After 'Fyre', Netflix explores another concert tragedy with 'Trainwreck: Woodstock 99'

Three-part documentary looks at how a festival intended to promote peace, love and music degenerated into one about rage, riot and rape

A scene from 'Trainwreck: Woodstock 99', which looks at the disastrous 1999 revival of the famous music festival. Photo: Netflix
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Years before the disastrous events leading to what would have been music festival Fyre in 2017, there was Woodstock 1999. While Fyre heavily used celebrities and social media influencers to promote a doomed event that never happened, Woodstock 1999 was meant to revive the famous 1969 festival, often regarded as a pivotal moment in music history.

Fyre: The Greatest Party that Never Happened, Netflix's 2019 documentary film exploring the tragedy behind the event, was a huge hit. Now, the streaming platform is aiming to repeat the same success with Trainwreck: Woodstock 99.

What is 'Trainwreck: Woodstock 99' about?

While Fyre Festival was jinxed from the start — with co-founder and conman Billy McFarland sentenced to six years in prison in 2018, — Woodstock 1999 actually took place. More than 400,000 people reportedly attended the event, held in Rome, New York, across four days, with performers including Metallica, Sheryl Crow, DMX, Limp Bizkit, Korn, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Creed.

But widespread violence and vandalism during the event soon marred the festival, which was held on a former airstrip. Many complained of poor management, citing overflowing toilets and showers. The East and West stages were also 3.7 kilometres apart, forcing festivalgoers to walk across hot concrete surfaces in the sweltering 38ºC heat.

"It was dangerous to be around. The whole scene was scary. There were just waves of hatred bouncing around the place ... It was clear we had to get out of there," MTV host Kurt Loder told USA Today.

"To get in, you get frisked to make sure you're not bringing in any water or food that would prevent you from buying from their outrageously priced booths. You wallow around in garbage and human waste. There was a palpable mood of anger."

MTV would later remove its entire crew from the event.

A scene from the documentary 'Trainwreck: Woodstock 99'. Photo: Netflix

After the festival, at least five rapes and numerous other incidents of sexual assault and harassment were reported to authorities, Billboard said. Witnesses reported seeing two horrific incidents involving women being raped in the mosh pit during Limp Bizkit and Korn's sets.

Directed by British filmmaker Jamie Crawford, Trainwreck: Woodstock 99 documents the horror stories from the perspective of those who were at the infamous event. Across three episodes, the film starkly recounts how a festival intended to promote peace, love and music degenerated into one that was about rage, riot and rape.

One of the co-founders of the original Woodstock, Michael Lang, partnered with concert promoter John Scher for the 1999 event. Scher is also quoted in the film and, according to Esquire's review of the film, is "still pretty unrepentant about how the event played out".

The Guardian said the film plays out "like a disaster movie".

The legacy of Woodstock

Still considered one of the greatest music festivals of all time, the original Woodstock took place on a muddy field in Bethel, New York, from August 15-18, 1969.

Thirty two acts performed, including Jimi Hendrix, Joe Cocker, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, Ravi Shankar, The Band, Jefferson Airplane and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

While the festival drew widespread criticism at the time, a three-hour documentary Woodstock, which was released in 1970, helped to coin the phrase "Woodstock generation" and would forever instil the concept of a music festival in the popular imagination.

A number of revivals have been held over the years, from Woodstock '79 to Woodstock '94, but none have been successful in capturing the spirit of the original.

Lang, who died in 2022, was also involved in another failed revival of the festival. In 2019, the planned Woodstock 50, to celebrate the anniversary of the 1969 festival, was cancelled weeks before it was meant to begin. Confirmed headliners included The Killers, Jay Z and Miley Cyrus.

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Updated: August 12, 2022, 6:52 AM
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