The concert, designed to emulate the 30th anniversary of the original 1969 concert, was held in the former Griffiss Air Force Base in upstate New York, USA, with many popular acts of the time such as DMX, Limp Bizkit, Korn, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Alanis Morissette, Kid Rock, Metallica, and Creed.
The festival was held from July 22-25, 1999, and the heat was estimated to be 38°C (100°F) with little shade and swathes of concrete and asphalt magnifying the hot conditions. Very little shade and not enough grass meant that some festival-goers were even forced to camp on the asphalt.
The bands were accused of inciting violence. Limp Bizkit's vocalist Fred Durst shouted out during their performance: "We already let all the negative energy out. It's time to reach down and bring that positive energy to this motherfucker. It's time to let yourself go right now, 'cause there are no motherfuckin' rules out there." The crowd were already a hyped-up, heaving mass of jumping, crowd-surfing and moshing humanity moving to the music which soon turned to violence and destruction of the event site itself. In other words, this was mass catharsis on a grand scale, an iconic symbol of the power of one large event to symbolise the contemporary feelings of a frustrated generation freed from the 'rules'.
Promotional poster designed by Arnold Skolnick. Originally, the bird was perched on a flute
However, this counterculture also contained more serious elements that threatened the status quo itself. Young people were getting involved in revolutionary anarchist and socialist movements. Many gravitated towards the New Left: "a broad political movement mainly in the 1960s and 1970s consisting of activists in the Western world who campaigned for a broad range of social issues such as civil and political rights, environmentalism, feminism, gay rights, gender roles and drug policy reforms."
With opposition growing to the Vietnam war in 1968 and student demonstrations taking place in Poland [March 1968 protests] and in France [May 1968 campus uprisings] the New Left ideology began to filter into music and cinema.
In 1967 Jean-Luc Godard directed the film La Chinoise about a group of young Maoist activists in Paris, and in 1968 the Beatles released their song 'Revolution' which contained the lyrics, "But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao / You ain't gone make it with anyone anyhow". The activism of the time was also reflected in the Rolling Stones single of 1968, 'Street Fighting Man'.
Vietnam War protestors march at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. on October 21, 1967.
By the time the Woodstock festival came around in 1969, the themes of love and peace were combined with Timothy Leary's "Turn on, tune in, drop out", an evocation to look into oneself (with the use of psychedelic drugs) rather than to look outwards and change society.
The importance of Woodstock is its iconic value as a symbol of revolt for a generation, as Elvis Presley, for example, was seen in the 1950s. One event, one individual, or one band can become elevated to a symbolic level representing something radical and even revolutionary to the people who were there, (and the people who wish they had been there). This can also be seen in the Trainwreck: Woodstock '99 interviewees who said that despite the chaos, they would go again, and that it had been the event of their lives. The huge numbers of fans involved in each concert, from 200,000 to 400,000 people, give these events cultural legitimacy and something to aspire to despite the fact that on an ideological level they work against the possibility of real change. 'Dropping out' in '69 or catharsis in '99 may have been satisfying in their times but little has changed politically since then.
Is it time now for a mass music festival celebrating identity politics as the new revolution in cultural thinking, and the ultimate in divide and rule politics?
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin is an Irish artist, lecturer and writer.
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