The festival was meant to throw back the esoteric serenity of its first name, but culminated in a perfect storm of violence and misogyny. Netflix’s ‘Trainwreck: Woodstock’ 99 reveals what went wrong, but Leonie Cooper was more upset by organizers’ current lack of accountability.
Atflix’s new three-part series
Woodstock was ’99, opens completely theatrically. “Is this Bosnia?” asks a festival-goer as they look through the rubble of a three-day event that was less “peace and love” and more “violence and arson”. The air is thick with smoke from a recently extinguished fire. Inverted porta potter is sitting among the ashes. The huge light rig was lying flat on the ground. If you thought the 6 a.m. scene at Glastonbury’s Stone Circle was a mess, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
A bust of a 25th anniversary event in 1994
Trainwreck: Woodstock ’99 details an event that was set for disaster from the start. Michael Lang, who arranged the original Woodstock festival of 1969 when he was just 24, never looked forward to doing another one. A 25th anniversary event in 1994 was a bust, with lax security and two onsite deaths. In an interview filmed earlier this year before he died at the age of 77, Lang admitted that he felt it was impossible to recreate that free and easygoing feeling of the late sixties, when young people were in the wake of Vietnam. People came together, to show that there was a kinder way of doing things.
Columbine School shooting of April 1999
In fact, it was another disaster that convinced him to resurrect the festival – the April 1999 Columbine school shootings. Lang’s ambition was to bring young Americans together and show them a world free of violence, and that a peaceful way out was possible. Unfortunately, the chaotic scene that ensued was as much the fault of the organizers of the festival as the punters. Now, 23 years later, they still refuse to take the blame.
High temperature forecast
Woodstock ’99 was a perfect storm of angry, wild kids, oppressive heat, and a production team that cared little for the welfare of the 250,000 people who bought tickets to the three-day festival. In contrast to the rolling grassy hills of the bucolic 1969 edition, Woodstock ’99 takes place in July 1999 in the rather unnatural surroundings of a military base in Rome, New York. Although temperatures in excess of 100 °F (38 °C) were predicted for the weekend, water and food were taken from attendees upon arrival at the site. The base – a tarmac runway – also lacked a great deal of shade. “Oh my god, there’s a lot of asphalt,” recalls one of the production team, after seeing the location for the first time.