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Woodstock '99

Woodstock ’99 On HBO

Woodstock '99 (HBO)
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The original Woodstock would have been forgotten if it weren’t for the album and the movie. Suddenly, those who were not there, those who had no clue, got the message and they wanted in.

But you couldn’t do it anymore. Remember Powder Ridge? Because no town wanted to be subjected to that. The great unwashed arriving in their burg, probably without tickets, to camp out and cause trouble. Then again, conventional wisdom was they were so stoned that nothing untoward would happen other than petty crime, theft, and that’s very different from Woodstock 99.

Finally, in 1973, there was another festival, Watkins Glen. It had even more attendees, 600,000. People still got in free. But unless you were there, you don’t remember it. There were superstar acts, and rain, but in four years the culture had changed, the touring industry had matured, now the acts got the lion’s share of the cash, credit Peter Grant and Led Zeppelin. If the show was gonna sell out anyway, why not take all the money?

But the eighties were different. There was Live Aid, but that was a television event. Sure, you could brag about being there, but like a football game, it was a better experience on TV.

And the eighties had MTV. And CDs. And suddenly, these acts were making so much money… Then again, Michael Milken and his ilk were making more, and they were making it every year, year after year, no musician could compete. But greed got the thumbs-up. It was a free-for-all. Ronald Reagan got the government out of our pockets and it’s never been the same since. Most people had never heard of Goldman Sachs before his term. Everybody wasn’t a business major. Ivy League graduates weren’t titillated by offers from McKinsey and BlackRock. Your goal was to be a doctor or a lawyer.

And then everything changed.

The next big disruption in the live sphere was when the Eagles regrouped and went on tour in 1994. It was all set up by a concert on MTV and for the first time a rock act charged what the tickets were worth. The Eagles broke the $100 barrier, and the only people who were complaining were members of the press. Because those who went were thrilled to experience the music.

But the press always has its own agenda.

The press was caught flat-footed by the original Woodstock. But the wheels started to turn thereafter. “Rolling Stone” was taken seriously after the Patty Hearst exposé. The baby boomers gained a foothold, and they’re still in control.

But none of them were interviewed for this documentary.

Serendipity can only happen once. The excitement of innovation cannot be repeated. Therefore, there could never be another Woodstock, which lost money and only got into the black years later as a result of the film.

We see this again and again. With Radiohead’s “In Rainbows.” How long did name your own price last? And Kickstarter institutionalized pay for perks, but when was the last time you even heard about that platform, never mind a band using it? PledgeMusic went under. Financial shenanigans. Because it’s always about the money.

Like Woodstock 99.

Once every show started to sell out, it looked like easy money. But concert promotion decades later is a formula business run by very experienced companies. Which is why Woodstock 2019 failed. You can’t start from zero, you can’t build it in a day and take all the money. Talk to Michael Rapino or Jay Marciano, you have to plan on losing money at festivals before you make it. You have to build the brand, demonstrate a good experience. And then, if you have the right lineup, you have a cash machine.

Coachella was such a financial disaster it was sold to AEG.

But now it’s a cash cow.

Promoting sellout acts is not so profitable. But if you create a successful festival, you can make a ton of bread, even if you pay the acts seven figures. I could do the math for you but this is an opaque business that punters do not understand, they’re still mad at Ticketmaster, as if the company pocketed all those fees.

But people are still lining up to buy tickets. And price seems to be no object.

As for the number of festivals? We’re past the peak. And what has survived, at least in the U.S., is those based on the modern paradigm: you party all day and then retreat to your hotel room at night. Quality of life is everything. People want more than popcorn and pizza, and they’ll pay for it.

ACL and Lollapalooza are the paradigm. JazzFest too. Put the festival in a metropolis, with infrastructure. You want to be close to the population. Because most people don’t want to camp.

Woodstock 99 was built on the old paradigm. Tents. Being locked into a space. But despite being over twenty years ago, the upscale revolution had already started, most people had no desire to be treated like animals, today even kids want amenities, and college campuses are glorified country clubs.

