Picture this: One half million feral humans massed together in the middle of nowhere. 100º+ temperatures. No shade, no shelter from the sun. Clean water is a myth. Rations are priced above what anyone can afford. Prison camp surroundings. The complete breakdown of law and order. Fires. Looting. Garbage everywhere. A tide of mud and human excrement swallowing you up to your knees.
Is this the end of times? No—it’s Woodstock ’99, the most toxic concert festival ever held.
Some say—and I believe—that Woodstock ’99 signaled the death of 20th Century youth culture. Hopes, dreams, and nightmares of that mighty era were compressed and putrified before our eyes, on pay-per-view, into molten toxic sludge. The apocalypse with a side of Korn.
What rose from this corrosive muck? George W. Bush, the Iraq war, the Alt-Right, Trump.
Well, there may not be a direct cause-and-effect relationship there. But I have always felt that the perverse, exploitative violence and toxic masculinity of Woodstock ’99 was a direct precursor to the horrors of Abu Ghraib and the fervency of the MAGA movement, even while I enjoyed seeing the hippie generation eat shit over “peace and love.”
Fortunately I never had to attend Woodstock ’99, but I can call myself a survivor after enduring the live post-mortem at Zebulon in Los Angeles last night.
This event was among the funniest, scariest, most harrowing and thought-provoking journeys I’ve ever been on. Everyone who attended was hanging on the edges of their seats the whole time. While I didn’t need to be physically hosed down afterward, mentally…
“Total destruction in cargo shorts.”
Woodstock ’99 may have ended 20 years ago but the hosts of Podcast99—Ryan Lichten and Parks Miller aka Culture Dumps—have created an exceptional podcast that dissects the facts and the cultural ramifications of this doomed concert over 23 meticulously-researched episodes (and counting).
Never has the true crime format been used so effectively on music and crowd psychology. It’s a whodunnit starring Kid Rock and Fred Durst. An audio excavation of where our culture decisively took the wrong turn.
The moment I walked into Zebulon, I realized this was not a normal event. Lichten and Miller had set up a true 20th Anniversary commemoration—a mini-museum of Woodstock ’99 artifacts.
If you’ve followed Podcast99 like I have, it was a revelation to see the “Mystery Tape” (the reporter’s notebook VHS that exposed the loutish and sometimes criminal behavior the festival organizers wanted swept under the rug) and a genuine “Peace Patrol” t-shirt (the Peace Patrol was the woefully and dangerously ill-prepared concert security brigade). Suddenly everything I had heard through my headphones became real.
On the screen was the highest-fidelity Woodstock ’99 footage I’ve ever seen. Photos from former Spin photographer and ’99-attendee, Mike Schreiber, hung on the walls. Andy Theiss—another photographer/survivor of ’99—was also represented. DJ Kyle Mabson chopped and channelled tunes from the concert on the sound system. I was fully immersed in Woodstock when our hosts ambled up on stage.
“They were all on the same drugs”
The video and images we wound through over 90 minutes was grim, hilarious, cathartic. No one in the audience budged an inch. The crowd was into it.
We saw highlights of each day (lowlights?), saw never-released behind-the-scene footage, and got expert reactions from all onstage. We learned about Drumstock (the never-ending methed-out roving drum corps) and the Mud Nazis (“once you got mud on you you became one of them—it spread like a disease.”).
Some of my favorite random quotes from our experts:
Lichten: “These people who are festival veterans, they are people who will poop in your house.”
Berg: “I do like that MTV’s Kurt Loder felt fear.”
Lichten: “That’s cuz vegan cheese doesn’t taste as good as real cheese!”
Miller: “The Mud Nazis were like orcs invading.”
Lichten: “It was estimated that one person was brought to the medic tent every 20 seconds during Korn.”
Thank goodness the hosts—and Ohanesian in particular—were there to keep us on the right side of the line. It’s a thin divide between fascination with and support of mob antics. I liked how our hosts plunged us into the sordid details but also condemned the heinousness. It’s good to be reminded. Especially as Woodstock organizers prepare to mount another disaster, er, concert.
At the end of the night Ass Life played a cover set of Woodstock ’99 songs that was provocatively heavy but also (not their fault) a bit icky after everything we were subjected to during the discussion.
Plus, who could top Wyclef’s slapdash / half-assed “Star-Spangled Banner” a la Jimi?