Late Saturday night at the riotous 1999 Woodstock music festival, things went sideways at a rave with British DJ Fatboy Slim. Someone impounded a van and decided to drive it slowly through the crowd. The organizers suspended the performance out of concern for people’s safety. When the crowd protested the decision, Fatboy Slim declared his innocence. “It’s not my fault,” he insisted. “It’s not my fault.”
It’s true enough that Fatboy Slim wasn’t to blame. This lack of accountability is the key theme running through it Train wreck: Woodstock ’99a compelling and often disturbing three-part series streaming on Netflix that revisits the chaos and irresponsibility of the infamous music festival that took place in Rome, NY 23 years ago
If the original Woodstock of 1969 was three days of peace, love and music, the Woodstock of 30 years later was four days of rape, arson and toxic masculinity on the run. Officially a rock doc, train wreckThe true genre of is more like horror.
This is not an exercise in documentary gibberish. Director Jamie Crawford tries to find out how the accident happened and who was responsible. Most of the blame goes to festival organizers John Scher and Michael Lang, but they don’t hear about it. They blame the few bad apples of 200,000 music fans for the wild vandalism. “You can’t check the people who buy your tickets,” Lang says.
True, but you can at least try to control them. During a press conference during the festival, Scher and Lang glossed over the pitiful lack of security and other organizational and infrastructure glitches. Rome was burning, and Nero himself would have admired the way these guys fumbled.
Lang was one of the founders of the Woodstock brand and co-host of the legendary 1969 festival, also held in upstate New York. Although the muddy site of this poorly organized event has been declared a state of emergency by local authorities, the first Woodstock historically enjoys a solid reputation. The second Woodstock in 1994 is best remembered for its mud-throwing spectators.
For 1999, the organizers chose a disused air force base as the location. The miles of asphalt wouldn’t produce mud, but it wouldn’t provide shade either. Sweltering heat and a lack of clean water left the audience dirty, dehydrated and exhausted. Vendors charged $4 for a bottle of water; Price gouging became the bone of contention for concert-goers.
Lang and Scher were both interviewed train wreck. The former comes across as a little moronic – he died shortly after filming – while the latter is unapologetically profiteering at best, callous at worst. When asked about the multiple rape allegations surrounding the festival, Scher mentions that some women went topless.
The music was heavily influenced by male nu metal acts (including Korn, Rage Against the Machine and Limp Bizkit) who attracted chest-pounding brawlers and belligerent frat bros. Sheryl Crow, one of the few female artists on the bill, was subjected to whistling. But that behavior was just boorish compared to the testosterone-fueled arson and destruction that would follow.
In an attempt to explain the crowd’s deranged behavior, Scher says the “crazy fringe groups” are justified, fearful, and “afraid of growing up.” This is more than rude behavior at a festival — it’s representative of the cultural decay of the era.
Lee Rosenblatt, a young assistant construction manager, blames the riots on the greed of promoters, whose focus on the bottom line led to shortcuts and added to crowd frustration. “User experience was never a consideration,” he says.
Whatever the causes, a burn-it-down mentality was pervasive. As fires raged at the site last horrific night, Rome’s mayor asked Red Hot Chili Peppers singer Anthony Kiedis to help calm the crowds. Kiedis refused; The Peppers went ahead and played Jimi Hendrix Fire at the end of the festival.
On camera, Lang seems either unwilling or unable to grasp the seriousness of the discussion at hand. Although there are many adjectives that could be used to describe him, one of them has to be incompetent. There are better opportunities to headline music festivals than him.
After the 1999 debacle, Lang unsuccessfully attempted to hold a 50th anniversary Woodstock in 2019. He wasn’t clear what this film makes all too clear: Woodstock died in 1999.
Everything about Woodstock
The Woodstock story is by far the best-documented festival franchise. The following films, books and audio recordings are invaluable in understanding the rise and fall of the festival.
Woodstock 99: Peace, Love and Fury. Director Garret Price’s 2021 HBO documentary tackles 1999’s ill-fated Woodstock with unflinching cynicism.
Waldstock 94. Featuring a performance by 27 artists each (including Green Day, Bob Dylan and Peter Gabriel), the two-disc set serves as a sampler of middle Woodstock.
The Road to Woodstock. Michael Lang, co-founder of the 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Fair, describes the generation-defining event. The book was published in 2019.
wood storage. Michael Wadleigh’s Oscar-winning 1970 documentary is considered an essential portrait of 1960s American counterculture. The director’s cut for the anniversary Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music was released on Blu-ray in 2014.
Taking Woodstock: A True Story of a Riot, a Concert and a Life. The memoir of Woodstock resident Elliot Tiber was the basis for Ang Lee’s 2009 comedic drama take Woodstock.
Plan your screen time with the weekly What to Watch newsletter featuring movie, TV and streaming reviews and more. Sign up today.