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Woodstock '99: Traumatic true story behind music festival disaster

Often considered "the day the music died", Woodstock '99 went down in history as a disastrous day in US music culture – but what happened and why?

Trainwreck: Woodstock 99
Netflix
Published: Wednesday, 3rd August 2022 at 3:30 pm
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Before there was Fyre Festival there was Woodstock '99 – a music festival so disastrous that the San Francisco Chronicle branded it "the day the music died".

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The three-day catastrophe is now the subject of Netflix's brand new docuseries – Trainwreck: Woodstock '99 – in which journalists, festivalgoers and even Woodstock creator Michael Lang break down how the festival went so horribly wrong.

From the scorching hot weather and lack of water, to the sexist attitude cultivated by late 9'0s film and TV in America, numerous factors led to Woodstock '99 ending in violence, sexual assault and fire – but what exactly happened and why?

Here's everything you need to know about the true story behind Netflix's Trainwreck: Woodstock '99 and what happened at the New York festival.

The true story behind Trainwreck: Woodstock '99 – what was Woodstock?

Woodstock, which was formally known as Woodstock Music and Art Fair, was a music festival held in New York. A culturally iconic event, Woodstock first started in 1969 and was marketed by its founders – John Roberts, Joel Rosenman, Artie Kornfeld and Michael Lang – as 'Three Days of Peace and Music'.

Held on a 600-acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York, the festival became a cultural phenomenon with its first year welcoming almost 500,000 people, while the likes of Janis Joplin, Joe Cocker, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Who, Santana and Jimi Hendrix performed.

With many of the musicians calling out the Vietnam War, the original Woodstock became known for the anti-war sentiment held by most of the attendees and was a defining moment for the wave of anti-establishment opinions across the US in the 1960s.

Woodstock was held once again in 1994 – to commemorate the festival's 25th anniversary – and in 1999, where it was held in upstate New York but faced numerous challenges due to instances of violence, hot weather and fire outbreaks.

What happened at Woodstock '99?

Trainwreck: Woodstock 99
Trainwreck: Woodstock '99 Netflix

Woodstock 1999 was the third Woodstock event – however, it was the least successful of the three, with Rolling Stone describing it as "one of the most calamitous festivals of all time".

While it was meant to commemorate 30 years of peace, love and happiness, various problems with water availability, the weather and episodes of violence resulted in Woodstock '99 going down in history as "the day the Nineties died".

One of the main problems was the lack of water and the ridiculously high temperatures over the weekend. With few tap water stations and bottled water being sold for $4 on site when the temperatures were hitting the late 30s in celsius, festivalgoers were both dehydrated and displeased with the situation.

And to make matters worse the festival was held on tarmac, meaning the heat wasn't being absorbed and people were walking for miles across scorching hot concrete. According to Syracuse.com, at least 700 people were treated for heat exhaustion and dehydration at the festival.

With huge crowds, very few female artists playing the festival and reports of festival goers shouting "show your t**s" at some women on stage, there were also reports of misogynistic behaviour at Woodstock '99, as well as instances of sexual assault and rape.

Rehabilitation counsellor David Schneider told MTV at the time, "At one point I saw this girl, a very petite girl, maybe 100 pounds, who was body-surfing above the crowd and either fell in or was pulled into a circle in the mosh pit."

He added: "These gentlemen, probably in the 25–32 age range, looked as though they were holding her down. They were holding her arms; you could see she was struggling."

Even the Woodstock website was allegedly publishing photographs of topless festivalgoers without their consent, while New York State Police troopers were also accused of misconduct, with one allegedly encouraging women to take off their clothes and another saying "show us some [breasts]" to a female attendee (according to the MTV report).

During the Red Hot Chili Peppers festival-closing set, attendees took their cover of Jimi Hendrix's 'Fire' quite literally, with bonfires breaking out throughout the crowd, cars being flipped and booths being torched. State troopers stormed through the crowds in riot gear and managed to diminish the riots.

Various people came away from the festival injured and at least three people died, according to Pitchfork, with one – David DeRosia – collapsing in the mosh put during Metallica's performance and dying of heat stroke.

Woodstock '99 line-up

Trainwreck: Woodstock '99 features interviews with a number of musicians who played at the festival, including Korn's Jonathan Davis and Bush's Gavin Rossdale – with both artists talking about the wildness of the Woodstock crowd.

"I saw the Korn set from video monitors and it was quite scary down there. I mean, it's a potential runaway train," Rossdale says in the documentary.

