The Music Festival That Nearly Ended Them All, Woodstock ’99

By John Popham

November 10, 2022

Man in front of fire holding flag
Photo: Netflix's 'Trainwreck: Woodstock '99'

Before Billy McFarland’s disastrous Fyre Festival there was Woodstock 1999, an attempt to recreate the original Woodstock Music and Art Fair that ended with riots and scorched earth.

In a recent episode of Do Go On, hosts Matt Stewart, Jess Perkins, and Dave Warneke explore the ill-fated event where food and water were scarce, but violence ran rampant. The festival was a failure on many levels, but why?

“On paper, it sounded like a great idea,” said Stewart, reading from an Esquire article. “What followed was four days of carnage.”

The festival has gone down as one of the worst music events in history and almost completely ruined the legacy of the original. Stages were in flames, tents torn down, festival promoters hiding in their offices, and musicians running for their lives.

What eventually turned into a riot started as a promise of peace and love by promoter Michael Lang, one of the original founders of the first Woodstock. However, food shortages, contaminated water, a lack of shelter, and overcrowding made a promising festival a living nightmare.

“The company who got the food and drink contract hiked up the prices on everything, and there was nothing the Woodstock team could do about it apparently,” said Stewart. “Security confiscated everyone’s food and drink when they arrived at the festival, so everything had to be purchased on site.”

Prices for bottles of water started at $4 a piece, which is $7 in today’s money, and as the weekend went on the prices shot up to the $12 - $14 range which is $22 - $25 when adjusted for inflation.

The festival’s lineup featured a wide variety of bands, but at night they seemed to lean into new metal bands like Metallica and Korn. The actions of the irritated and dehydrated crowds are often blamed on metal bands, however when Insane Clown Posse started throwing $100 bills into the mass of broke and hungry concert goers, chaos was guaranteed.

People drinking and bathing in water
Photo: Netflix's 'Trainwreck: Woodstock '99'

On day two, the festival’s water supply was contaminated by raw sewage. Many weren’t aware until their skin broke out in rashes after taking a shower or when they developed trench mouth after drinking and bathing from the public water fountains. The intense 100-degree heat reflected off the tarmac of Griffiss Air Force Base where the festival was held only made things worse. In an interview, festival promoter John Scher told reporters that yes, some issues existed, but they were isolated, stating that people coming to a festival don’t expect to stay at the Ritz Carlton.

“It’s a big gap from Ritz Carlton to trench mouth,” Stewart said dryly.

Speaking of lodging, there wasn’t enough due to overcrowding, and thousands of participants had to sleep on the tarmac. Unfortunately, all hotels in the area were fully booked because of another event and even stars like Alanis Morissette were unable to find accommodations.

People sleeping on the ground
Photo: Netflix's 'Trainwreck: Woodstock '99'

“Isn’t that ironic,” said Warneke.

The final nail in the Woodstock’99 coffin was the result of a weekend long tease that something big would close out the festival Sunday night. Promoters were constantly telling journalists and attendees that Red Hot Chili Peppers would be the last “official” act of the festival, leaving the door open to rampant speculation about who might be performing.

In the end, the secret act was the Red Hot Chili Peppers performing “Under the Bridge” while the crowd was handed candles to honor the victims of the Columbine shooting, followed by the band covering Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire” to close. This was the last straw for attendees who used the candles to make massive bonfires out of anything they could get their hands on.

“I think the overarching blame has to go on the organizers,” said Stewart. “You could change elements, but I don’t think you could turn it into a good festival.”

“Absolutely,” Perkins replied. “They did nothing right.”

Listen to the full episode “Woodstock '99: 'The Day The Music Died'” to hear more details about the disastrous festival. The Do Go On podcast is a fact-based comedy that releases reports on user suggested topics every week. One host will research the report and present it to their co-hosts or guests with plenty of cut ups and tangents in between. For this episode, host Matt Stewart used a variety of sources including Netflix documentary Trainwreck: Woodstock '99. Find Do Go On on the iHeartRadio app or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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