Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage

Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage ★★★★½

I could never describe why Woodstock 99 stuck with me so much for over twenty years. I’m glad there’s finally a documentary that made me sick to my stomach over everything. No longer reading age-old articles that didn’t have much detail or low-quality snippets on YouTube, this is everything I needed to fully understand why this event has stuck with me.

This is the tipping point of nu-metal in America. We are still a year out from Limp Bizkit selling 1 million albums in a week but that was the last gasp. After nu-metal faded out, aggression was no longer marketable as music. I know a lot of people will watch this doc and say “what a bunch of dumb idiots screaming on stages, what a terrible time for music,” and believe me, if you think music should have a steady 8 BPM and a prominent acoustic guitar on every song then I understand how you would come to that conclusion.

Aggression is funny nowadays to people. I, for one, miss it. I obviously don’t mean aggression that leads to riots, looting and sexual assault, I’m talking about aggression at life. Aggression in art. To be mad internally and not to aggravate others. To get out your anger joyfully and safely.

I do love this documentary but I truly wish there were people interviewed that weren’t so snobbish about music with electric guitars or screaming. Even though I loved what the people interviewed had to say, they just chalked an entire subgenre up to misogyny and being heavy music. Would love for music journalists to take this type of stance on mainstream rap but that’s trendy and cool to like now so you must feed the machine until it stops working. (Sidebar: I’m a massive hip-hop fan, this isn’t a slight.)

That’s my only gripe about this documentary (and a minuscule one at that). This documentary is set-up like a horror film. You know the outcome of the festival, but this doc slowly creeps everything in. Whether it is explaining the culture at the time, the way people felt they could act around women, everything is structured to explode on Sunday. I felt on edge the entire time and I knew what was going to happen.

Nu-metal was popular and loved back then just like boy-bands and pop stars were as well. But all those pop artists are regarded as great, their songs will get played today and no one thinks it’s funny or ridiculous or over the top. It’s the nice and accepted form of 90s nostalgia. But if it has someone screaming, it’s hilarious and “music for angsty teens” and “thank god I listen to ‘good music’ now that has no form of personality.”

Seeing and hearing Jonathan Davis talk about absolutely giving everything he had in his Woodstock performance touched me so much. That level of cathartic energy is why I love heavy music. That’s the aggression I miss. That’s the aggression that can also be misconstrued. Thankfully this doc doesn’t put the blame on the artists for playing angry music. Angry music has never made me feel like I need to act out what those people did during Woodstock 99. That’s swaying blame elsewhere because we don’t want to deal with the fact that people can be trash. But did this form of angry music give an audience the allowance that it’s okay to degrade women and to act out in violence? Was society reflecting the music or vice versa? Who knows.

People can take different meanings from different things. I hear “Break Stuff” and I lose my mind every time. I want to go wild and scream and jump and let out aggression. Another person could hear that song and think it is personally giving them the right to do exactly what the song is saying. People are dumb. Don’t blame the music.

One notable thing about the concert footage is it would sometimes only show the artists performing and all I wanted was to be in front of them so I could lose my mind with them. Then it pans out to the audience and I’m reminded that this is the last group of people I’d want to lose myself in. It was a constant push and pull that reminded me why I love these bands and why it’s hard for me to defend them. Look at who they surrounded themselves with. Literal shit and piss as far as the eye could see.

From the 2000s forward, aggression was out and egotism was in. And everything is stagnant and really fucking boring now as far as popular music. And music taste has become insanely one-note.

I understand, maybe aggressive music had its time and had to be taken out. Rock ruled for too long, etc. But before it became hilarious to let out aggression, there was a place for very different sounds to coexist at a time.

I think what always fascinated me about Woodstock 99 and especially an event like Columbine is they were me. I was an angsty teen but what honestly makes me different from them? I liked what they liked, and I was an outcast. I was always afraid that something internally would happen that would change me. That I had no control over. That I would grow up as a teen and be exactly where they were and bad things would start to make sense. This is best shown at the end of the doc as one attendee just got swept up in the riot even though he didn’t think of himself as someone that would do that. The swept up part is what scares me the most.

Not the people that instinctively wanted to cause harm or destroy property, but the people that just wanted to go listen to music and have a good time. That would be me. But how would I react when I can’t get out of a crowd of 400k people, there’s no security, the hive mind has decided that chaos and destruction is the taste for the night and I wasted my last dollars on a bottle of water LAST night? Physically not being able to just walk away from that newly formed society.

Who knows what would sound like the right thing to do after everything that’s happened? That’s what terrifies me. (I’m, of course, not excusing the actions of people at Woodstock at ALL and I’m talking about the rioters and looters, not the more heinous crimes that occurred at the festival.)

That’s what this doc showed me. I felt like I was there and I hated it. I was there and I wanted to leave, but I couldn’t. I just wanted to hear some heavy music and be happy. Why did everyone else ruin it for everyone else?

Garrett Price went above and beyond here. He wasn’t just showcasing the music or the crowd with simple cuts back and forth. This documentary engulfs you and leaves you on the destroyed Air Force base. The brilliance of the doc is showing that we still haven’t cleaned it up.

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