September 28, 2021

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HBO’s Woodstock ’99 Documentary Is a Darkish Warning

6 min read

We’re midway as a result of the initially summer months of full-capacity crowds at American arenas and nightclubs just after pandemic-induced hibernation. Have you attended a superb, mythmaking live performance to mark the occasion?  Potentially Foo Fighters reopening Madison Sq. Yard gave you chills, or probably you air-tromboned to the band Chicago at New Jersey’s to start with large comeback clearly show (NJ.com’s evaluation: “Enjoyment arrived in numerous varieties Thursday night”).

Or perhaps you’ve experienced a less charming reside-audio encounter. One particular modern viral news tale explained impalement and alleged strangulation at a rave in Kentucky. One more, from this previous weekend, showcased someone throwing a shoe at DaBaby. When I went to see a DJ established in my community, a disturbingly intoxicated male danced up to me, grabbed my h2o bottle, guzzled everything in it, and, like some kind of anti-hydration dragon, right away and theatrically spit it out. Then there’s the COVID of it all: extra than 1,000 infections traced to a Dutch new music festival, a Foo Fighters’ staff member testing good, talk of doable new shutdowns and cancellations in response to the Delta variant.

It is correct that seeing your favourite musician carry out “is the most life-affirming practical experience,” as Dave Grohl wrote for this publication early in the pandemic. Questlove’s new strike documentary, Summer season of Soul—about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Pageant, which is at times referred to as the “Black Woodstock”—beautifully highlights how concert events can produce community and positive improve. But for an expectations check, a various documentary about a distinct Woodstock is really worth looking at. In this period when numerous situations will be overhyped as momentous, the new HBO movie Woodstock 99: Peace, Really like, and Rage features a chilling demonstration of how greed, cultural rot, and the vagaries of crowd actions can make a concert into a generation-defining point for all the incorrect reasons.

The general contours of the Woodstock ’99 tale are almost as famous as the unique Woodstock’s. To commemorate the 30th anniversary of the miraculous gathering of hippies at a dairy farm in upstate New York, organizers (like the 1969 event’s co-founder Michael Lang and the veteran promoter John Scher) set with each other the third major iteration of the world’s most popular new music festival (the 2nd, Woodstock ’94, had absent off rather effectively). A bill dominated by heavy-metal acts—Korn, Metallica, Limp Bizkit—attracted about 400,000 attendees for three sweltering days at Griffiss Air Pressure Base in Rome, New York. Dehydration, disrespect, and violence swiftly overshadowed the music. Crowd customers trashed the grounds, cavorted in sewage-tainted mud, and set fires. 4 females reported rapes to police, and lots of extra afterwards spoke of getting sexually assaulted.

Woodstock 99: Peace, Really like, and Rage, a riveting visual essay directed by Garret Cost and created by The Ringer, does not complicate the community image of the pageant so significantly as confirm its veracity in disgusting element. Footage captures bellowing bros groping woman crowd surfers, white audience users rapping together to every N-phrase DMX shouts onstage, and Carson Daly having pelted with junk by concertgoers who feel of MTV as girly and uncool. A great deal of this material is freakishly cinematic, and the film often—especially when it arrives to the topic of how quite a few topless ladies have been at Woodstock ’99—can’t shake a queasy feeling of voyeurism. In one shot for the ages, indignant attendees drive down a wall that includes a PEACE! Really like mural. One more unwell irony: Candles that had been supposed for a vigil to mourn the victims of the Columbine taking pictures are implicated in the ultimate night’s destructive fires.

Relying on interviews with audio critics, Woodstock ’99 attendees, staff members customers, and performers (Jewel, Moby, Korn’s Jonathan Davis), the documentary makes two intertwining arguments for why mayhem erupted. One particular is cultural: The festival embodied the misogyny that dominated late-’90s pop society. Footage from the movies Battle Club and American Pie, as nicely as clips of Women Absent Wild, illustrates the extent to which white-male anger and lust were valorized by the media of the time. The nu-steel boom cleaved hip-hop and grunge from any social consciousness and peddled a sourceless, sludgy angst. But although the film is evidently criticizing all it portrays, it can’t aid but attest to the demonic expertise of figures this kind of as Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst. He radiates committed, dead-eyed charisma as he qualified prospects the crowd as a result of a violent rendition of the tune “Break Stuff.”

HBO

The other offender for the catastrophe of Woodstock ’99, in accordance to the documentary, is avarice. The initial Woodstock experienced no fences and was cost-free for numerous to show up at concertgoers busted through the limitations in ’94. In ’99, the organizers wanted a a lot more fortified area, so they picked a decommissioned armed service foundation the place mile-prolonged strips of shadeless asphalt would independent just about every phase. Drinking water bottles ended up offered for $4 apiece, and Scher—who is cartoonishly callous through the documentary—argues to this working day that thirsty festivalgoers should have appear prepared with cash. Sanitation and in-location stability had been, it appears, not significant priorities. These problems did not just endanger the crowd—they built individuals mad. Revelers scrawled messages these kinds of as GREEDSTOCK all through the venue, and the documentary indicates that the riots and fires that broke out ended up, on some level, rebellions towards exploitation.

It may look incoherent to portray attendees of Woodstock ’99 concurrently as toxically masculine terrors and righteous anti-capitalists. But the filmmakers and their interviewees attract connections involving culture and commerce: Moby, for case in point, describes how the delicate disaffection that Kurt Cobain stood for in the early ’90s drifted into oafish nu steel by ’99 with the support of labels and radio promoters seeking to amass huge audiences. It’s also notable that the festival’s organizers booked a lineup of bands that bought nicely in the second but didn’t embody the light, inclusive spirit of the primary Woodstock: Only 3 feminine performers, for instance, have been on the invoice. So the business developed the fed-up crowds that arrived to Woodstock ’99, and then all those crowds acquired fed up with the forces that had designed them. One particular interviewee, a teenager at the time of the festival, expresses mystification at obtaining developed from a moderate-mannered kid to a damaging Lord of the Flies character about the training course of the weekend. “When in Rome, I guess,” he claims.

All in all, the ’99 fest was a vortex of cynicism that could seem to be unachievable to replicate. Even now, the documentary is so vivid as to instill dread at the believed of all the gatherings to arrive. Are we not presently in a minute of overblown hype, simmering resentments, and logistical chaos? How numerous gatherings this yr will monthly bill them selves as when-in-a-technology testaments to the communal spirit, and how quite a few of them will definitely just be determined by motivation for revenue at any price? As new viral variants sweep by way of the population, who can belief that live performance organizers’ selections about cancellations or protection steps will be designed in fantastic religion?

To anyone dealing with this kind of anxieties, it is comforting to view Summertime of Soul,  which options outstanding performances by Stevie Ponder, Nina Simone, Mahalia Jackson, and a host of other essential Black voices through a time of reckoning and transformation in The us. Just one big assertion of the documentary is that the totally free 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, as Gladys Knight put it, “wasn’t just about the music”—it was about local community, and modern society, and a instant in heritage. Every person included, at minimum in accordance to the film’s portrayal, oared jointly in a tranquil and progress-minded route. Having a mass of persons on the exact wavelength is a unusual and powerful thing that we’ve all missed considering that March 2020—but such electrical power, we’d also best not neglect, can be utilised for many distinct ends.

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