R.I.P. Woodstock – Pop Culture author, James Campion slams Woodstock 1999.

Reality Check Classics 7/28/99


Like all things attached to aberrations and miracles, the legacy of Woodstock must be allowed to rest in peace. It has become sadly apparent that to revive its memory only unearths actions barely resembling anything to do with the word peace.

Glaring examples of capitalism run amok in the form of 90s’ sponsorship, and potential record sales eclipse any homage to a time and place so rare it defies explanation even now. For if Joni Mitchell had been walking down the road to Rome, New York on the weekend of July 24, 1999, it is more likely she would have seen less a child of God, than a Baby Boomer fallout.

Whatever those who put together Woodstock ’99 might have thought—or offered up as an excuse, following three days of disgusting accommodations, ridiculous overpricing, lewd and abusive behavior, blatant acts of violence, looting, and arson—it can simply be summed up as the day the piper came looking for his check. Somewhere between MTV, pay-per-view, and ultra-hip.com, the ripped-off, starving, unwashed, poser revolutionaries who were bilked by this sham enacted their vengeance on what surely has to be the last of these hapless revivals.

By the time the miscreants began looting the evil money lenders and setting fires, Woodstock, as we have come to know and love it, became just another example of humans misinterpreting compassion for luck.

Thirty years ago, a couple of rich kids got lucky. All they wanted was to make a few bucks on a burgeoning music culture born out of a Summer of Love and a stockpile of recreational drugs. The small town known as Woodstock, nestled in the mountains of Sullivan County, New York seemed as good a place as any to have what was fast being known as a music festival.

Home to artists for most of the century, and by the Summer of ‘69, host to musicians including the patriarchal Bob Dylan, the town of Woodstock served as a mini-nirvana for those starved for an image to summon the crude, but sometimes charming lifestyle begun in the streets of the East Village in NYC and Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco. The Woodstock Music and Art Festival didn’t turn out like the rich kids planned (Actually, it didn’t even take place in Woodstock, NY, but in nearby Bethel), but it could’ve been a whole hell of a lot worse.

Nearly three decades later, other rich folk, coupled with corporate America and the record industry, decided to press the odds. A 25th Anniversary weekend went relatively well a few towns south in Saugerties, NY five years ago, and now it would take place a few miles southeast. But it was more than decades and miles which separated the 350,00 lost souls who descended on Max Yasgur’s farmland in the Summer of the moon landing and the Amazin’ Mets, and nearly 230,000 suckers crammed into an abandoned Air Force base last month. That was a distance made but for one element: luck.

It should always be noted that the original Woodstock festival was supposed to be a profit venture. Sadly, for the rich kids financing it, the thing turned into a financial bath before the end of day-one. More than half the kids who piled into the festival waltzed over downed fences. As a result of the unchecked influx of flower children there wasn’t nearly enough toilets, water, or space. The New York Thruway, a winding stretch of road as long as the Mississippi River, was closed. Humanity outweighed the blue print ten times over. Then came the torrential downpours and random dissemination of tainted LSD.

But something significant, some might offer magnificent, happened over those three miserable days. Through it all, the people survived. Better yet, they thrived. What originally was supposed to exploit them, deteriorated into something which transformed them. For all their antisocial rhetoric, the hippie generation formed a mini-society which laughed in the face of convention by embracing its most ardent qualities. This was the story plastered on the front of the New York Times on the Monday morning after. Crazy kids with heads full of drugs and hardly a stitch of clothing or a dollar to spare supported each other for three days of “peace and music.”

Like Kennedy’s Camelot, Woodstock has been retrospectively lifted to epic lore. But for those who found themselves there it was nothing short of a disaster area. The Who’s Pete Townshend still speaks of it in horrific terms. Filmmaker Martin Scorcese, who worked the sound for the award-winning movie, has often described it as surviving war. Bad acid, bad weather, bad well water, and creeping sickness turned fields around the stage into Gettysburg without the rifles.

Yet, the world continued to wonder if those hearty souls showed the rest of us a thing or two about the glow of the human spirit., where behind the myopic harangue of civilization there is a ring of collective truth about brotherhood, caring, and the simple, but significant, act of lifting the person next to you out of the mud and back on stride.

The world knows now it was nothing but dumbass luck.

People would love to blame the senseless violence and looting of this year’s version of Woodstock on the music, the artists, the culture, or those empty-headed youngsters whose only sense of self-respect and responsibility eludes them. But if you find yourself in Limp Bizkit or Korn right now, a few months, maybe years, from eating stale bread in your no-heat apartments, you’re taking any gig, especially a high-paying, high-profile one. And if you need to scream and yell about how much life sucks to a rapid-fire beat and three chords to make a buck, may the good Lord bless and keep you.

Ironically, many feel that the acts not allowed to perform during the original Woodstock allowed for the vibe to float rather than sink. There was a reason why the Doors, with their radical calls for the break down of reality barriers and invisible social casts, were left off the bill.

When the rebellious Satan clan known as the Rolling Stones were told not to come, Mick Jagger decided to host his own festival on the hills of San Francisco which resulted in the blood bath forever known as Altamont.

But in reality the music didn’t have as much to do with the tragedy of Altamont as the fascist violence of the Hell’s Angels and the hippie mismanagement which inevitably led to infamous killings and another type of bell which tolled for the Baby Boomer peace and love era.

All of this had been conveniently forgotten until the pathetic display of raging capitalism, apathy, and finally violence in Rome last month. Only this time ignorance cannot be used as an excuse. As the weekend unfolded it seemed far more attention was paid to draining patrons of their cash than providing decent camp areas, ample toilets, showers, or any presence of security. The hundreds crushed in mosh pits could have been prevented. The overflow of human secretions hindered somewhat.

By the time the miscreants began looting the evil money lenders and setting fires, Woodstock, as we have come to know and love it, became just another example of humans misinterpreting compassion for luck. Those stumbling into a wonderful mistake and sliding through relatively unscathed 30 years ago achieved a level of fortune rarely reached in the annals of humanity.

The luck ran out in August of 1969. For the rest of us there is only an empty vessel of suffering at $169 a pop.

First Published on 8/11/99 in The Aquarian Weekly. It is included with many others in jc’s new book, Fear No Art available now on jamescampion.com!

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music


Social tagging:

Leave a Reply