The Real Reason Woodstock '99 Was A Huge Failure

Few great historic disasters are without precedent, and before the catastrophic Fyre Festival there was the legendary screw up that was Woodstock '99. Organizers of this epic (for the wrong reasons) music festival had hoped to capture the electric counter-culture energy of the 1969 four day concert that became a touchstone of youth culture of that era. Unfortunately what they and festival-goers got was nothing but misery. So what went wrong?

As with Fyre Fest, most of the issues with Woodstock '99 can be boiled down to terrible planning. Artist J Bloomrosen, who was there to witness it all, recounts that before the festival even began it was clear there had been a breakdown in organization. Bands were kept in the dark about when and where they were performing, bathrooms were grossly inadequate for the number of attendees, and the flow of people in and out of the festival, which was held at a decommissioned Air Force Base in Rome, NY, wasn't managed, leading to massive traffic jams.

A compounding factor was the intense heat during the festival. "...temps near 100 degrees each day. With little shade from the sun, long lines for water fountains and a hefty price tag of $4 for a bottle of water [about $6 in 2020]," journalist Jeff Cornell recalled in Variety. Still, according to Cornell, the problems didn't fully boil over until the festival was well underway when the poor planning led to total pandemonium.

Chaos reigns

A few days into the festival the inadequate bathroom and shower set up caused a literal flood of raw sewage into the overcrowded campsite, where, as Bloomrosen describes, there was "nary an inch in between" each tent. Concert goers were suffering from dehydration, heat stroke, and overpriced food and other supplies. When bands like Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock stoked up the already agitated audience they went ballistic.

The end of the festival is remembered for its horrific displays of violence. Mosh pits turned into unruly mobs, leading to major injuries and four reported instances of rape, as well as countless other instances of sexual assault and violence. People tore down the scaffolding, smashed water fountains, broke apart ATMs, and began setting massive bonfires that would go on to become synonymous with the event.

By the end of the festival the grounds looked more like a war zone than a concert venue. Over a thousand people were treated by medical staff, nearly 50 were arrested, and millions of dollars in damage was done. The stain of Woodstock '99 has been so dark that future attempts to revive the festival have never gotten off the ground, including a proposed 50th anniversary concert which was canceled in 2019.