A Netflix docuseries proves we’ve learned little from the toxic horrors of Woodstock ’99

Netflix's 'Trainwreck: Woodstock '99' (Netflix)

Netflix’s ‘Trainwreck: Woodstock ’99’ (Netflix)

Netflix’s new three-part series about the absolute horrorshow that was Woodstock ’99 opens in an appropriately dramatic way. “Is this Bosnia?” asks a festival-goer as they survey the wreckage of the three-day event that was less “peace and love” and more “violence and arson.” The air is thick with smoke from recently extinguished fires. Face-up chests lie among the ashes. Gigantic lighting fixtures lay on the floor. If you thought the 6am scene at Glastonbury’s Stone Circle was messy, you haven’t seen anything yet.

Shipwreck: Woodstock ’99 details an event that seemed doomed from the start. Michael Lang, who organized the original 1969 Woodstock festival when he was just 24 years old, never wanted to do another one. A 25th anniversary event in 1994 was a bust, with loose security and two deaths at the scene. In an interview filmed before he died earlier this year at age 77, Lang admits he found it impossible to recreate that free and easy spirit of the late 1960s, when young people flocked to the wake of Vietnam, to show that there was a way to do the things. It was, in fact, another disaster that convinced him to resurrect the festival – the Columbine school shooting in April 1999. Lang’s ambition was to bring young Americans together and show them a world free of violence, and that a peaceful path it was possible. Unfortunately, the chaotic scene that unfolded seemed to be as much the fault of the festival organizers as the punters. Now, 23 years later, they still refuse to take the blame.

Woodstock ’99 was a perfect storm of angry, angry kids, oppressive heat and a production crew that cared little for the well-being of the 250,000 people who bought tickets to the three-day festival. Unlike the grassy hills of the 1969 bucolic version, Woodstock ’99 took place on the less-than-scenic outskirts of a military base in Rome, New York, in July 1999. Although temperatures above 38°C were predicted for the weekend, water and food were taken from the participants as soon as they arrived at the site. The base – an asphalt airstrip – also lacked shade. “Oh my God, there’s a lot of asphalt”, recalls one of the production team, after seeing the place for the first time.

Also very different from the original festival was the line-up. Where Woodstock ’69 had the folksy style of the Grateful Dead, The Band and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Woodstock ’99 offered the mosh pit chaos of Limp Bizkit, Korn and Kid Rock, all playing under the slogan: Parents’ Woodstock ”.

Attending Shipwreck: Woodstock ’99 has a peculiar familiarity. Although I wasn’t there, a month later I was at my first festival. Reading 1999 played host to many of the same bands, including Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Offspring, and while there certainly wasn’t as much gruesome violence, clips of teenagers running wild after dark definitely rang some bells. So are the mentions of groping through the crowd. Filming the whirling mosh pits took me back to that dirty Berkshire weekend 23 years ago, and it made me glad that I was now old and confident enough to tell wayward hands in a crowd where to go.

Sheryl Crow was one of the first appearances in the ill-fated Woodstock reboot, and already an aggressive element in the crowd has begun to make itself known, with men calling out to the star to “show us your tits”. This increased over the weekend, with numerous sexual assaults and four rapes reported. Add to that the lack of trained security – a lesson festival promoters should have learned, but last year’s Astroworld tragedy proves they didn’t – and the young audience was as dangerous as it was vulnerable. One of the most harrowing moments in the new documentary comes when we are told of an incident during the Fatboy Slim set in which a truck is commandeered and driven into the crowd. Someone then eerily describes seeing a young woman passed out and naked in the back of the van, a man hovering above her and buttoning his pants.

Crowds of women have been groped in the crowd, and we’re shown gruesome clips of them having to physically remove strangers’ hands from their breasts. Festival promoter John Scher does a lousy job of taking responsibility for such assaults. “There were a lot of women who voluntarily took off their shirts, you know,” he says, with a shrug. “And then you walk into a mosh pit, you get mobbed by the crowd – could someone have touched your breasts? Yes, I’m sure they did. What could I have done about it? I’m not sure I could have done anything.” How about having security throw the men to blame, John?! How about a zero tolerance policy for sexual harassment? Try harder, John.

Festival fans set fire to Woodstock '99 (Netflix)

Festival fans set fire to Woodstock ’99 (Netflix)

On the final night, punters were so displeased with the conditions – drinking fountains were contaminated with water from the toilets, causing cases of downholes, and the price of bottled water had soared to an outrageous $12 – that full-scale anarchy was in jeopardy. high. The letters. When a secret Prince/Bob Dylan/Guns ‘N Roses rumor set to end the festival didn’t materialize, Woodstock ’99 started to eat itself. One hundred thousand candles for a vigil against gun violence were distributed without the knowledge of the fire department, which were used to start large fires in the crowd. Trucks and tanker trucks were also set on fire.

The crowd’s mindset quickly descended and merchandise stalls were looted, lighting fixtures were torn down and ATMs were smashed to smithereens. As the production crew barricaded themselves in their office, state troopers with truncheons and shields arrived to close the festival.

Interestingly, despite the team’s flaws, most bettors interviewed in Shipwreck: Woodstock ’99 had a good time. A big moment, actually – something they say has been intensified by the sense of chaos. I’m sure the girl in the van and those who were harassed wouldn’t give the same answer, but for some of these kids, their first taste of freedom was opening their eyes. Still, that’s still no excuse for festival promoters to refuse to take responsibility for what happened at Woodstock ’99. And with Michael Lang dead and John Scher still convinced there was nothing he could do, it looks like a proper apology will never materialize.

‘Trainwreck: Woodstock ’99’ is now available on Netflix

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.