How the F**k Did This Happen?
Kerosene. Match. Boom!
You Can’t Stop a Riot in the 90s
At nearly every job I’ve been at (and I’m sure others can relate), there are always those in manager or director roles that just don’t have a clue. Whether it be over-charging for products, giving promotions to brown-nosers over hard workers, or even something as simple as valuing profit over people, this divide between “us VS them” feels like it’s only been exacerbated since lockdown and COVID.
“Oh, you’d like us to go back to the office and commute for hours on end so you can micromanage us? How about no?”
Woodstock ’99 then, perfectly embodies this entire mentality, and it does so with some delicious irony (which we’ll get to) and an absolutely absorbing narrative.
For those unaware, back in July 1999, a decision was made to put on a world-shattering event to rival Woodstock ’69. Taking place deep in the heart of Rome, New York, the idea was for an unforgettable 3 day weekend, with non-stop music, raving and partying.
With the co-founder of the original Woodstock, Michael Lang, and typical out-of-touch officials like John Scher, underestimating the youth and feel of the people at the time, a catastrophic series of errors led to one of the most chaotic and out of control festivals of all time. And that’s saying something when you also have Fyre Festival to contend with!
Split across 3 episodes, the focus shifts back and forth between the event itself, complete with a clock timer counting down key moments, to the planners beforehand putting this while thing together. Instead of the rolling hills and fields though, the promoters chose an abandoned airstrip for their base of operations. During the hottest month of the year. With tarmac all around. Trainwreck is putting it lightly; this is more like Clusterfuck.
For those unaware, the event starts simply enough before descending into all-out chaos. Frequent drug taking, copious amounts of alcohol, nowhere near enough security and, eventually, riots and fire turned this event into an absolute nightmare. But a nightmare for which some of the partygoers (who are interviewed here) don’t regret attending at all, given the music and acts on display.
With plenty of talking head interviews, the episodes break down all the logistical problems with the event. From expensive food and drinks to awful sanitation, right the way across to tainted free water and even TV producers for Box Office encouraging raucous behaviour from those in attendance. Everything that could go wrong – does.
The irony from officials and out-of-touch suits with the culture of the time is evident too. Fight Club is blamed for the root cause of the issues (despite being released six months AFTER the event) while American Pie is also cited as a problem. You know, the teen comedy which apparently *checks notes* exemplifies male chauvinistic behaviour.
Eventually the blame lands squarely at the feet of Fred Durst, the lead singer of Limp Bizkit. On Saturday night, he riles the crowd up with his song “Break Stuff” but as one partygoer attests, he spoke to the crowd and really managed to understand how fed up and annoyed they were feeling.
It’s also pretty ironic that the doc simultaneously brushes over Red Hot Chili Pepper singing “Fire” while the promoters naively give out candles to angry, hungover, fed-up punters a day later. I mean, who in their right mind thought that was a good idea? Michael Lang is the answer!
Trying to pin the blame on nu-metal and rock music is, quite frankly, ludicrous. Numerous establishing shots of the endless garbage, disgusting facilities and overpriced food and drink speaks much greater volumes, along with graffiti across walls reading “Greed” and “Profitstock.”
As someone who has attended numerous different festivals and gigs (not to mention working the bar for Gatecrasher and rock bands), I can tell you that the frustrations usually stem from the organisation of events rather than the acts or music.
Combining over-priced water, with burning hot temperatures on tarmac, resulting in thousands being treated for heatstroke, along with severely hungover punters, is never a good combination. And the irony that these bands, just across the wall, are living the high life with chefs and plenty of resources, speaks volumes about that growing divide between the rich and the poor.
The editing here is nicely done to show that too, with numerous shots juxtaposing the peace and prosperity of Woodstock ’69 against the chaos of 99. Ultimately though, the word greed comes to mind. It’s incredibly naïve to believe you can put on an event like this and nickel and dime your customers into spending copious amounts on water and food across 3 days – especially with such a young crowd.
With no free water (at least not once the pipes burst), garbage lining the floor and a sea of angsty, fed-up, hungover guys and gals, it was always going to be a recipe for disaster.
Trainwreck: Woodstock 99 is not the first of its kind, given HBO also have a similar documentary on the topic, but it is probably the better of the two.
With extensive interviews from Scher and Lang, this documentary only exacerbates how out of touch these men are with the youth. And perhaps that’s the biggest takeaway from this documentary. Woodstock 99 was a volatile cocktail of problems, doused in gasoline and with multiple matches thrown on the fire by out of touch officials who just wanted to make a quick buck. And it makes for one heck of a documentary to watch!
Verdict - 8.5/10