Twenty years ago, from July 23rd to July 25th, the attempt to have a third Woodstock music festival (following Woodstock ‘94 and the original Woodstock ‘69) turned out to be nothing short of an unmitigated disaster.
Woodstock ‘99—which was held in Rome, New York, near the site of the first and the iconic Woodstock festival—would come to be known as “the day the music died.” The three-day event, which featured music acts such as Limp Bizkit, Sheryl Crow, Creed, DMX, Jewel, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Kid Rock, among others.
But it wasn’t the odd lineup on stage that turned Woodstock ‘99 into the weekend of infamy (though it didn’t help), rather the chaos that unfolded on the ground, including riots, fires, and multiple cases of rape and assault.
An unparalleled low point for Generation X pop culture, and our American culture in general, Woodstock ‘99 was a turning point for the music industry. Because of epic music fest misfires like Fyre Festival would lead us to believe that Woodstock ‘99 has been filed away, there are still important lessons that have been learned and need to be upheld.
Safety is Paramount
Woodstock ‘99 was the site of multiple sexual assaults, including alleged rapes in mosh pits. Disturbingly, of the incidents seen and reported, only one of the 44 arrests made at Woodstock ‘99 was charged with sexual assault.
In a more just world, these horrific events would have marked the end of sexual assault at concerts and festivals and women wouldn’t have their bodies and lives put at risk. Tragically, two decades later, this problem is more prevalent than ever.
According to a report in 2018, “More than 90 percent of female concertgoers… experienced being harassed” and “festivals and venues did not have procedures in place to address issues of harassment and assault.”
This disturbing problem is so rampant, particularly at music festivals, that just two years ago, Sweden’s Bråvalla was canceled for the following year due to “reports of four rapes and 23 sexual assaults that allegedly took place on site.”
So what can, and should be done? First and foremost, festivals and their promoters must have zero-tolerance policies made clear to attendees and strictly enforced. Groups like Safer Spaces also encourages concertgoers to not be a bystander and speak up if you see an assault being committed.
Greed is Not Good
Tickets for Woodstock ‘99 were already a steep price of $150 a pop, and the greed didn’t end there. Reports of $4 water bottles and $12 personal pizzas lead to anger and frustration, and throw subpar conditions and non-working ATMs into the mix and it all added up to one big mess.
Festivals most certainly haven’t gotten any cheaper, with tickets ranging in the low hundreds to the thousands, if you plan on getting VIP access of any kind. In addition to high concert and/or festival ticket prices, you’ve also got to consider astronomical surcharges, which can be upwards of 37 percent.
While there is little to be done to avoid fees, you can give your money and time to artists like Pearl Jam who make concerted efforts to make sure only fans get tickets and scalpers can’t hike the costs.
Vendor costs for food and beverages at concerts and festivals remains as high as ever, too, so when you can, pack your own food, supplies, and, for goodness sakes, plenty of water.
Don’t Repeat History
Woodstock ‘94 was, for all intents and purposes, a totally fine affair, but it also didn’t have the cultural impact or relevance as the original event. It was ultimately unnecessary and just…there. So, it made sense that promoters thought they could keep it going and have yet another Woodstock.
But the promise of peace, love, and music was shattered at the 1999 festival, which makes the ultimately failed attempt to have a 2019 Woodstock all the more baffling.
Even if his year’s fest turned out to be nothing like the 1999 fiasco, that still doesn’t mean it would have been anything like the original event from 50 years ago. That magic and that moment in time can’t be recreated, nor should it be attempted.
Instead, festivals should focus on the here and now and make events that are fun, safe, and affordable.