Egotistical, angry bands fueled crowd's passions
Woodstock '99. The sun was hot, the beer was cold and the
music loud. The kids had been partying night and day, not
sleeping. Camping conditions had degenerated into filth.
You know - like Woodstock '69.
But where the crowd at the original festival incurred only
a few bad LSD trips and injuries mostly sustained from
excessive love-making, Woodstock '99 was one of the
biggest debacles in concert history, with 60
concertgoers hospitalized due to violence within their
ranks, widespread fires, vandalism and looting costing
millions of dollars. MTV News' headline for the story - on
air and online - uses the '60s dove-of-peace logo, but
reads: "Apocalypse Woodstock."
What caused this powder-keg to blow, unlike its sister
festival 30 years ago? What struck the match?
Obviously, these are different eras with different
Zeitgeists. And no one entity is at fault. Promoters
perhaps waited too long to call law enforcement. Vendors
probably were greedy, charging $4 for bottled water and $4
for pretzels. And in any crowd of 250,000 there will be
some "bad apples," as promoters termed the rioters.
But if there's blame to be placed for inciting the riots,
it's on the bands themselves.
If right-wingers want to throw a punch at musicians for
inspiring bad behavior among America's youth, they can
lay off poor Marilyn Manson, whose worst influence is his
fashion directive. But they'd be dead-on if they pointed
to the likes of Kid Rock, Insane Clown Posse, Red Hot Chili
Peppers and, especially, Limp Bizkit.
Insane Clown Posse started the ball rolling by throwing
$100 bills into the audience and watching gleefully while
a melee ensued. Kid Rock demanded that the kids pelt the
stage with plastic water bottles. Soon, it looked like a
plague of locusts, with Rock himself having to seek
shelter from the hail of plastic projectiles.
(Videotape of Rock afterward showed his lack of concern.
Grinning, he told MTV News that he felt "a little bad"
about his incitements, but was psyched at how riled up
Red Hot Chili Peppers could argue that the situation
already was out of control when they played the final set
of the three-day weekend Sunday near Rome in upstate New
York. In fact, vandals already had set fires throughout
the air base that was the site for Woodstock '99. But what
did these idiots do? Played a cover of Jimi Hendrix's
classic, "Fire," which further enflamed the crowd.
The worst perpetrator was Limp Bizkit, the huge metal-rap
band. I witnessed the megalomania of singer Fred Durst in
June, when he nearly caused a riot at Shoreline
Amphitheater during the LIVE-105 show by encouraging the
audience to rush the guards and get close to the stage.
Stagehands, recognizing they were outnumbered by
whacked-on-music kids, wisely stepped to the side and let
nature take its course.
And it almost did, in a nasty sense. Kids in the front
began to get crushed, and some on the Shoreline stairs
were tumbling, not able to see where they were stepping.
Durst, realizing what he'd done, entreated everyone to be
nice, but he was lucky nothing terrible happened. This
time, his irresponsibility was more costly.
At Woodstock '99, as fans started moshing crazily to the
ear-shattering screaming that passes for singing on his
part, Durst told the crowd he'd been asked by promoters to
calm the volatile situation. "But I don't think you
should mellow out," he was videotaped saying. "This is
1999, mother- - ers - stick those Birkenstocks up your a-
He took it a step further when the band played its song,
"Break Stuff." "Ever have one of those days when
everything's f- -ed up and you just want to break stuff?"
he taunted the crowd. Shortly after, the crowd began
destroying a tower and pelting the MTV crew atop it with
garbage, and tearing planks from the stage. Durst, too,
was videotaped coming off the stage with a huge grin on his
face, elated at the response.
I hope they send him the bill.
Rage Against the Machine had the daunting task of
following the disaster and quelling the crowd. The band
apparently did so by not only turning down the volume, but
by giving kids music fused with a message to hang onto. Not
one of "peace and love" - this group is as angry as the
next band - but at least one with a consciousness. As
longtime agents for social change, Rage was the one band
to channel anything from 1969.
As a high school senior, I saw close-up the cost of
ill-conceived band behavior. It was Dec. 6, 1969, the
winter after the summer of Woodstock, and the place was
When the Rolling Stones - wanting to re-create Woodstock
on the West Coast - threw that now-notorious free party
for themselves and 200,000 others, they made the biggest
all-time mistake of hiring Hells Angels (who had a rough
reputation then) as festival guards and paying them . . .
Throughout the day, evidence of the boneheadedness of the
move was everywhere. Hells Angels took pool cues and beat
people they thought were misbehaving, or whose looks were
not appealing. (One famous shot was of them ganging up on a
naked fat man.) When Marty Balin of the (then) Jefferson
Airplane objected from the stage, they climbed up and
punched him out.
I was 17, probably the age of thousands of the Woodstock
'99 participants, and working my way up to the stage with
my girlfriends, to be close to our idol, Mick Jagger. Then
the screaming started. I couldn't see, but everyone in
front of me was panicking, pushing backward. We heard Mick
telling people to "cool out," but he was too late. A man
had been stabbed by the guards and was dying 12 feet from
We fled, and I vowed never to go to another rock concert.
It didn't take me long to change my mind, but my heart went
out to the kids who were left crying at the end of the New
York debacle this weekend. Like the Stones, some of the
Woodstock bands were on such an enormous ego trip that
they forgot it's not all about them. That they are
responsible for thousands of people and that there are
consequences for their actions. The detachment, the
disconnect, is staggering.
As Altamont signaled the end of that innocent decade, let
us hope Woodstock '99 might do the same for this