Woodstock ’99, a Festival of Madness

image by Frank Micelotta, Getty/Archive

Woodstock, 1999. One of, if not the most insane and chaotic music festival to date. What was supposed to be a bunch of rock, hip hop, and (almost) everything in between bands getting together and playing live for their fans in the name of peace, love, and music, going down in history as a festival of greed, madness, and heat. But why is it known like this? What possibly could have happened to gain this reputation? Those are two questions that will be answered in this article, and I’m happy to share.

Any fan of, say, Limp Bizkit, Metallica, or Korn, are bound to have heard of this festival and probably know what happened. The setlist for Woodstock ‘99 were as mentioned, Limp Bizkit, Metallica, and Korn, with more bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Insane Clown Posse, DMX, Kid Rock, The Offspring, Rage Against the Machine, Ice Cube, Megadeth, Godsmack, and Jamiroquai, to name the most popular in no order. These bands were to play from July 22, 1999 to July 25, 1999 at Griffiss Air Force Base, Rome, NY, USA. The naming for the festival comes from the Woodstock festival of 1969, which has the tagline of, “Three Days of Peace and Music”. 

By the time the festival came around, the area was incredibly hot, going above 100°. The entire festival took place on an asphalt airstrip, which discouraged barefootedness, and had very little shade. There was very little place to put up a tent, and many just resorted to putting up one on the asphalt. Total attendee count: 400,000 people. Once inside the site, festival goers found out that vendors were overpricing their products dramatically, and water fountains had very long lines. People literally broke water lines just to get any at all. More disgustingly, there were not enough toilets and showers for the attendees, leading to them overflowing and breaking. 

If everything beforehand wasn’t enough, the performances more than tipped the iceberg of when everything started going haywire with the festival. During Limp Bizkit’s performance, a crowd surfing woman was pulled into a mosh pit, and while the band was singing “Break Stuff”, the crowd started ripping plywood off of the walls. During Fatboy Slim’s performance a man hijacked a truck and drove it into a rave hangar. While Metallica was performing, a man inside of their mosh pit collapsed due to heat stroke and hyperthermia and unfortunately passed away on July 26th, 1999. 

During the final night, while Megadeth and RHCP were performing, fans lit bonfires with littered plastic bottles using lighters and candles that spread to both East and West stages. A radio tower had caught fire and had to be extinguished by the fire department. The fires lead to violence and vandalism, destroying semi-tractor trailers and ATMs. Red Hot Chili Peppers were blamed for the fires, due to their playing of Jimi Hendrix’ “Fire”. The destruction escalated, with fans circling fires and throwing plywood ripped from the walls into the fires, trailers full of merchandise were broken into and thrown into the fires, along with abandoned vendor booths. 

By 11:45 pm, New York State Troopers, local police, and other defense forces, armored with riot control gear, had formed a line to control the situation at hand. Some claim the crowd had resisted and moved, some claimed the crowd had tired out. Fires were extinguished after sunlight.

40+ people were arrested during the festival, Dr. Richard Kaskiw, a doctor at the festival, had reported roughly 8,000 to 10,000 injuries taking place. 12 trailers, vendor booths and portable toilets were destroyed, some of the trailers exploding due to coolant and propane related issues. Total cost of damage was estimated at $80,000 minimum. Truly, the festival was quite an anarchy.