You know what they say: What is old often becomes new again. What was new in 1969 was Woodstock, a superstar-laden music festival that promoted peace, love, and good music as that decade closed. It’s been romanticized, and probably too much so, but the impact and lasting legacy it left on not only music but the world was undeniable.
Of course, efforts in recapturing followed, first in1994, and then with 1999. Woodstock 99 came mere months before Y2K, which meant there was a lot of fear in the air. And what does fear usually portend? Angst, which some of the main lead acts in Limp Bizkit, DMX, Korn, Metallica, and Kid Rock all specialized in. Add in a sizably raucous crowd, exorbitant prices, poor facility layout, and blistering heat, and what resulted was an unmitigated disaster.
The concert catastrophe documentary. It is a niche genre that probably doesn’t have enough content (thankfully) to be a real genre, but man, is there something compelling about a festival that goes completely off the rails and hearing from those who were directly or tangentially involved in the fiasco. 2019’s Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened provided the template for Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage, with the only difference being that, well, Woodstock 99 did happen from beginning to end, and in a way, that made it scarier.
Director Garret Price along with his co-editor Avner Shiloah cultivated and combined material new and old that gives a peak behind the curtain. The live music mega documentary isn’t super new, and legendary acts playing to huge crowds in Wembley, Solider Field, and the like have been seen. However—and maybe it is mostly because we’re still in a pandemic where it is hard to imagine (even as things somewhat reopen now particularly on a sports front), the crowd footage and what not from a ground level and an aerial one is astonishing.
Talking head sound bites are obtained by Woodstock 99 performers like the frontmen of Korn and Megadeath in Johnathan Davis and Dave Mustaine, solo artists performers Moby and Jewel, and culture correspondents such as Wesley Morris and Steven Hyden, the latter who has become something of a subject matter expert. They all are able to offer a few different viewpoints in starting where music and the commercialization of it was at the time of 1999 (hint: MTV ran rampant with TRL) and something that was “festering” due to the approaching and unknown 2000’s, that being an abundance of aggression that would be what the last installment of Woodstock would be known for.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure why things went so south quickly. When you factor in triple-degree heat, perpetually sexually ready twenty-something males who happened to be more fueled by alcohol and not H2O, outrageous concession prices, basically comatose “security guards” hired mere weeks before the event with sparse at best training, overflowed port-a-potties quickly creating a literal wasteland, and the occasional ultra-instigator like Fred Durst riling up the crowd telling them to purge every negative emotion out of their system, this was the perfect recipe for lawlessness—which isn’t unlike any other massive crowd that typically shows collective behavior. Sometimes, it is as simple as that.
But where Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage makes a quantum leap in logic is inferring that we’re in the exact same place as a society that we were in 1999 and Woodstock 99 is why. Sure, there are a few pieces that do carry over and always will, unfortunately, be a part of society but some of the documentary feels like it’s running on associative property and giving too much credence to an idea that the music present is some kind of heavy ignitor to what happened months earlier in the Columbine massacre and even January 2021’s insurrection. Perhaps one of the more disturbing takeaways from the documentary is how often Price and Shiloah choose to employ the infamous male gaze on female breasts despite using sound bite after sound bite that repeatedly say the pay-per-view focused on the wrong things then only to do the same thing in the doc, with no pixilation. Unnecessary, to say the least.
As a pseudo-dissertation of society, Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage holds little water, and more thorough examinations of societal turning points could be found in your average Sociology and Philosophy 101 and 202 classes. But as a snapshot, 30-for-30-ish watch semi-comparable to last year’s Long Gone Summer (happening essentially within a year of each other), it’s an explicit exhibit of a train wreck into a gargantuan garbage pile. Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage is now streaming on HBO Max.
Photo credits go to impawards.com, pitchfork.com, streamable.com, and mic.com.
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