How do you keep nearly half a million rowdy teenagers relatively well-behaved in front of their favorite music artists?

Well, however you think it, you probably did a better job than the promoters of Woodstock ‘99.

The ill-fated music festival has made the news once again thanks to The Ringer documentary “Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage,” a chronicle of the late-1990s event that spawned equal death and destruction to mosh pits and rave parties.

Several factors of the infamous event were broached by the producers, Adam Gibbs and Sean Keegan. The two chronicled the three-day concert’s most maligned moments, including Limp Bizkit’s insistence that the crowd near-riot during a performance of their song “Break Stuff,” and a candlelight vigil turned into large-scale blazes during a Red Hot Chili Peppers set.

The ending of the piece seemed to point to festivals being in a much-improved place to their position in the 1990s, with events such as Lollapalooza and Coachella highlighted as growth in the genre. But, is that really the case? Let’s break down the growth, or lack thereof, in festival culture using Woodstock ‘99s faults as a base:

• Sexual assault: Woodstock ‘99’s foremost issue, in my eyes, was the violation of any female who dared wade into the frat boy-infested crowd. With women seemingly groped each time they attempted a crowd-surf, even artists like The Offspring’s Dexter Holland had to step in and tell the would-be molestors to cool it. Reports of sexual assault were found both in and outside the packed stage shows, with nary an assault case actually being heard by authorities.

This is a clear win for the present. If nothing else, at least there are more set consequences for such behavior than 20 years prior. The mindset of those in power has shifted as well, going from Woodstock co-creator Michael Lang’s spiel of topless women being semi-culpable for their situation, to a more tolerant and reasonable take on the issue. Sexual assault is wrong, period, and at least we kind of understand that now.

• Heat and other weather-related issues: As much as I would like to call everything about festivals today an improvement, some events are out of a promoter’s control. One of these issues is the fact most festivals take place in summer, where heat is hard to avoid no matter the location. Combine this with approximately 400,000 bodies adding natural heat, and there will always be a recipe for heat exhaustion at these venues. The one exception is an indoor festival, something pioneered by Post Malone in the past few years with his “PostyFest” event at AT&T Stadium in Dallas. As the future unfolds and we move into a post-pandemic society (hopefully), indoor festivals may become a more common occurrence due to this situation.

• Lack of policing: Policing for Woodstock ‘99, as seen in the documentary, was a three-hour course in which teenagers were given the answers to the safety exam. Some security, it was shown, traded in their duty to protect others for a pursuit of women.

This is another sector of festival enjoyment that has lacked in following years. It makes sense in theory, as putting together a festival is hard on the wallet, why spend on extra security to police so many? Well, the rampant sexual assault mentioned prior, combined with garden-variety brawling. Those two things seem like a start. In my opinion, it’s worth the extra police budget, even if it reeks of “the man” raining on a parade.

• Artist selection: Back to another winner, as for the most part, festivals have figured out they should be more streamlined for one genre. The mixing of Woodstock ‘99, going from Wyclef Jean to Metallica in a matter of hours, didn’t serve any particular masters. A pure rock fan may have been dissatisfied with hip-hop acts, and vice versa.

Modern festivals have seen to break into their chosen genre, such as the Rolling Loud festival series for hip-hop acts. This is an absolute victory, as those interested in a certain style of music won’t have to worry about wasting six hours to get to an artist they enjoy.

• Profiteering: The final act of Woodstock ‘99’s depravity took place the final evening, as those who were furious at “Profitstock” for charging $4 per water bottle rioted in the venue. Unfortunately, this is still very much alive today. Water and other non-alcoholic beverages remain at obscene prices at venues, as well as even the most basic of baseball stadium food. Alcohol? Forget it, just bring your own bag, or face going broke.

It seems like this won’t be going away anytime soon, as the expensive prices for festivals imply a richer clientele, so it’s “okay” to charge ridiculously for basic accommodations. As festivals become more exclusive to attend, the prices will continue to inflate.

Gibbs and Keegan attempted to show positive examples of newer, better festivals through smiling faces and clean-shaven artists. However, they didn’t get down into the details of why Woodstock ‘99’s misgivings still appear today.

We aren’t setting things on fire, anymore, but there’s still work to do.


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