It’s a rare thing to witness the apex of a culture of rage…
The idea of ‘Woodstock’ and the ideas of peace and love have been romanticized to the hilt…at least in the last century. Woodstock 1999 was being sold with the right ideals but it devolved into a rage filled chaotic mess that sullied the ideas that the first festival put forth into the world…or did it? Woodstock 99: Peace, Love & Rage reminds us of the pointless chaos of the time that just rose like a wave until it developed into a disaster that reminds us that greed can bite you in the ass and maybe just MAYBE Fyre Fest wasn’t THAT bad.
Woodstock ‘99, was a three-day music festival promoted to echo unity and counterculture idealism of the original 1969 concert but instead devolved into riots, looting and sexual assaults. This is the story of the music festival that tried to embrace counter culture and turned into a chaotic collision of misplaced rage.
On Crave (or HBO Max) today; Woodstock 99: Peace, Love & Rage from director Garret Price ultimately works better when we get into the more personal stories surrounding the event rather than some of the finger pointing and trying to determine what went wrong.
It’s easy to have opinions (much like ass*oles…we’ve all got ‘em) on why this music festival turned into the epic shit show that it did and Price manages to touch on them all fairly equally in a pretty efficient way but never really comes down on answer…which is kind of the point. In the wake of the death of Kurt Cobain and acts that came out of a more self-aware grunge era of music getting pushed to the backburner in favor of aggressive rap music and nu-metal, making a festival around the ideals of peace and love come across even more asinine now than they did then.
The late 90’s was an era of anger, politically, socially and a fair chunk of it was misplaced as it came out of a very white, ‘frat boy’ kind of mentality as at least socially we all started to feel a shift in the social dynamics of the world and this was a push back on that. When the current idea of counter-culture is seeing DMX leading a crowd of nearly half a million (who were mostly white) chant the N-Word, or see Fred Durst lean into his self made image of being a shit disturber, combined with the poor logistics behind bathrooms, extreme heat and $4 bottled water back in 1999 (which yes…was steep) makes for a combustible social experiment to say the least.
In many ways this film very deftly shows how Woodstock ’99 was the antithesis of Woodstock ’69 and seeing corporate promoters push that idea down the throats of a lot of music fans making minimum wage at the time looking for something to push back against was a mess in so many ways.
On a personal note, I am (and was a part of) this generation at the time as we were the first generation to know that we weren’t going to be doing as well financially as our parents and we were pissed about it…and that came through in the music of the time and this poorly managed festival felt like the apex of it all.
Price loses his focus on the narrative a little bit when it gets into elements of finger pointing on why things went wrong. The logistics were obviously a mess, which enraged a mass of humanity that was basically covered in its own filth by the second day of the festival and when you embroil that in a cauldron of liberal drug use, alcohol consumption, extreme heat stroke and dehydration (someone actually died their because they got to HOT) along with the selling of an ideal of peace and love where everyone can walk around naked, which actually resulted in a myriad of tragic sexual assaults, the whole thing was never meant to be anything other than a mess. By Day 3 this festival of peace and love looked like a war zone in the wake of genocide.
That being said, where Price really gets this all right is in the stories that he gets from people who were there. Excited to be at the biggest music festival of their generation, but also knew that booking Limp Bizkit, Rage Against The Machine and Metallica back to back to back MAY not have been the best idea in the world when they can’t fix the toilets or stop young women from getting molested and assaulted.
As with anything that goes wrong or when something horrible happens, people want to lay blame…and here there’s more than enough to go around, because honestly…everyone fucked up on this one.
From the organizers who were pushing an outdated ideal down the throats of a young generation, to the misplaced rage of the day (coming from the voice of young white men) that they want to take and destroy whatever they want, to networks and cable companies broadcasting it on television and PPV for all to see. This was just a disaster, plain and simple.
In reflecting back on this time we see in Woodstock: Peace, Love & Rage we are reminded of a period in music and popular culture that was really drawing some pretty distinct lines in the collective sand. People wanted their music to be angry and capture the social zeitgeist of the moment…but when you amp that all up with nowhere to focus it, it’ll all blow up in your face in an ugly, ugly way. This film is a piece of human horror about a moment in time that tries to draw a straight line from songs like ‘Piece of my Heart’ or ‘The Weight’ to songs like ‘What These Bitches Want’ or ‘Break Stuff’. This film captures the perfect moment of something that was DOOMED to fail.