So what you’ve got with Woodstock 99 is a dash for cash. Forget the b.s. about peace and love. There’s a brand name, why not capitalize on it? Hell, that’s what they did with Pabst Blue Ribbon! Second-rate beer goes out of business and then someone buys the brand and lays down the bro marketing.

And the truth is seemingly everything went wrong at Woodstock 99, but it was foreseeable.

Phish did festivals on decommissioned military bases, but their audience was of one mind, looking out for each other, the band itself was philanthropic, then again one mud-filled event killed not only their festivals, but the band itself for a while.

So, the number one criterion for the organizers of Woodstock 99 was security. They didn’t want anyone to get in for free. And if they laid down a good enough lineup, whose costs were fixed, and the festival sold out…it was all math. That’s why you got $4 bottles of water. This was a financial venture through and through.

But not doing a festival every year, not being in touch with the public, the promoters blew it.

Today security is technology. Wristbands with chips.

Woodstock 99 was the last mass gathering before cellphone mass adoption, before high speed internet, as for the angst of the attendees being based on fear of Y2K…that’s a joke.

There’s a lot of good stuff uttered by the talking heads, but a lot of inaccurate stuff too.

Because they lack perspective. They were not at the original Woodstock. They were not concert promoters. Hell, the documentary would have benefited from including experts in security and food and beverage from today, but instead all we got was journalists, especially those who worked for MTV.

Now how many of those people have careers today?

None in music television. And music television doesn’t mean anything. So, they have contempt for everybody involved. From Michael Lang to John Scher to the attendees. It’s not radically different from reading about youth issues in establishment media, it’s laughable, they don’t get it right.

Bottom line… IT WAS THE LINEUP!! All that talent for one price. As for it being Woodstock… Who was gonna be excited by that when it was on an Air Force base! And the truth is, the lineup was damn good. But the bookers didn’t realize this wasn’t their fathers’ Woodstock.

The acts appealed to males and had a hard edge. Who did you think was going to attend?

As for complaints they didn’t book more women… This was a for profit venture, and money goes for guarantees, and maximum revenue. Did three hundred thousand women want to camp on the tarmac? What other names would draw people in quantity? Who else was happening? It’s sad that there weren’t more female acts, but look how the three that were there went over, not well.

But it’s hard to speak the truth. Because the politically correct police will attack you in hindsight.

Young boys went to the Woodstock movie to see boobs! That was one of the attractions of going to a festival, maybe you’d see some private parts! Meanwhile, today all you have to do is go on Google!

And then there’s crowd psychology, which the promoters didn’t seem aware of. Get six figures of horny young boys egged on by each other and you’ve got no idea what will happen. And it was no longer 1969, where there were still people south of the Mason-Dixon line out of the loop. MTV was everywhere, everybody got the memo, people who never would have gone to the original Woodstock.

So, there wasn’t enough infrastructure. Not enough inside security. The site was good for keeping gatecrashers out, but bad for people and greed was rampant. And crowds turn on a dime, you’d think concert promoters would at least know this.

So really, there’s no link to the original Woodstock. Only the name. And Michael Lang, of course.

And really, there’s no link to today. Where’s Fred Durst now?

As for aggression…it’s only gotten worse. Can you say “Charlottesville”? Can you say “January 6th”? And they had a country festival in Vegas and a gunman shot the place up from a hotel window. Then again, seemingly every week there’s a new mass shooting.

So really, Woodstock 99 was the dividing line, between old and new.

And it was not an anomaly. If anything, things have gotten worse. Certainly income inequality. Hell, think of all the people who can’t even afford to go, forget whether they want to! What does John Scher say, you’ve got to bring money?

So, do you need to watch this doc?

No, but you’ll find it interesting. Especially the commenters saying Kurt Cobain and grunge were peace and love and already passé. And the truth is by this time, Alanis Morissette was almost an oldies act. Jewel too. Their heyday was behind them.

But Metallica remains.

