As part of my home education in disastrous festivals, I had been looking forward to this week’s premiere of Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage. Alas, while 22 years ago there was no escaping the live sets from the festival, in 2021 CE streaming an HBO documentary requires a Ph.D. in live streaming. So I had to make do with the trailer and a 2019 podcast: Break Stuff.
Woodstock 99 looms large in my memory. MTV NL must have had a few months where they played little else. Also, I had recorded my favorite act on VHS: The Offspring. I watched their show so often I was able to pinpoint the moment when their frontman Dexter Holland’s sunglasses were stolen. (One of the more little commented upon events of the festival.) Completely out of context and an ocean away, the fire-lit Red Hot Chili Peppers performance was magical.
Woodstock 99 was disastrous for many reasons, which the podcast explores in some detail. It touches upon poor planning, pricy water, lax security, and sexist violence. This I knew, more or less. Something I did not know, however, was the role music played in this—especially the music that was big at Woodstock 99: nü-metal.
After the festival went up in flames, one band was singled out for criticism: Limp Bizkit. It’s hilarious to be reminded of Limp Bizkit and especially Fred Durst, their lead singer. I listened to this music a lot. It may have even been my favorite music for some time. Yet it is so ridiculous, now. Nü-metal may be the music that worst stood the test of time of all 90s music. Nonetheless, Durst and Limp Bizkit didn’t create the chaos at Woodstock. They simply played their music.
Nü-metal came at an auspicious time in music history. As Steven Hyden explains in the podcast, rock music until Kurt Cobain had been a reasonably inclusive ordeal. If you liked some rock, you liked all. By the time of Limp Bizkit, however, rock fans had broken up into many different niches. These niches, consequently, were more homogeneous and less welcoming to others than rock had been. The niche Woodstock 99 catered to consisted mainly of angry white men. The music they liked was misogynistic, xenophobic, and violent. Not a great mix.
Most if not all music festivals I’ve ever been to were post-99. Popular ones had learned its lessons and combined diverse musical styles with affordable water. Others ignored the learnings but anticipated the chaos. Dour, in Belgium, stands out. It taught me that the French word for speed is vitesse and that an emergency rescue blanket is a staple of festival first aid. Elsewhere, I saw Limp Bizkit live. Many of these festivals catered to niche audiences, often akin to the Woodstock 99 niche. I’m not sure such events still exist, but to me, it was a liberation to discover musical genres that were more open, more welcoming, more diverse later in life.
It’s not very likely the festival we’re doing in September will go down like Woodstock 99. Or the Fyre Festival, for that matter. For starters, we didn’t book Limp Bizkit or Blink 182. I’m intrigued by the concept, though, of bringing hundreds of thousands of people together in a temporary world. And making something happen. Not break stuff, but build something, perhaps.
Thanks for reading! The next few updates will be, like this one, somewhat shorter and more limited in scope. Sorry! In two months, with the above dealt with, there will be many books to write (and podcasts to make) about our learnings. Stay safe!