.

Still, if those were the only things working against them, it is possible Woodstock ‘99 could have been a success. Or, if not a complete success, not a spectacular shitshow.8 It got worse.

The weather can be a crapshoot in Upstate New York in July and that July was hot, humid, and hazy — and there was no shade on the former base. So attendees were already grumpy, what with being parboiled, gouged for water,9 and without functional sanitation. Enter the last piece of tinder10: the line-up of acts.

It seems like Lang and Scher looked at the charts and just picked the performers who sold the most albums without ever considering what their fans might be like. Which is how they wound up with Jewel and Megadeath11 on the same bill, without ever once pondering what would happen when you mixed a bunch of young women with a bunch of very angry young white men in unrelenting heat with no security and lots of booze. Add to that Fred Durst, the aforementioned idiot, whose whole schtick is to profit from the wounds of middle-class white kids, wind ‘em up in righteous indignation, then turn them loose to break stuff.

I mean … who could have guessed this would end in literal fire12 and mayhem?

Apparently, the only ones who didn’t see this coming were Lang and Scher. Even as it is all burning down around them, they insist it isn’t their fault in the slightest. Women were assaulted because they walked around topless and men are animals.13 There was human waste everywhere not because they failed to plan but because people are animals. And so on.14

(An aside: Lang and Scher are known in this part of the state and no one in the industry with any sense will work with them. Lang tried to pull together a Woodstock 50th anniversary event in 2019. It did not go well.)

If nothing else, Woodstock ‘99 makes it abundantly clear over the course of two hours how important planning and general situational awareness is. That alone would make it worth your time. It does so much more, however, and reminds us what the late 1990s were actually like, what unrestrained anger can do, and how willful blindness about the past will kick the knees out from under the present.

It also makes me re-ask my perennial question: why are young, middle-class white guys so angry?

If you know, leave a comment. Or leave a comment about your own unanswerable questions.

Leave a comment

1

I could look up how the band actually spells this but I honestly don’t want to deal with the cookies it would leave in Chrome.

2

By “foolish,” I mean a host of other adjectives like greedy, naive, and/or sociopathic. Foolish will suffice for now.

3

and potentially Altamont levels of violent (even though that festival came after Woodstock)

4

I only know the original Woodstock through the film, btw. I wouldn’t even be born until two years after it happened.

5

I chose this word carefully

6

Not the least of which was Green Day getting pelted with mud

7

Infrastructure should always be your first thought. You have nothing if you don’t have enough bathrooms and clean water. NOTHING.

8

calling it a shitshow seems too glib for an event that saw at least one death and countless rapes and assaults. But a shitshow it was.

9

It was $4 a bottle. I wouldn’t pay that now, much less in 1999.

10

Actually, this isn’t the last piece of dry wood. We’ve forgotten what the mood of the late ‘90s was like, even though it feels like it was just yesterday, it was 20+ years ago. If you think we haven’t progressed as a culture, listen to this Slow Burn series about the Monica Lewinsky scandal. While current-day us are hardly bastions of seeing women as people, we have progressed enough to admit they aren’t simply meat to be blamed for the actions of the men around them. Well, most of us admit this.

11

In the doc, Dave Mustaine shows he’s completed his transition into his final form as a gnomic sage. All hail.

12

There’s a moment both in this HBOMax doc and the podcast done by the same team a few years ago where they mention an org handing out candles for a vigil against gun violence on the last night. Each time I hear about it, I am shocked anew that you would give hot, angry people a fuel source.

13

which is … a lot — and more than I’m going to unpack here.

14

Not all concert promoters are like this. I know a few of the folks who are behind Bonnaroo and they work to get the details right — and to never make the same mistake twice.