With three different stages at the festival, there were over 100 acts playing across the four days of Woodstock, from Fatboy Slim, Limp Bizkit and James Brown to Insane Clown Posse, The Chemical Brothers and Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Thursday 22nd July

West Stage

  • Frostbit Blue
  • KJ James
  • Little Big Jam
  • Gridley Paige
  • Djoliba
  • Red Herring
  • Rattlebasket
  • In Bloom
  • Flipp
  • 3rd Bass
  • Vertical Horizon
  • Strangefolk
  • G Love and Special Sauce
  • The String Cheese Incident
  • Bernie Worrell and the Woo Warriors
  • George Clinton & the P-Funk All-Stars

AMP3.com Emerging Artists Stage

  • Immoral Fibres
  • Simmi
  • Chris Glenn
  • Gary Durdin & The Clay Pinps
  • Johnny Rushmore

Friday 23rd July

Korn playing Woodstock 99
Korn playing Woodstock 99 Getty

East Stage

  • James Brown
  • G Love and Special Sauce
  • Jamiroquai
  • Live
  • Sheryl Crow
  • DMX
  • The Offspring
  • Korn
  • Bush

West Stage

  • Spitfire
  • Oleander
  • The Umbilical Brothers
  • moe.
  • Lit
  • Buckcherry
  • The Roots
  • Insane Clown Posse
  • George Clinton & the P-Funk All-Stars

Emerging Artists Stage

  • FoN
  • Linda Rutherford & Celtic Fire
  • Sugar Daddy
  • Sticky Pistil
  • Bijou Phillips
  • Mike Errico
  • King Konga
  • Ben Lee
  • Beth Hart Band
  • Liars
  • Chris Pérez Band
  • Sherri Jackson
  • Chris McDermott
  • Moby

Saturday 24th July

Alanis Morissette
Alanis Morissette at Woodstock 99 Getty

East Stage

  • The Tragically Hip
  • Kid Rock
  • Wyclef Jean with the Refugee Allstars
  • Counting Crows
  • Dave Matthews Band
  • Alanis Morissette
  • Limp Bizkit
  • Rage Against the Machine
  • Metallica

West Stage

  • Spitfire
  • Guster
  • Bruce Hornsby
  • Everclear
  • Ice Cube
  • Los Lobos
  • Mickey Hart/Planet Drum
  • The Chemical Brothers

Emerging Artists Stage

  • Young & Fabulous!
  • Gargantua Soul
  • 3
  • Serial Joe
  • American Pearl
  • Full Devil Jacket
  • Old Pike
  • Strangefolk
  • DDT
  • 2 Skinee J's
  • Gigolo Aunts
  • Fatboy Slim

Sunday 25th July

Red Hot Chili Peppers at Woodstock 99 Photo by Frank Micelotta/ImageDirect

East Stage

  • Willie Nelson
  • The Brian Setzer Orchestra
  • Everlast
  • Elvis Costello
  • Jewel
  • Creed, featuring Robby Krieger
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers

West Stage

  • Spitfire
  • Mike Ness
  • Our Lady Peace
  • Rusted Root
  • Sevendust
  • Collective Soul
  • Godsmack
  • Megadeth

Emerging Artists Stage

  • Kirsti Gholson
  • Moe Loughran
  • The Scoldees
  • The Supersuckers
  • Stormy Mondays
  • Big Sugar
  • Muse
  • John Oszajca
  • Pound
  • Pushmonkey
  • Cyclefly
  • Indigenous
  • John Entwistle
  • Reveille

Who was Michael Lang?

Michael Lang
Michael Lang Photo by Frank Micelotta/ImageDirect

Concert promoter Michael Lang was one of the co-founders of Woodstock Music and Art Fair. He also organised the two follow-up festivals: Woodstock '94 and the notoriously disastrous Woodstock '99. He is interviewed in Trainwreck: Woodstock '99, in which he takes on a lot of the blame for the festival's calamitous nature.

As well as managing the festival, Lang also worked with music artists, managing Joe Cocker and working with Outkast, Snoop Dogg, Steely Dan, Dave Matthews, Norah Jones, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Alicia Keys and other big names. He also ran Just Sunshine Records, which produced music from Betty Davis and Karen Dalton, among others.

Lang died on January 8th 2022 at the age of 77, having been diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Trainwreck: Woodstock '99 is available to stream on Netflix. Read more of our Documentaries coverage or visit our TV Guide to see what else is on.

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