Volume 93, Issue x

Wednesday, March 18, 1999


After the flames: Woodstock '99 in review

Thirty years of difference, 1969-1999

After the flames: Woodstock '99 in review

By Clare Elias and Becky Somerville
Gazette Staff

In the midst of celebrating rock music and remembering musical legends, an onslaught of violence marred the festival called Woodstock '99.

A supposed tribute to the 30 year anniversary of the original, this imitation fell short of any resemblance. While Woodstock '69 is noted for peace, love and brown acid, the three day concert of July 23 - 25 was typified by violence, fires and rapes.

The aftermath of Woodstock '99 is trying to make sense of these events and is leaving the media and the public searching for the method behind the madness. Some theories floating in the wake attribute the violence to the promoter's capitalistic bent, the musical lineup, a lack of political motivation on behalf of the youth, or simply the kids' boredom.

In Rome, New York the concert took place on Griffiss Technology and Business Park, a former Air Force base. It's design kept shelter from trees to a minimal, which left fans suffering from heat exhaustion and dehydration. This led many of the concert-goers and members of the media to put blame on the promoters of Woodstock '99.

"The promoters gouged people for money, they wouldn't let in any food, but drugs were okay," said Kim Hughes music reporter for NOW Magazine who attended the concert. "They were charging $4 for a bottle of water. Then towards the end of the concert the promoters finally started giving water away for free. It was fucking awful," Hughes stated.

Hughes also remarked on the underlying current of violence running through the crowd from day one. The rage did not peak until Sunday evening, however, it was culminating to this level during the three days.

Also according to Hughes, blame was placed on the musical styles of performers such as Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit. However, Hughes said she did not believe the aggressive music was a contributing factor to the outburst.

"The musical lyrics didn't incite violence, you have kids standing in the sun for hours. But maybe with a gentler lineup this wouldn't have been the case. I mean Limp Bizkit, the most aggressive, actually asked the crowd to be violent," Hughes said.

Steven Matrick, one of the promoters of Woodstock '99 and assistant to Michael Lang, organizer of the last three Woodstock festivals, said while keeping the Woodstock name organizers were in no way attempting to emulate the spirit of the concert of 30 years ago. "It was just a party, a party where kids used violence to express themselves. Any political messages were kept to a minimum."

While today's generation is not necessarily violent in nature, remarked Matrick, the music invited them to behave aggressively.

Michael McBride, publisher of the Woodstock '69 Web Index and witness to Woodstock '69 offered other answers to the outburst. He attributed the violence to the mental attitude of kids today.

"There was nothing at this year's festival about reliving Woodstock 1969. It was just a monstrous rowdy party," McBride explained.

While acknowledging the heat, the music and the location as causes for the violence, McBride stipulated the concert-goers had no real legitimate reason for the outburst. "Kids today can't even spell 'political.' There are no heroes or causes in 1999."

According to Paul Whitehead, professor of sociology at Western, Woodstock '99 lacked a political framework and only moved within the structure of a carnival-esque atmosphere. "This is a period where the usual rules don't apply," he said. "Otherwise deviant acts are considered okay in this time and you add alcohol and drugs and crowding and things get serious," he explained.

Thirty years ago the hype surrounding Woodstock '69 was non-existent in comparison to the publicity and anticipation of this year's festival. "In '69 we didn't have the long lead up under the microscope, we were aware of it afterwards. But in '99 people were looking out from the beginning and anticipating the worst," Whitehead added.

The anticipation of this year's Woodstock stemmed from the musical lineup, which featured some of the top recording artists of today. The message of these artists was not one with a political agenda, but one a more destructive and angst-ridden nature, said Leah McLaren, reporter for The Globe and Mail who also attended the concert.

"The music contributed to the violence. The artists were pimp trailer trash, hip hop dudes who are scary and untalented. There was absolutely no message, but 'show us your tits,'" she remarked.

In 1969, the motivation behind most rock and roll was political and, therefore, the lyrics were more subversive. The music today, McLaren stipulates, ceases to speak. "Kids today are generally attracted to Kid Rock and are not looking for anything political, they're looking to thrash. The music today abandons revolutionary ideas and is instead nihilistic."

Many of the bands playing Woodstock '99 contain hip-hop influences. However, according to McLaren these musicians are falsifying the true nature of hip-hop, which maintains revolutionary ideas. The result of this hip-hop adoption is a rampage based on boredom and empty anger.

"Hip-hop culture used to be black kids, now it's white kids in suburbs wanting a hip-hop of their own." McLaren said. "Black youth have a reason to be pissed off, but then their music became mainstream and was emptied of any message or idea. White kids in suburbs have it so easy, they're so well-fed, so their music is just inarticulate anger. Woodstock '99 was all so fake and empty and that's the reason for the riots."

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Copyright The Gazette 1999