‘Like a Horror Movie’: Revisiting the Fyre-esque disaster of Woodstock 99 | Documentary

IIt would be easy, as director Garrett Price puts it in the opening seconds of his documentary Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage, to structure a film about the disastrous music festival that took place one weekend in July 1999. in the form of a comedy. The reboot of Woodstock for audiences primarily born after the original 1969 festival was a proto-Fyre meltdown of grotesque American excess, a panoply of late ’90s nonsense – Kid Rock strolling on stage in a white fur coat , Limp Bizkit as the main draw, mostly young white Gen X males paying to see nu metal acts in a mismanaged swamp of filth. But the easy hits, the glow of cultural nostalgia on any Woodstock, especially the first, obscures what, in reality, Price says, “turned out much more like a horror movie.”

Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage captures an event that unfolded in spectacular fashion, with a palpable current of misogyny, white male rage, the law, and cynical commercialism. Facilities built at a former air base in Rome, New York – the irony of a new Woodstock being held in a military installation – collapsed under the weight of 200,000 visitors. With water selling for $ 4, many festival-goers have gone without in temperatures above 100F (37.8C). More than 1,200 have been treated for medical problems; three people died. It’s a miracle it wasn’t more – the festival ended in riots, as attendees fanned by three days of anarchy-fueled music burned down the fairground. Forty-four were arrested. There have been 10 reported sexual assaults, but a quick glance at the footage – of men in attendance groping topless women with glee, as if free love equates to gratuitous violation – ensures there was. much more.

But the original Fyre, as it is sometimes called, has mostly been forgotten as a cultural artifact, especially by generations too young to have known about the event when it happened. Woodstock 99 “has kind of been swept under the rug,” Price told The Guardian, and is often mistaken for the more successful and less volatile Woodstock 94. The old festival “tells us where we are culturally more than at the beginning of the 90s”.

“You start the decade with Nirvana, with Pearl Jam, with hip-hop like A Tribe Called Quest, there’s a kind of idealism in music, anti-establishment and non-commercialism,” Price said. , “And you end the decade with commercialism and nihilism. How did we get from here to there?

“I don’t blame those times for where we are now, but I think there are a lot of interesting strands you can tie together from cover to cover.”

At the time of the festival, Price was in his sophomore year at college in Texas, watching bands such as Korn, Metallica, Alanis Morisette and Rage Against the Machine on pay per view with his roommates. “Back then, yes it was chaotic, it was crazy, but it never felt this crazy, ”he said of the 1999 festival.“ I had more Fomo, I think I missed that thing. And it wasn’t until years later when I started digging and started reading talks about it “that he realized terrible things had happened.

Woodstock 99 untangles many of the threads that turned into what, in the end, feels like a scorching apocalypse through a slew of stock footage and interviews with participating musicians such as Moby, Jonathan Davis of Korn and Jewel, participants and music critics. There’s the doomed push to reboot a very fictionalized moment for baby boomers (the original Woodstock was, in reality, a mess, a few shades of luck from the tragedy) into a money maker for young college kids – part of a cultural model of “boomers pushing their beliefs onto the younger generations,” Price said. There was the reaction to the mainstream teenage pop in Britney Spears ‘charts,’ NSync and the Backstreet Boys with overt aggro acts like Limp Bizkit (song of choice: Break Stuff).

And there was a creepy steamy culture – the kind skewered in two other flagship films of the year, Promising Young Woman and Framing Britney Spears – that saw female bodies as first and foremost for male enjoyment. With the popularity of Girls Gone Wild and boys’ magazines like Maxim and FHM, “it was a time of objectifying women,” Price said, “and mixing that with the marketing ideals of the counter-culture of the world. free love, and you just create a toxic environment. “It’s an environment in which only three women have been invited to perform (Jewel, Alanis, Sheryl Crow), in which the women are groped while riding the crowd , in which thousands of men chant “show your breasts!” To a Rosie Perez on stage, in which concert promoter Michael Scher could insist the problem was Actually MTV exaggerates the chaos, as it still does in the movie.

A photo from Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage
A photo from Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage. Photography: HBO

With Woodstock 99, the sale of ’60s idealism turned into a license to take, to do forbidden things off the field. There are spooky images of the late rapper DMX leading the crowd in a call and response to his words, and a sea of ​​mostly white people happily shouting the N word. “The black artist is basically allowing people in the crowd to say that word with him, “New York Times culture critic Wesley Morris says in the film. “To do something they don’t believe in. Or maybe they believe it, but if you were to ask them what they believe, if you had each of these guys after the show, and pull them aside and say, “is it correct to say the N word under all circumstances? ‘ They would say to a person, “I mean, the correct answer is no, isn’t it?”

The lure of transgression and debauchery, it seems, was powerful. Some of the results are extremely comical – participants slide through mud, as in the original festival, seemingly unaware that it is human waste from overwhelmed and disfigured toilets. More often than not it is grim, destruction for the sake of destruction. Perhaps there is no better metaphor than the fence fires, when candles handed out for a vigil for Columbine victims during the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Under the Bridge were used instead to set ablaze the premises, including a “peace” mural.

From music to destruction, there is a clear line of unfiltered and seemingly sourceless rage, especially among college-aged men, mostly white men. Where is he from? Who to blame for the disaster of Woodstock 99? As the film describes, there is not a single answer, proving that the event is a cultural moment worthy of serious questioning. “It’s a mix of culture, of the way the festival was planned and of people falling victim to the Woodstock mythology, that all is well in this idyllic thing,” Price said. “It all just ended up with this cacophony of madness.”

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