Because it’s Metallica that represents the ethos of so many of the Woodstock 99 attendees. The underrepresented. A commenter in the documentary says the attendees were all upper middle class denizens. I don’t buy that, never underestimate the need of metalheads to see their favorite acts.

But now metal angst is its own private backwater, with little mainstream penetration. There’s no MTV to promote it.

You get the angst in hip-hop.

As for pop? In this film Dexter Holland beats up inflatable Backstreet Boys. But in many ways he and those who cheered were right. Because this was the last hurrah of rock credibility. It was all money, all the time thereafter. Brands, merchandise… Meanwhile, this same audience is not buying it.

So if you want to see a lot of boobs, watch this documentary.

Then again, there are boobs everywhere these days. And Woodstock 99 didn’t start it. I remember seeing Guns N’ Roses at the Forum back in 1991 and they were flashing boobs on the big screen and I was shocked, I’d never seen this before.

Nothing rationalizes the abuse and rape at Woodstock 99.

Then again, we can’t have a discussion about hormones and attire, it’s all black and white. But it isn’t. Kind of like romance at work… That’s where you meet your significant other!

But today we’re completely polarized. One group wants to be free to walk over fire without getting burned and the other wants to put out the fire so no one can get across. And there’s no discussion.

Then again, I’d be fearful if I was a woman walking alone at night. That was one of Elayne Boosler’s best jokes. She’s on a date in Manhattan and the guy asks if she wants to walk by the river. And she says she would have but she brought her vagina along, if she’d known she would have left it at home!

But there was no humor in this documentary. Just judgment.

Did a bunch of people have a good time? Absolutely, John Scher is right about that.

Was there very little rioting and abuse, were security systems in place, was infrastructure adequate, was food and water adequately priced? NO WAY! You only have to look at the images. You can bitch about MTV’s skew all day long, but when you see the pictures of the fires…

Then again, I experienced the same thing back in 2000, at Glen Helen, the worst amphitheatre in creation, when I went to see AC/DC. The infrastructure resembled a war outpost, concrete blocks, with no greenery. Going to the bathroom/concessions during the break was like “Day of the Locusts,” I was getting squished and there was no security, it was a free-for-all. And during the band’s set, bonfires were lit on the lawn. As for exiting the unpaved parking lot? It took over an hour and there wasn’t an employee in sight.

So, people are greedy. They want theirs. And when they don’t get it, they feel entitled to agitate, fight back, now more than ever, especially online.

As for physical revolt/fires/abuse… Woodstock 99 might have been the first time we saw it on a mass scale, but it was rampant before that and rampant thereafter. And, unfortunately, you get young, inexperienced people sexualized by media who flaunt their assets and people are turned on and abuse them because that’s what the culture tells them. Ever listen to the lyrics of these songs?

This is not an excuse. No one should be raped. No one should feel unsafe. But when it’s all about the money, corners will be cut. Money might be wasted when the government is involved, although money is wasted in every business, but the profit motive isn’t paramount. Which is why for-profit prisons need prisoners and are so bad.

In reality, Woodstock 99 was a prison, it’s just that those in charge didn’t think so, they were too busy patting themselves on the back and counting their money.

Concert promotion, festivals, are a mature business, not for amateurs.

The sixties and early seventies were the wild west of the music business. But those days are through.

Same deal with tech. It was all over by 2010, now the powers are institutionalized and you can’t compete with them.

All we’re left with is the consequences.

At Woodstock 99 it was rape, abuse and hyperthermia.

On Facebook it’s disinformation.

But the money is so good, no one wants to deal with the consequences. They just deny them and hope that you forget as they plow on.

Like Mark Zuckerberg.

Like Michael Lang.

Like John Scher.

Hell, MTV literally is no longer “Music Television,” they struck “”Music” from the moniker. And the big hit show on network today is not “In Concert,” but “Shark Tank.” Woodstock 99 should not be dismissed as a one-off, forgotten, the truth is it was a harbinger and we’re all to blame.

But we’re not doing much about it.


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