Woodstock – 1999

By Kelli S.

I remember it like it was yesterday, even though it was 12 years ago. My best woodstock-ticketfriend and I were two 19 year old girls from New Jersey..who packed the car and headed 8 hours up northern New York, to Rome, for three days of loud rock and roll, 102 degree weather, $6 dollar Poland springs, and about 200,000 of our amped-up, sweaty peers.

When we arrived on site, after 3 additional hours of parking lot traffic….we finally came upon the entrance gates to the air force field. It was a colorful collage of bare naked chests, cut off jeans, pop culture tattoos and a whole lot of red Solo cups. In the air, I could recognize the the spirited aroma of BO, mixed with cigarette smoke and vomit. My friend and I looked at each other, you could clearly see the signs of great trepidation on our faces…  (mixed with a bit of eager anticipation) as we were two young single girls at the gates of Oz…and we each held the Golden Ticket.

Until they thoroughly checked our bags for drugs or weapons.

Did I mention that we had also never been camping?  We had EVERYTHING you could imagine with us, jam packed into a city-living babushka-using produce cart……and overflowing. You know, all the standard necessities to survive the wild; Makeup, brushes, a mirror, a plug in curling iron, 8 changes of clothes, a kermit the frog doll, pillows, blankets, soap, crossword puzzles, twelve plastic dinosaurs, slippers, a case of canned cocktail wieners, some chocolate mint cookies and a package of baby wipes. I am sure if you dug real deep within the cart, you would also find a tent in there as well.

collageTo further prepare ourselves for our trip, I signed up a ‘tent circle’ online a month prior. We were able to meet our tent circle comrades, and we staked our tent into the ground. ( Ok, who am I kidding, some other grunt did it for us.) And we had prime real estate. Our location was centrally located, near everything you needed…shade from the trees, close to the main paths, accessible to the port-o-potties and public shower heads.  Little did we know that they would overflow and flood less than a day later! Lakefront property!

Our new friends were fun and welcoming…we were in for a good time indeed!  I remember one particular camp mate had an aversion to wearing any clothing….like EVER!!!  Which made it awkward to share the inflatable furniture which was also kindly provided by the tent circle.  They also had cases of water gallons, albeit, the water was 60 degrees warm….at least it was wet…and FREE!!!  While not roaming the air force base, we just sat and enjoyed the company, the crowds, played guitar and tried our best to stay cool. I wish I remembered their names of the Tent circle buddies, I would definitely Google them today, and friend them on Facebook.

The bands I remember the most memorable were” Jamoriqui, …memba him? George Clinton, Kid Rock, Metallica, Rage Against the Machine and Limp Bizkit.  I also remember having an unbelievably awesome experience raving to FatBoy Slim at Midnight on Saturday. The most bitter sweet part of the festival was scheduling which acts you wanted to see the most. There was an East Stage, about 3/4 miles away from the West Stage…and simultaneous scheduling, made it impossible to see everyone you wanted to. woostock_stageBetween the full three days, and 6 stages, almost 100 bands and artists were there.

The Grounds were saturated by that point, with all the people of my youth….the misfits, the chain gang…the ‘alternatives’. All wasted and weary…there for the common purpose of Music…it was difficult to predict, in that moment, at a festival notorious for love and peace…..that chaos and mayhem was about to rear it’s ugly head.


By day three, after the heat exhaust, lack of proper nutrition, sleeping on the floor of a tent atop wood-chips and pincher bugs for roommates, and having consumed excessive amounts of alcohol (amidst other things) we decided were going to “lay low,” check out a band or two, and leave to head back to NJ by sundown. We treaded through mud and waste, dirt and garbage…in the blistering sun ( 103 degree day )….to the East End Vendor shops, to pick up a $12 slice of pizza, and to our disappointment,  it was closed. It was only about 4 pm. EVERYTHING was closed, Trailers were packing up, garbage cans overflowed beyond belief, and in the air, you could smell burning plastic. I am sure this is about when the fires, looting, fights and rapes began.

We ended up leaving at about 6 pm on Sunday.  Looking back, it is hard to believe that while my friend and I were coasting home on the Thruway, reflecting on our experience, taking in the beautiful landscape of upstate, exhaling relief to have been safely on our way home…..that destructive mayhem was as close as the rear view mirror.  We barely witnessed any of the mayhem. By the time I got home… the middle of the night, my mother hugged me tightly the next morning with relief that I was home safe and OK.

Of course, I  followed the stories, on the news and in the Times over the next weeks, (Heck, I was there!…man!) but it was not the memory of the experience I had. Sure, it was hot as hell. Sure, water was a luxury, and a working toilet was a myth. I hadn’t had a nutrient bearing meal in about 60 hours, and the sunburn on my forehead and calves had aged me prematurely 3 years for sure.

But I remember GREAT Loud live music, amazing new friends at an epic event, I remember seeing my favorite bands and singing amongst the nature and the sun around me. I remember my friend buying a bootleg tye dye, getting sprayed down in it, and spending the remainder of her time there…dyed green and blue. I remember laughing my ass off, and seeing friends old and new. I hold a multitude memories that will last a lifetime,..all at an event that I just couldn’t miss…. at an event that I can guarantee will NEVER be attempted again.

Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine said it best: “Yes, Woodstock was filled with predators: the degenerate idiots who assaulted those women, the greedy promoters who wrung every cent out of thirsty concertgoers, and last but not least, the predator media that turned a blind eye to real violence and scapegoated the quarter of a million music fans at Woodstock ’99, the vast majority of whom had the time of their lives.

From what I’ve seen in documentaries and books, There will never be another Woodstock 69′. Woodstock 1995 was a fair attempt…..but Woodstock 99 was the extreme opposite.  Maybe because back then, festivals like that were about the music, and in 1999, it was all about the money. It’s disappointing that it will only be remembered for it’s mass destruction and fire. Because, that is not all that I remember.

Maybe Burning Man will be better!

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