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Woodstock Then and Now.

The '99 lest was marred by violence, but '69 was no garden either

When the smoke cleared and the drumming stopped around 6:30 a.m., some eight hours into the burning, looting, and youth-gone-wild marauding of Woodstock '99, an older state trooper turned to a group of bedraggled teenagers sitting near a coffee stand. "Remember Woodstock?" he said. "The first one?" Then he added sarcastically: "Peace."

But who does remember the Woodstock era? Ever since last July's Woodstock '99, commentators have fallen all over themselves to remind us that Woodstock '69 stood for peace and love, while this year's version symbolized violence and greed. The '99 moral: The kids aren't all right.

But in fact, the reality of the original Woodstock was much more complicated than the mythic Garden of Eden remembered in popular nostalgia. This year's Woodstock may have been more dangerous than its predecessor, especially for women, who were the victims of molestations, assaults, and even several rapes. But Woodstock '69, far from being a continuous lovefest, featured food shortages, overflowing toilets, standstill traffic, a lack of medical supplies, three deaths, heroin overdoses, countless bad trips, bonfires, and food stands burned to the ground. At one point, the Who's Pete Townshend even bashed peace activist Abbie Hoffman in the head with an electric guitar.


The first Woodstock looked good mostly by contrast with a series of large-scale, audience-exploiting festivals in 1969 and 1970 that featured gate-crashing and rioting, leading to several deaths, hundreds of injuries, scores of arrests, and massive property damage.

Memory is selective. Few accounts of Woodstock '99 pointed out that co-promoter Michael Lang also was an organizer of another 1969 festival, Altamont. At that event members of the Hell's Angels motorcycle gang, hired as security guards, stabbed one audience member to death in plain view of the stage, beat up countless others, and punched out the Jefferson Airplane's Marty Balin during the group's set.

The Altamont festival is memorialized in the film Gimme Shelter, and if you want to see the dark underside of '60s rock festivals, rent it. The atmosphere of the concert, even leaving aside the menacing presence of the Hell's Angels, is scary. Interestingly, many things that seem unique to today's rock generation, like slam dancing and crowd-surfing, already appear in the film as concert staples.

Woodstock '99 also was not the first festival where concertgoers rebelled against high prices. The 1970 Isle of Wight Festival in England drew 600,000 people to see the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, the Who, and others. That festival fell apart when thousands of young people tried to break down fences to gain free admission and others rushed the stage during performances to protest the high price of tickets (though it was nothing close to the $150 entry price of Woodstock '99).

But the fact that the '60s rock-rests weren't pure sunshine doesn't excuse what happened at Woodstock '99. This year's Woodstock was scary in ways that earlier festivals were not, especially in its sexist, anti-woman edge. With four rape charges and scenes of men groping women as if it were Mardi Gras, Woodstock '99 made a case for itself as this generation's Altamont.


Concert promoters defended Woodstock '99 by saying that it was a great festival marred at the end by a few bad eggs. That argument might have applied better to Altamont. But at Woodstock '99, if a few bad eggs started it, then a lot of ambivalent eggs joined in. When trucks began exploding, speaker towers started to topple, and concession stands went up in flames, the general feeling was one of excitement, not fear. Nobody I talked to was outraged or remorseful; they only wanted to see how far things could be pushed without anyone's being harmed.

The high prices for admission and refreshments didn't justify the melee, either. Festival goers claimed they were protesting the price gouging and $4 bottles of water, but that rationale was an afterthought. During the rioting, they chanted "Woodstock," not "rip-off" or "free water," showing the world that they were rioting solely because they could, because security fled the site the minute trouble started.

Some pundits will use Woodstock '99 to condemn today's youth; others will take the opposite stance and criticize the way we treat our youth. But mayhem and destruction at organized mass gatherings aren't generational. They are timeless, as are their root causes: money, testosterone, intoxication, arrogance, boredom, and repression. Woodstock '99 is less a statement about a generation than about the combustibility between youth and mass gatherings, between the individual and authority, between rock music and commerce, and, sadly, between men and women.

Is this the Woodstock your generation deserves? Write us at

1969 vs. 1999: THE QUIZ

How well do you know your Woodstocks? Test your rock fest expertise here. A perfect score wins you the right to tie-dye all of your t-shirts. Far out. (Correct answers at bottom.)

1. At Woodstock '99, concertgoers were outraged by merchants charging $4 for a small bottle of water. At the original Woodstock, concertgoers were outraged by merchants charging how much for hot dogs?

A) 50 [cts.] B) $1.25 C) $3 D) $5

2. What performer played at both Woodstocks? (Hint: He's a drummer.)

3. At which festival did bombers turn into butterflies?

4. Which festival was held on a site from which bombers actually once took off?

5. The Grateful Dead played at the original Woodstock. At Woodstock '99, which band held up the tradition of mortuary-oriented band names?

6. At the original Woodstock only one band had a name with an animal in it: Country Joe and the Fish. At Woodstock '99 there were two. Name them. (Hint: How's your Spanish?)

7. Which Woodstock '69 star helped to inspire setting Woodstock '99 on fire?

8. Admission to Woodstock '99 cost $150. The original festival cost: A) $12, B) $24, C) $32, D) $56

9. How many deaths were reported at each festival?

10. Which festival was marred by overflowing portable toilets?

1: A; 2; Mickey Hart, with the Grateful Dead in 1969; solo in 1999; 3: Woodstock '69, as Joni Mitchell's song says: "And I dreamed I saw the bombers riding shotgun in the sky/And they were turning into butterflies above our bation"; 4: Woodstock '99, which took place on a decommissioned Air Force base; 5: Megadeath; 6: Counting Crows, Los Lobos (Spanish for "The Wolves"); 7: Jimi Hendrix (riots broke out at Woodstock '99 shortly after the Red Hot Chile Pepper's performed Hendrix's classic "Fire"); 8: B; 9: Woodstock '69:3, Woodstock '99: 1; 10: Both
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Title Annotation:rock concert
Author:Strauss, Neil
Publication:New York Times Upfront
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 20, 1999
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