NOTetflix’s Fyre festival documentary was one of those unexpected hits that seemed to dominate the conversation for months when it was released in 2019. A film about a terribly organized festival that spun out of control with alarming ferocity, c It was the kind of thing you had to look through the cracks of your fingers. But something tells me that the Fyre festival is going to be replaced, because Netflix is about to release a series about Woodstock 99.
Trainwreck: Woodstock ’99, as it is aptly titled, is a three-part, chronologically-told series about one of the most chillingly staged music festivals in history. Held to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the original Woodstock, which became a benign force of positivity, Woodstock 99 became notorious for the aftermath of its spectacularly bad decision-making. The original Woodstock? Held on a dairy farm. This one? An abandoned military base. The original Woodstock had free kitchens. This one was selling plastic water bottles for $4 a pop. Woodstock’s original lineup included Ravi Shankar and Joan Baez. This one was a celebration of stupidly aggressive nu-metal. No wonder it ended in flames.
“It was almost like a perfect experience,” says Tim Wardle, the show’s executive producer, of the conditions that led to all this chaos. “You could almost consider it an inadvertent psychological experiment.” What’s amazing is how quickly all of the contributing factors – the heat, the dehydration, the violence, the drugs – went crazy. As the first day begins, we see the crowd calling out a shaken Sheryl Crow; at the end of the third day, everything is on fire and the police attack everyone with sticks.
I talk to Wardle and the show’s producer, Cassie Thornton, a day after hammering out all three episodes in one sitting, and the chaos still rings in my ears. This is not necessarily how the pair would like you to enjoy the show. “We watched all the episodes together when we were cutting it, and it’s almost too intense,” says Wardle. “He builds and builds, and you think, ‘Well, he can’t build anymore,’ and then he builds again. And then something other happens and it builds again. On a technical level, it’s really interesting in terms of the construction of the story. How long can you last without release? »
One thing the show does well is put the festival in historical context. After Columbine and before 9/11, Woodstock 99 took place when American culture was peppered with examples that seemed to celebrate explosive male entitlement. Fight Club (about men who bond through violence) was released in 1999. American Beauty (about Kevin Spacey being essentially cuckolded to death) was released in 1999. The biggest band at the time was Limp Bizkit , a wayward toddler from a project that took the political fury of Rage Against the Machine and evaporated it down to the pointless tagline “break stuff.”
The festival also took place at the start of the internet, Wardle points out. “You don’t have people with camera phones, and there are very few with cell phones. There aren’t the crazy amount of images you would have if the festival had happened today. But he was also covered by every rock photographer on the planet. And there were also a lot of different outlets filming it.
This means that when things start to go south, we can see it from most angles. We watch as MTV hosts grow increasingly scared as angry attendees begin bombarding them with missiles. We see performers stare at the seething crowd with a mixture of awe and horror. And thanks to pay-per-view channel Woodstock 99, which was just as determined to film giggling frat boys as it was to play music, we see how quickly the mob mentality envelops the crowd.
It really is something to see. A kind of collective frenzy sets in by the middle of day two, and the show shows just how dangerous a large group of people can be when they start acting as one. When things get really dark — an attendee steals a van and drives it through the middle of the rave tent during Fatboy Slim’s DJ set, or the crowd starts tearing down the sound tower — it’s downright terrifying. There is blood. There are sexual assaults. It’s carnage. Forget the Fires festival; the closest equivalent I can think of is Four Hours at the Capitol, the recent anxiety-inducing documentary about the January 6 insurrection.
“You can definitely see, certainly visually, parallels between the two,” says Wardle. “And it’s certainly a predominantly – almost exclusively – white male crowd that’s reacting that way. But with the most recent situation, it’s about the collapse of the norms of political discourse. At the time, it was more or less a fly lord thing. There were physical conditions that contributed to that. Being deprived of access to water, shade, food and getting ripped off. But, you know , human behavior goes to dark places.
There isn’t a single moment in Trainwreck that will transcend everything else, the way the Fyre Festival had that poor organizer who was willing to perform oral sex on a stranger for bottled water. It’s only because so many bad decisions have been made with such frequency that it’s hard for anything to stand out. But the final performance of the festival is approaching. On Sunday night, the Red Hot Chili Peppers performed to a gasping crowd. Audiences were exhausted, dehydrated, drugged and – thanks to the festival’s inadequate sanitation plan – had spent much of the previous 48 hours splashing around in puddles of human effluent.
Towards the end of the set, Woodstock organizers – in a truly silly attempt to revisit the spirit of 1969 – handed out thousands of lit candles, for a planned vigil against gun violence. Inevitably, the angry mob decided it was best to use it for arson purposes. This collided with the Chili Peppers’ attempt to revisit the spirit of 69 by performing Jimi Hendrix’s Fire. You couldn’t write a more perfectly sequenced disaster.
Incredibly, the festival’s two main organizers, John Scher and Michael Lang, both agreed to numerous interviews on the show. They don’t acquit themselves particularly well – Scher is keen to blame anyone but himself for the debacle, while Lang is slippery and evasive – which makes you wonder why they agreed to participate. “On some level they know it went wrong, but they don’t think it was a total disaster either,” Wardle says. “And they want to have a say in their heritage. They’d rather they say something than just let other people shape the story.
“There were some aspects that the promoters thought were incredibly positive, and they’re sticking with that,” Thornton adds. “Especially when something is in chaos, if you feel like there are actually positives, you want to come out and share them with the world.” The same goes for artists who have agreed to participate. Korn’s Jonathan Davis is more than happy to discuss how he controlled the crowd’s aggressiveness on the first night. Meanwhile, Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit – who plunged the audience into a state of utter unchecked violence, surfed on plywood the rioters had ripped up and then lamented ‘It wasn’t our fault’ as he left the stage – conspicuous by its absence. “We had some early conversations with Durst,” says Wardle. “He was very enthusiastic. But then… I don’t know if it’s his management team, or whatever. He’s kind of tried to reinvent himself recently. But he decided he didn’t want to participate.
“I think Jonathan Davis is a very intelligent and nuanced person,” says Thornton. “And he really wanted to come from the perspective of, ‘It was amazing in some ways, and not so great for many participants in others. He felt very open talking about his 360 degree experience.
The catastrophic failure of Woodstock 99, not to mention the recent death of Michael Lang, seems to have killed the spirit of Woodstock forever. But even if it was an absolute disaster, it’s important to remember that the original wasn’t all that much better. There was a time in 1969 when, tired of being overcharged for hot dogs, attendees torched concession stands. And as Wardle points out, “There were also sexual assaults and rapes at the original Woodstock. History creates this mythology around the original Woodstock. The original Woodstock never really existed, you know?
Trainwreck: Woodstock ’99 is on Netflix from August 3t.