Woodstock 1999 Ends in Violence

Unlike the original music festival in 1969, Woodstock 1999 was marred by violence and destruction. The chaos was blamed on a variety of factors: the aggressive tone of some performers, a lack of security personnel, high concession and ticket prices, and extreme temperatures.

Summary of Event

On the weekend of July 23-25, 1999, roughly 220,000 people came to Griffiss Technology Park in Rome, New York, for Woodstock 1999. The event was intended to recapture the spirit of the 1960’s on the thirtieth anniversary of Woodstock 1969. The concert began without incident, but just several hours into the three-day event, concertgoers became agitated as a few of the promised acts failed to appear. Additionally, temperatures in the area that weekend hovered around 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and audience members complained about the high price of food and water. Before the festival ended on Sunday, rioting, looting of vendors’ trailers, sexual assaults, bonfires, injuries, and arrests had made Woodstock 1999 far removed from its 1969 predecessor. Woodstock 1999[Woodstock nineteen ninety nine]
Music festivals
[kw]Woodstock 1999 Ends in Violence (July 23-25, 1999)
[kw]Violence, Woodstock 1999 Ends in (July 23-25, 1999)
Woodstock 1999[Woodstock nineteen ninety nine]
Music festivals
[g]North America;July 23-25, 1999: Woodstock 1999 Ends in Violence[10420]
[g]United States;July 23-25, 1999: Woodstock 1999 Ends in Violence[10420]
[c]Music;July 23-25, 1999: Woodstock 1999 Ends in Violence[10420]
[c]Travel and recreation;July 23-25, 1999: Woodstock 1999 Ends in Violence[10420]
Lang, Michael
Scher, John

“Godfather of Soul” James Brown opens Woodstock 1999 on July 23, 1999, in Rome, New York. The weekend festival ended in violence and disorder.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

Michael Lang, who was instrumental in the planning and promotion of the original Woodstock and its subsequent versions—other anniversary celebrations occurred in 1979, 1989, and 1994—was integral to the planning of Woodstock 1999. Lang was joined by John Scher of Metropolitan Entertainment in promoting the event, which was billed as “three more days of peace and music” and “30 years of peace and music.”

From its inception, critics had found Woodstock 1999 lacking when compared to the original festival. The most common critique was that the thirtieth anniversary concert was too commercial. Whereas the original festival was funded by money raised by the event planners, Woodstock 1999 was corporate-sponsored. Some cited the high price of tickets for Woodstock 1999 as the main cause of concertgoer dissatisfaction. Tickets for the three-day event cost $150 in advance and $180 at the gate. In contrast, tickets for Woodstock 1969 cost $18 in advance and $24 at the gate (about $81 and $109 in 1999 dollars). The concert was broadcast as a pay-per-view event on cable television, which cost roughly $60 to $80. In contrast, the original Woodstock could only be experienced by physical attendance. Woodstock 1999 was marketed to the eighteen-to-thirty-four-year-old demographic and featured raves, beer gardens, a film festival, and a number of attractions in the technology park. Amenities for concertgoers included infirmary trailers, two thousand portable toilets, and several dozen makeshift showers.

The festival began at 12:01 p.m. on Friday, July 23, with a performance by soul singer James Brown. Wearing a suit and singing some of his most popular songs, Brown’s performance was arguably the most sedate of the festival. The atmosphere of Woodstock 1999 began to deteriorate after his performance. By the end of the first day, some concertgoers had depleted their funds for food and supplies after buying expensive fare. Concertgoers were told not to bring food to the event, as fairly priced concessions would be available. Adding to the discontent was a lack of sanitation: There were no drains for the showers, and the portable toilets became unusable and overflowed.

By Saturday, the soapy water runoff was creating mud throughout the concert site. The temperature remained in the 90-degree range. Increasingly hungry, overheated, angry, and sometimes drug-influenced concertgoers were influenced by acts that featured aggressive sounds, such as Limp Bizkit, Rage Against the Machine, and Metallica, who played that night. Wishing to avoid possibly antagonizing concertgoers with the presence of police officers, the event’s promoters chose the yellow-shirted Peace Patrol to keep order. However, the patrol was ineffective against the actions of some concertgoers.

Because of chaotic conditions, many audience members left Woodstock 1999 on Saturday night rather than Sunday night, which was the scheduled close of festivities. Approximately 150,000 concertgoers remained, of whom only a fraction were responsible for the violence and disorder that reached its climax on the final night and that formed the event’s lasting legacy. Among the scheduled performers on Sunday were Willie Nelson, the Brian Setzer Orchestra, Everlast, Elvis Costello, Jewel, Creed, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, a relatively tame lineup. Just prior to the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ performance, an anti-gun violence group distributed peace candles, which some concertgoers used to light bonfires. Perhaps coincidentally, the band closed with a cover version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire.”

From 10:00 p.m. on Sunday until the next morning, vendor trailers burned, panels of the Peace Wall (erected to prevent gate crashers from entering), pizza boxes, mattresses, and debris had been added to more than a dozen fires located in a half-mile-wide circle. Throughout the night, metal barrels had been turned into drums and were beaten by concertgoers who wished to taunt the New York State Police, who had been summoned earlier. By the end of the event, more than a million dollars worth of damage had been done.


Throughout the 1990’s, music festivals in America grew in popularity. Usually held in open areas such as campgrounds or open-air theaters, festivals seemed to generate the sense of abandon, with the space providing freedom for both artist and audience. Like other music festivals, such as Lollapalooza and Ozzfest, Woodstock 1999 contained all the trappings of the usual rock festival, but its connection to the original Woodstock, a celebration of peace, love, and music, seemed to hold little importance for many concertgoers. Moreover, Woodstock 1999 demonstrated that audiences had changed, developed their own ideals, and were not willing to adopt ones from thirty years previous. More important, Woodstock 1999 illustrated how the generation that had once constituted the counterculture of the 1960’s had become the establishment and, as such, was out of touch with the youth culture of the late 1990’s. Woodstock 1999[Woodstock nineteen ninety nine]
Music festivals

Further Reading

  • Miles, Barry. Hippie. New York: Sterling, 2004. Defines the hippie ideals behind both the original Woodstock and the arguably problematic thirtieth anniversary event.
  • Paytress, Mark. I Was There: Gigs That Changed the World. New York: Sterling, 2005. Offers insights into historical performances by legendary musicians of the twentieth century. Includes coverage of many music festivals, such as the Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock 1999.
  • Starr, Larry, and Christopher Waterman. American Popular Music: From Minstrelsy to MTV. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. Explores the connection between music and social identity. Answers fundamental questions about the benefits of creating and listening to music. Includes CDs.

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