Trainwreck: Woodstock ’99 on Netflix

Woodstock 1969. We all remember or watched a video of the iconic music festival. Woodstock 1994. Is a much fainter memory. When it comes to Woodstock 1999 the memories I had were all skewed. Even though I am old enough to not only remember the festival but attend it. I remember it as being a huge three day festival that hundreds of thousands of people attended. What was completely wiped from my memory was that it was a fiery, violent mess. This three part limited series takes a never before look at the lead-up to the festival, the three days and the aftermath.

Expect to hear about rape, destruction, looting, and arson. It is the pulling back of the curtain to expose the dark side of this festival. Very early on you see that it was doomed pretty much before it began. Woodstock ’99 was billed as being the companion piece to the peace and love that was Woodstock ’69. What music fans got was something that was far from that. The polar opposite.

The same man who was behind the 1969 festival was behind ’99. Michael Lang brought on top promoter John Sher and a whole team to help him put on the three day festival. He then found a huge swath of land in upstate New York. Griffiss Air Force Base was abandoned in 1995 and already had all the buildings they would need without having to build anything. Seemed perfect. It was, so that wasn’t the problem.

Greed. That was the problem out of which all the other ones sprung. Or, more accurately, erupted. And boy, did it ever blow.

The organizers lost sight of what the spirit of Woodstock was about. Instead, they began to focus on how much money they could make. This meant cutting corners on things they should not have like security, adequate free water and proper bathroom facilities. They also sold the food and vendor rights to independent organizations and these people were allowed to charge anything they wanted. Food prices were astronomical.

This combined with the heat, type of musical acts scheduled, how drunk and stoned people got, and (most importantly) the rampant toxic male behaviour stirred the pot leading to three days of violence, destruction and mayhem.

Your eyes are blown wide open here. Plenty of footage shows the crazy behaviour. That combined with interviews of reporters who were covering the festival, some of the organizing team including Michael Lang and a few of the people who attended Woodstock ’99 really gives a tense and chilling picture of what happened.

Little of the focus here is on the music. They do show a few snippets of Sheryl Crow, James Brown, Jewel, Rage Against the Machine, Korn, Limp Bizkit, Wyclef Jean, Bush, The Offspring, Kid Rock, and Red Hot Chili Peppers sets, but the focus is really on the crowd and those working behind the scene.

While most of the series was really well done and informative, the one aspect was the dealing with the rapes that went on during the festival. While Woodstock ’99 went on nothing came out about the sexual assaults of female attendees that went on, but as soon as it was over the story broke. Stories about gang rapes that happened during Limp Bizkit and Korn’s sets came out. Five sexual assault cases were investigated by police with many other assaults going unreported. Yet the people behind this series really bury this aspect of the story as it is briefly dealt with in the last five minutes of the last episode. Not nearly enough.

When you see the images of the festival one thing strikes you. The crowd is overwhelmingly made up of 17-25-year-old white males. With the heat, lack of food and water, harder edged music dominating the bill, and no sleep it led to the perfect environment for toxic male behaviour to exist. They all fed off of one another and there was not nearly enough security to keep them in control. It was like lord of the flies.

Altogether, the images and interviews remind us that the Fyre Festival was not the first one that was an outright disaster. Woodstock ’99 was on another level. So much so that there has never been another Woodstock.