“We believe in universal human rights, ethical business practices, unfettered creative expression, free trade, the loving care of our planet, the power of the individual to make a difference and the overwhelming impact of communities to act as agents of peaceful change.” Those are the core principles inscribed by the music world’s original festival, Woodstock.
Bethel, New York, in August 1969 might have set the stage for one of the most pivotal moments in music history. A fusion of art alongside some of the greatest performers of the era including Jimi Hendrix, The Who and Janis Joplin took stage on a dairy farm to perform for nearly half a million people.
The United States was at a pivotal moment in history. The Civil Rights Movement was coming to a close, while America’s involvement in the Vietnam War peaked in 1969. It was a time of chaos in the States. However, in the midst of the disarray, music brought together over 500,000 people for a four-day demonstration of peace, love and an appreciation for the arts. Woodstock undoubtedly made history. According to Woodstock.com, singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell recounts Woodstock as “a spark of beauty where half-a-million kids saw that they were part of a greater organism.”
Flash forward to 1999 where a 30th commemorative anniversary of Woodstock was held. However, this time around Woodstock would live in infamy. Woodstock was an absolute disaster and quite honestly made an absolute mockery of the festival’s premises. There was nothing peaceful about the numerous cases of sexual assault, arson and outbreaks of violence.
Not to mention the music pretty much defaced the art of Woodstock. Artists such as Limp Bizkit, Korn and Insane Clown Posse were among the performers of the ’99 Woodstock held in Rome, New York. Need I say more? ICP boasts lyrics such as “I stuck her with my wang, she hit me in the balls. I grabbed her by her neck, and I bounced her off the walls.” Absolutely nothing about those words promotes any sort of peace or universal human rights. Instead, these lyrics advocate for sexual violence, which is just what occurred. According to an article by Rolling Stone, 44 people were arrested and only one was actually charged with sexual assault, despite many counts of witnessed rape at the festival. It was a total abomination. Violence ensued even further with accounts of vehicles being driven through crowds, vendor tents being lit ablaze and crowd surfing going horribly wrong.
Aside from the continuous appropriation of rape and violence, the festival upcharged everything, making the festival more of a scramble for money versus a haven for peace of mind. According to “19 Worst Things about Woodstock ’99” by Rolling Stone, water bottles were charged at a rate of $4 a piece and eventually sold out entirely, leaving the crowd dehydrated and exhausted. This strays far away from the original principle of Woodstock in which 100,000 tickets were sold prior to the event; however, tickets for the original festival ended up being unnecessary. As floods of people flocked in, Woodstock ceased selling tickets and just admitted entry to everyone who traveled to be a part of this monumental musical movement. The four days at Woodstock ’69 were more about community and less about money. The ’99 revival of Woodstock transpired into nothing more than a monopolized mess.
So why is this rant about a festival that happened 17 years ago necessary? Michael Lang, Woodstock’s original organizer, participated in a recent interview conducted by Poughkeepsie Journal, which announced that the festival may be coming back to life for a 50th anniversary celebration. Despite the horror that ensued in ’99, Lang is reportedly pushing forward with plans to bring the festival back to be bigger and better than ever. He is currently collaborating with numerous other partners to discuss plans for the festival that would take place in 2019.
Music festivals are a large part of modern culture. The festival scene has evolved from one monumental music festival that originated in ’69 to festivals from coast to coast to cater to any music enthusiast’s liking. With the rise of the music festival scene, it is no surprise considerations to bring the original festival back are in full swing.
However, Woodstock has a lot of making up to do. If Lang and other collaborators plan to host Woodstock anything like it was in ’99, we can all agree that the festival is a complete and utter waste of time. It would not be a memorable tribute to one of music’s greatest moments, but instead a total mockery. Owners of the event need to totally change their vision back to match goals of the original Woodstock. I’m sorry, but if any artist that promotes violence in their song lyrics or in their daily life is invited to headline the festival, Woodstock can receive a big “hell no” from me. The revival of Woodstock just seems like an opportunity for ravers and headbangers to tarnish the principles intended for Woodstock in the first place. We already have festivals like EDC, Ultra, Coachella and more. If Woodstock intends to model the festival based on inspiration from existing festivals, I say just save us all the trouble and don’t bother. The point was to unite people with music. Woodstock made people feel like they were a part of something bigger than themselves for a minute without having to worry about paying insane amounts of money for water bottles and ticket prices. It was an escape from worldly issues happening outside the confines of Bethel, New York. It truly was a movement instead of a monopolized entity.
I don’t think it’s impossible to discount the notion that a peaceful, successful Woodstock can be created. In fact, Outside Lands, an annual festival held in San Francisco, California, has a peaceful ambiance. Held in the beautiful Golden Gate Park, festivalgoers are provided with the opportunity to take part in digital detoxes, art viewings, food tastings and the showcasing of beautiful music. However, ticket prices are high and there are no direct principles enforced to promote peace at the festival. However, it could potentially be molded into such given the right measures are taken. The music scene is different now. A large majority of this generation is listening to musical groups like Mumford & Sons and Adele instead of Korn and ICP. If any musicians that promote violence would be invited to headline the 50th anniversary, the whole premise of the festival would already be a walking incongruity.
The fact of the matter is times are different now. It isn’t 1969 anymore. This generation is glued to outlets of technology, and with the constant flowing of bad news, some would argue we are becoming more desensitized to violence. However, there are many millennials who go to music festivals to enjoy the music, find a release and escape from the troubles of everyday life much like the youth that engulfed a dairy farm in a small town in New York during that August in the ’60s. I don’t think it’s impossible that a new-age, peaceful Woodstock can be done; however, if owners don’t acknowledge the abomination ’99 was and bring back the principles that made the festival so special, then I think we can all make like Bryan Adams and leave that festival back in the summer of ’69.
Ali Schultz studies journalism. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @TheSagebrush.