Three Days of Arson, Rape and Corporate Greed

How the Alt-Press Saw the Alt-Event.

By all accounts the Woodstock ’99 festival, held July 23-25 at a disused military base outside Rome, N.Y. , featured the usual rock festival mayhem: booze, drugs, heat, not enough anything, and general discomfort. It also added arson, rioting, and grossly inappropriate sexual behavior leading up to and apparently including rape. (N.Y. state police are investigating.)

It didn’t look pretty on television, not even the sanitized version shown on Fox the next week. And the attempt to wrap the event in the mantle of the defining countercultural (or “alternative”) event in American history did not impress the one media group one might think most sympathetic : the alternative press. Here are excerpts from AAN papers’ coverage:

Christian Czerwinski, Syracuse New Times, July 21:

” ‘ I think, above all, since Griffiss [Air Force Base] realigned, this is an exciting opportunity for the community and a chance to really shake things up,’ [Rome Mayor Joe] Griffo says. ‘There’s a definite economic impact, and although it’s short-term, it’s good.’ ”

Allen Czleusniak, Syracuse New Times, July 28:

“The one-and-only Mini-Me, Verne Troyer of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged me fame, introduced thrash-rappers Limp Bizkit on Saturday night. ‘You wanted the worst, you’ve got the worst,’ he said. ‘The one and only Limp Bizkit.’ Woodstock got the worst.

“Plastic bottles rained over the East Stage crowd. Singer Fred Durst egged the crowd on to a higher energy level. ‘You motherfuckers need to wake the fuck up!’ he screamed into the microphone…

“And just as the show seemed at its worst, the crowd in the mosh pit parted down the middle. Their action allowed the injured patrons to receive medical attention and be transported out of the pit. ‘Woodstock ’99, you’re beautiful,’ the emcee concluded. ‘You guys spread the sea to save a life.”

“Metro Ink,” City Newspaper (Rochester, N.Y.), July 28:

“Having averaged about two hours of sleep a night for three nights in a row, our Woodstock correspondent actually showed up for work Monday — and on time. This dazzling display of the American work ethic was so impressive, he could be forgiven for the fact that he was incapable of writing his own name, much less a story about the four-day event at Griffiss Air Force base. We managed to keep our correspondent conscious and vertical long enough to give the following oral report:

” ‘Lots of naked people. A lot of topless women. The fires weren’t that bad. They were bonfires — they were contained. After four days of being hot and drinking beer and doing drugs, with that many people, of course there’s going to be some trouble. Oh, yeah, it was a success. ‘ ”

Kim Huges, NOW, July 29:

“What’s [unclear] is whether the untold sacks of money generated by ticket sales and concession stands can assuage the bitter aftertaste left by the sight of a dazed teenage girl standing topless outside an airplane hangar on a broiling Saturday afternoon, allowing herself to be photographed with lecherous adult men for a dollar to buy desperately needed food and water because she’d run out of money and was fading fast.”

Ben Dietz, Philadelphia Weekly, July 28:

“I have seen the best of my generation, naked from the waist up, sun-scorched and stoned, stumbling dusty through fields of plastic flotsam and jetsam, blurry and intoxicated and weirdly giddy. The best of my generation, huffing nitrous, dropping acid, smoking hash, frolicking nude and body-painted, screaming over and over, ‘Show us your tits!’ The best of my generation, pissing where they stood, kicking down any structure standing, setting fires just to watch them burn…

“I’m sure that in five or 10 years, we’ll look back at Woodstock ’99 and reminisce about how pure it was — how it was ‘all about the music and the love.’ It wasn’t, of course. Woodstock ’99 was about my generation, and our having a festival of our own to fuck up. See you in 2004.”

Margit Detweiler, Philadelphia City Paper, July 30:

“The Apocalypse was televised last weekend, and while it was, I did my laundry…

“Perhaps hosting Woodstock in a military setting literally set the stage for Woodstock’s transformation from peace, love and music into ‘shocking, ugly and nasty’ [according to MTV’s Kurt Loder] 30 years later.

“Watching on the little screen though, Woodstock was virtually entertainment.

“Man, if only they’d had Pay-Per-View for Altamont.”

Jerry Klein, Creative Loafing (Charlotte), Aug. 7:

“Moshing pits, aggression and temper tantrums supplanted a sense of community; corporate sponsorships and $6 bottles of water reflected the greed and ‘screw you’ attitudes of today, rather than a celebration of life, hope and kindness.

“Incited by music that’s largely obnoxious noise, and a cacophony of assaults on the senses, I found myself asking, not ironically, ‘What’s the matter with these kids today?’ And yes, I choked on these words…”

Richard Goldstein, Village Voice, Aug. 4:

“Mark Barton, who killed his family and nine other people last week, wasn’t driven to murder by rage against the machine. True, he hunted his anonymous victims at brokerage offices, referring to them in a note he left behind as people who ‘greedily sought my destruction.’ True, he took a verbal potshot at “this system of things.” But Barton was a classic American psychokiller, not a dissident.

“The boys of Woodstock who pillaged and evidently raped their way to nirvana were impelled by a lust for mayhem, not a political crusade. Same for the dude who allegedly accosted a Continental airlines clerk who says he was stopped from chasing after his runaway son. It may have been bad management, but is that any reason to pick someone up, turn him upside down, and drop his head onto the floor?

“Yet all these incidents have something in common. Each was sparked by a painful interaction with a commercial enterprise. Each perp felt abused, and acted on that feeling with enormous cruelty. Call it x-treme consumer backlash.”

Christian Czerwinski, Syracuse New Times, July 21:

“Woodstock’s 80-bed health care facility will house a fully equipped laboratory, 68 portable generators, 1,000 licensed professional medical volunteers and 500 licensed doctors. Yet when Woodstock concludes, everything that was built exclusively for the festival will be taken away. Only the 575 saplings to be replanted after the festival will remain.”

Matthew Braffman, New Haven Advocate, Aug. 5:

“The security guard…recovered ‘screaming and crying ‘ people from the sea of cramped bodies that flooded the barricade in front of the stage.

” ‘ They felt like they were being crushed,’ the 6-foot, 250-lb. rugby player says. [He] stood atop the 5-foot tall wooden barrier. ‘They would just reach out their arm, and I would grab them’ and lift them over…

” ‘It was not planned to the utmost,’ he says. ‘But when you have a large-scale event, everything can’t run perfectly.’ ”

Eric Friar, Flagpole Magazine, Aug. 11:

“There is no way, even had security been present, that they would have been able to control that crowd. And the price that some of these people paid to be at Woodstock is not worth making anyone rich. I hear they are already planning Woodstock 2004, with plans for one every five years. It will take longer than that for me to forget what I saw at this one.”