Trainwreck: Woodstock '99 shows how the hippie dream became Generation X's nightmare

Josh Leeson
By Josh Leeson
August 4 2022 - 6:00pm
WAVE OF CHAOS: Trainwreck: Woodstock '99 deep dives into the disastrous music festival.

IF the original Woodstock in 1969 was the realisation of the baby boomer generation's hippie, free-loving utopian dream, then the 1999 reboot of the iconic music festival is the story of how greed corrupts.

Netflix's three-part documentary series Trainwreck: Woodstock '99 is compelling viewing.

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It serves as a time capsule to a moment in popular culture that feels completely dated, and even mortifying, 23 years later.

Mob violence, misogyny, sexual assault, anarchy and rock'n'roll are mixed together in a cocktail of destruction.

In August 1969 a dairy farm in Bethel, New York hosted "three days of peace and music" known as Woodstock. Featuring performances from Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane and many more. It's estimated 400,000 people attended.

Woodstock would become the defining moment of the '60s counter-culture movement.

Fast forward to 1994 and Woodstock returned for its 25th anniversary, but due to poor planning and broken fencing allowing thousands of punters to gain free entry, the festival was deemed a commercial disaster.

For the 30th anniversary edition of Woodstock in 1999, organisers, including the festival's original co-founder, Michael Lang, were determined to make a profit.

A disused aircraft hangar was chosen as the festival's site, despite it's abundance of bitumen and lack of shade for a summer event and catering rights were sold off, guaranteeing exorbitant price gouging.

It was miles away from the free food kitchens of the original Woodstock.

BURN BABY BURN: Woodstock punters throwing festival infrastructure on bonfires following the closing performance by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

To cap it off, security spending was slashed. Not surprisingly these factors multiplied into a literal dumpster fire.

Trainwreck: Woodstock '99's three episodes track the three days of the festival, interspersed with flashbacks to the event's marred planning.

Due to MTV's pay-per-view screening of the festival, there was ample footage available to documentary makers that captured the mayhem.

The opening scene begins with the smoky aftermath of the final night and the quote from a journalist asking "is this Bosnia?" While it's a tad melodramatic, the festival experience Trainwreck illustrates almost feels like a war zone.

There's footage of music fans bleeding from head wounds, passed out from alcohol or drugs, sliding in sewerage-contaminated mud, destroying festival infrastructure, and most shocking of all, women being openly sexually assaulted.

It makes the muddy scenes from last month's Splendour In The Grass at Byron Bay look like a school fete in comparison.

Trainwreck filmmakers also assembled an impressive list of talking heads including Korn's Jonathan Davis, Bush's Gavin Rossdale, Jewel and Fatboy Slim, who all performed at Woodstock '99, plus staff, media and fans who attended.

A notable absentee is Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst.

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Lang (who died aged 77 three months after the documentary was filmed) and promoter John Scher are also interviewed, but even two decades on the pair remain indignant about their roles in the festival's failure.

Remarkably the pair even admit to not realising that aggressive nu-metal bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit would likely further incite the already angry audience, who felt taken advantage of by the organisers.

If you're searching for a reason why Woodstock '99 literally ended up in flames following the Red Hot Chili Peppers' closing performance on day three, Trainwreck doesn't provide all the answers.

But it does provide a shocking example of human behaviour when they're treated like animals.