Woodstock ’99: Who’s To Blame?

With the recent rash of documentary films, magazine one-offs and merchandising craze over the 50 year anniversary of the first Woodstock festival in 1969 comes renewed interest in the disaster that was Woodstock ‘99.

I won’t get into all of the details about it here, there are too many thoroughly research and reported articles and podcasts that do a deep dive far better than I could in this forum, for those seeking a more thorough examining of the spectacle. To make matters brief, I’ll say that the festival rivals only the infamous Fyre Festival in terms of the word “fail”. Nothing good can be said about this massive event that was held on a simmering summer day in Rome, New York on a massive stretch of burning asphalt other than “thank God it ended”.

Perhaps the event was cursed from the beginning: event planners made the unimaginable decision to separate the two stages (East and West) by nearly 2.5 miles (as evidenced by this map from the event):

Image courtesy https://christyborgman.com

There’s been fingers pointed in every direction in terms of “who’s to blame”: the promoters, the venue, the crowd, the political climate of the United States that year, and on and on. But how about the musical acts themselves?

The popular music of that time period wasn’t exactly the kind of peace and love that Crosby, Stills and Nash were singing about in a cannabis and psychedelic-induced haze in the free-wheeling, “love your neighbor” 1960’s. We’re talking about “nu-metal” bands like the hardcore hip-hop and rock influenced Limp Bizkit and the equally angry-sounding Korn.

This was angry music being made by angry people to make angry people angrier. Want proof?

Here’s the entire set as performed by Limp Bizkit on 7/24/1999. The really bad stuff starts at around :34 when lead singer Fred Durst essentially encourages the 400,000 or so people out in front of him to take all of their anger and put it out there.

Limp Bizkit Live at Woodstock 1999

If that’s not inciting violence, what is?

It’s hard to watch and not get pissed off.

Professional musicians performing in front of a live audience have an obligation to do only two things:

That’s it. They can be completely high on drugs, show up late for a show, jump on their political high-horse from the stage, make buffoons of themselves and do it again the next day, and we’ll forgive them so long as we hear a few good tunes and make it out of the concert unharmed.

Fred Durst has said that he was busy performing and couldn’t see what was happening in the crowd that day (you’ll see from the video clear evidence of sexual assault, fighting, and other acts of violence) — but I believe his words say otherwise.

Not only was he aware of what was going on, he encouraged it. He promoted it. He yelled at the audience to tell him and his band to “F-off” and he said the same back to them.

What a shame. How legal action was not taken by the authorities against Durst for any number of crimes committed that day is beyond me, especially when you consider that Jim Morrison was arrested after a concert in New Haven, Connecticut in 1967 for asking his audience if they wanted to see his penis.

The YouTube video could have been used as Exhibit A in Durst vs the State of New York.

In terms of the importance of keeping an audience safe during a live show, especially one of that size, just ask Pearl Jam, who suffered the fate of witnessing the deaths of 9 members of their audience from trampling during their performance at a music festival in Roskilde, Denmark during the summer of 2000. The band spent years unpacking the tragedy and trying to understand how it could have happened, especially to them, and lead singer Eddie Vedder, who can be heard and seen countless times in concerts going back to the band’s early days in 1991 addressing the crowd to “take care of each other”.

Fred Durst unquestionably violated the trust of his audience by encouraging them to use his music to fuel their violent, angry rage. To do so for a crowd of that size, in those kinds of conditions, as far as I’m concerned, is unconscionable. He should be ashamed of himself.

For fans of Limp Bizkit (are there any willing to admit it?) or naysayers who would take the position that Pearl Jam just simply didn’t rock as hard as Limp Bizkit, that they could have never gotten a crowd rilled up the way Durst did, to that I’d say only:

Eddie Vedder dives from the stage, early 1990's

I’d like to see Fred Durst pull off a move like that.

Wearer of many hats.