In August 2019, fifty years after the 1969 Woodstock festival, Rolling Stone explained, “Woodstock was more than a concert – it was a social, political, musical event that changed our culture.” One of the magazine’s contributing editors shared, “It was a protest, and it was an act of resistance. When the students gathered in Tiananmen Square in 1989, they said, ‘This is our Woodstock.’
They didn’t mean Santana, and the Who, and Hendrix; they meant coming together, taking a stand regardless of how young we might be.”
However, when the 30th anniversary came around in 1999, a new event was far from the “love and peace” atmosphere of the original ‘69 festival. In fact, Woodstock ‘99 holds a dark page in the music history book. Let’s learn more about the shameful grounds of this event.
What Is Woodstock?
The Woodstock Music and Art Fair, which most refer to as Woodstock, was a music festival in Bethel, New York, on August 15-18, 1969. It earned the name because Bethel is 40 miles southwest of the town of Woodstock. More than 400,000 people attended the 4-day event, making it one of the largest music festivals ever.
Throughout the event, 32 acts performed, including the Who, Santana, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and more top-name music icons. Carlos Santana told Rolling Stone, “It was incredible…I’ll never forget the way the music sounded bouncing up against a field of bodies.”
But even more than music, Woodstock symbolized peace and love during a culture defined by war, racial tension, and political upheaval. The festival was where anti-war, pro-drug Americans gathered to release their tensions through music. Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” is still one of the most-loved recordings of our country’s anthem.
What Happened at Woodstock ‘99?
In 1999, promoters wanted to emulate the original ‘69 Woodstock for the 30th anniversary. About 220,000 people attended this event. Unfortunately, people don’t remember the music festival for its world-class artists but for the poor sanitation, sexual harassment, vandalism, arson, violence, and death. The Eugene Register-Guard newspaper wrote, “Several concertgoers set fire to 12 parked tractor trailers” while “others toppled concert light stands and speaker towers.” The newspaper also described a mob scene during Limp Bizkit’s performance; “more than 200 threw bottles, smashed a barricade, and nearly trampled sound system components.” The event was a disgrace rather than a celebration of one of the most defining moments of rock and roll history in 1969.
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Visit the Shameful Grounds of Woodstock ’99
If you want to visit Rome or Bethel, you can travel upstate New York and spend a few days exploring the area. But if you’re looking to walk the same grassy area that your parents did in ‘99, you’ll be disappointed. Griffiss Air Force Base is no longer an open venue-hosting space.
Where Was Woodstock ‘99?
In Rome, New York, the festival owners held Woodstock ‘99 at the former Griffiss Air Force Base, about 100 miles from the original ‘69 Woodstock site in Bethel, New York. Promoters through the base offered better defense against gate-crashers who attended previous Woodstock events. In addition, about 500 New York State Police troopers provided extra security to keep those without tickets outside the base. Michael Lang, the event promoter, said, “I thought it was a great facility. I liked the idea of turning swords into plowshares.”
How Many People Attended?
According to CBS News, approximately 400,000 people attended Woodstock ‘99, and about 250,000 were there on the Saturday night that violence erupted. Each ticket cost $150 and gave the concert-goer access to 40 music artists. However, even with $60 million in ticket sales, the event lost money after the disastrous weekend.
Who Were the Headliners at the Music Festival?
While promoters wanted to get legends from the ‘69 Woodstock event to return to the stage, no groups from the original event performed. However, some individuals performed solos or joined other bands on stage, like John Entwistle of the Who and Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead. In 1999, famous artists like DMX, Korn, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Alanis Morissette, Kid Rock, Metallica, and Creed touted their skills on stage.
What Went Wrong at Woodstock ‘99?
Attendees lost control at Woodstock ‘99. From setting fires to destroying equipment, violence erupted. Various performers also mentioned witnessing sexual harassment from the stage. Other attendees saw numerous women sexually assaulted. David DeRosia collapsed from hyperthermia and died the following Monday. Another attendee died at the event as a result of the 100-degree temperatures. What was supposed to be a fun, entertaining few days ended up a disgrace.
What Was the Aftermath of Woodstock ‘99?
Law enforcement arrested dozens of concert-goers. State troopers and police officers faced suspensions or demotions due to their behavior at the event. The New York State Department of Health reported over 5,000 medical cases. People announced several lawsuits because of the lack of control and water the promoters provided. It took three weeks to clean up the mess at the Air Force Base.
Who Cleaned Up Woodstock 1999?
After the disastrous event, it cost $78,000 to re-seed where the muddy mosh pit occurred. Over 300 workers helped with the cleanup. The workers planted 500 trees and removed 1,400 tons of trash from the 1,300 acres.
The Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Authority of Utica was primarily responsible for the massive cleanup. They couldn’t use heavy equipment without further damage to the grass. Therefore, hundreds of workers picked up each piece of paper, plastic bottle, leftover tent, and everything else that people discarded and placed into a truck. Street sweepers scoured the runways, and wheel loaders cleaned paved areas.
What Happened to the Venue of Woodstock ‘99?
Griffiss Air Force Base won’t host a concert again. The base is now Griffiss Business and Technology Park. Dozens of businesses like the Air Force Research Laboratory, Griffiss Child Development Center, and Nunns Home Medical Equipment now employ thousands of workers. It’s also home to Griffiss International Airport.
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Is It Worth Visiting the Woodstock Grounds?
Many people who were in Rome, New York, for Woodstock ‘99 have no intention of revisiting the shameful grounds. It was a disgrace and a night they’d rather forget. TV personality Carson Daly was there to cover the event, and he wrote on Instagram in August 2022: “All I can say is I thought I was going to die…I just remember feeling like I was in another country during military conflict. I have so many fond memories from that era, this was not one of them. Needless to say, I haven’t taken the fam back to Rome, NY for a vacation.”
So is it worth visiting the Woodstock ‘99 grounds? Probably not, especially for concert-goers who had nightmares for weeks after attending. Would you consider visiting the Griffiss Business and Technology Park to say you were at the scene of Woodstock ‘99?
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