The History of Woodstock

The whole concept of a music festival is an exhausting but fascinating one. Dozens of your favorite musicians on one bill in an all-day event in front of monstrous crowds who all share an exuberant amount of energy. To many, in addition to the tunes, these events are all about camaraderie. Having a drink and seeing some great entertainment in the company of friends and people who are there for the same reason you are. Just look at Germany’s Rock Am Ring, one of the most popular festivals in the world. For the past three decades, it’s featured the biggest names in music and never disappoints sending the crowd home with a lifetime of memories. There’s a rich history with music festivals so let’s go back to the one that started it all, one of the most prolific, yes I’m talking about Woodstock.

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Anybody who follows music no matter how casual has at least heard of the Woodstock festival. It was the continuous musical affair that promoted peace and unity amongst the 400,000 attendees during its inception in 1969. Throughout the entire four-day weekend, fans packed the late Max Yasgur’s farm in upstate New York to witness some of the most legendary musical acts of all time. Bands like The Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and The Who and singers such as Janis Joplin and Joan Baez moved the audience and sent positive vibes among the numerous flower children. Latin sensation, Carlos Santana, even performed, 30 years before he would break pop charts everywhere. Woodstock produced moments that will last until the end of time. None of these moments more famous than Jimi Hendrix performing a distorted rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner on his signature fender strat. Everyone there had an amazing time and helped the event become the phenomenon that it still is. At the height of the hippie era, peace, love and happiness were spread for years to come.

Fast forward 25 years later to 1994. To commemorate its 25th anniversary, Woodstock was brought back. Generation X was in full swing as every 20-something in the tri-state area was in attendance at Winston Farm that night and ready rock out. As a fan, I’d have to say that Saturday August 13th, 1994’s line up was outstanding and probably one of the greatest in history. Just look at this roster: Blind Melon, Cypress Hill, Rollins Band, Nine Inch Nails, Metallica, and Aerosmith. Holy hell, if only I was maybe 20 years older so I could really appreciate this. Imagine seeing that line-up today? Well, Henry Rollins no longer performs and Shannon Hoon dropped dead, but the point still stands!

ca. August 12-14, 1994, Saugerties, New York State, USA --- Woodstock '94 is a music festival taking its inspiration from the Woodstock Musica and Arts Fair, 1969. --- Image by © Henry Diltz/Corbis

Sadly, ‘94’s Woodstock would be the beginning of the debauchery that would carry over to the festival’s next appearance. Mud was a central theme of the extravaganza as MTV crashed the weekend interviewing various artists and fans about their thoughts on the event. MTV correspondent, John Sencio, chatted with some fans who were drenched in the wet mud that occupied the concert floor. They were rolling around in it and play fighting as a means to pass the time and be free of all responsibilities. Amidst all the mud wrestling, one fan was even dared by the former music-centric network to chow down on some mud live on camera and it was done without hesitation in a truly gag-inducing moment. No one cared at all about the heinous chemicals and toxins in the filthy dirt. Hell, with a chance to be a television at stake, people will do all types of wild things.

During Green Day’s set, people were taking the mud and hurling it at the group. This would normally get you ejected anywhere else but here, it was encouraged. Singer, Billie Joe Armstrong, actually asked the audience to throw mud onstage and even engaged in a mud fight with them. It was pretty surreal. When Nine Inch Nails took the stage, they were already soiled in the sludge as they were wrestling each other and the fans just minutes prior. The dirt throwing actually started the night before when fans started throwing mud at Primus (whose biggest hit to date is ironically titled “My Name Is Mud”) during their performance much to the chagrin of front man, Les Claypool.

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It didn’t take long for Woodstock to make yet another comeback and after reading this, you’ll wonder why it even occurred in the first place. You thought the mud fighting from 1994 was the low point of the festival? You ain’t seen nothing yet. During the hottest weekend of 1999, legions of concertgoers were packed aboard an army base surrounded by wooden fences with meager accommodations. The tents used to house everyone were barely inhabitable and there were no shaded areas in sight to avoid the beating sun. Concessions were ridiculously overpriced with the infamous $4 bottles of water which for 1999 was insane. Drug use was rampant which which shouldn’t shock most since marijuana usage is standard at most festivals but we’re talking harder substances where the users here were the cause of a lot of the chaos that occurred. Peace and love were not on display here, no sir. Women were sexually harassed, some even raped. Fires were started and riots ensued. Garbage was regularly flung at various performers making the stage filthy and unsanitary to perform on. By the time The Offspring, finished their set, the stage was littered with empty bottles and trash. That wasn’t the only sign of disrespect that fans showed towards the featured entertainment that fateful weekend. Actors Stephen Baldwin and Rosie Perez took the stage to introduce DMX and were met with chants of “show your tits” towards Perez who declined the invitation. This was also the time concert promoters decided to showcase more hip-hop to Woodstock previously introduced in 1994 with the aforementioned Cypress Hill and Salt-N-Peppa. In addition to X, Ice Cube also performed as well as… Insane Clown Posse, no doubt in a prelude to the Gathering of the Juggalos.

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I can’t even put into words some of the fears that people must have went through that entire weekend. Woodstock was built on peace, love, art, and harmony. Where the hell was all of that? Where the hell was security? Those objectives went straight out the window when a group of caged animals decided to get rowdy and ruin the festival’s good name. I would have gotten hell out of dodge at the sight of any one of these incidents. Most of the blame went squarely on Limp Bizkit who were performing when these acts started really escalating. Fred Durst even crowd surfed on a piece of the broken plywood that was used for the fencing that lead to the outside preventing trespassers. News stations and publications really laid it on thick to the nu-metalers and they responded by basing the entire music video for their song Re-Arranged around the backlash. To be fair, Rage Against the Machine hit the stage amidst the obscenity as well and their high-powered set culminated in the American flag being burned which I’m sure riled up the crowd some more. While it was happening, the terror was significantly downplayed.

Fox later aired a one hour special compiling the best performances that weekend. I remember 13-year-old me digging the clipped Offspring set that played.

It’s safe to say that we’ll never see another Woodstock festival as a result of what happened in 1999. Until concert promoters assume responsibility of every single being that attends one of those festivals with proper security and manageable concession options, I’m happy with never seeing anything like this again.

Cover photo via mtv.com

Written by Matthew Reine

is a New Yorker with a strong passion for film and television. Also the biggest Keanu Reeves fan you know.

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