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  • Writer's picturePhilip Bryer

Trainwreck: Woodstock '99

It has been said that musicians, specifically rock stars, are not only not particularly smart they are also remarkably self-centred little creatures. I can think of no better illustration of these character traits than those revealed in the film, Trainwreck: Woodstock ’99, where rock star behaviour is shown as a driver of crowd unrest, and worse.

An obtuse lack of sense about how to manage a crowd is on display from such prime examples as Korn’s lead singer who, seemingly upset with the stage floor, spends all of their set yelling at it, to that bass-playing nuisance from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the obnoxious toddler’s obnoxious toddler. A security guard, who clearly remains traumatised by the whole shambolic affair, is remarkably understanding about the work of Limp Bizkit and their oafish front man in whipping up an already frenzied crowd: “You can’t blame Limp Bizkit for being Limp Bizkit,” he says, with surprising tolerance. “You might as well blame a bear for being a bear.” On the other hand, you might want to hunt the Bizkits down with dogs and suspend them by their collective knackers from a handy lighting rig.

Touchingly, one chap was expecting an arena of undulating meadows, “Kinda like in The Hobbit,” he muses. What he, and hundreds of thousands of others actually get is the flat and exposed concrete expanse of a disused air-force base, where they are relieved of their own food and drink (including water) on arrival, and so placed immediately in the greedy sights of price-gouging concession outlets.

Angry at the wait for showers and washing facilities, the mob simply bust the pipes open; the ones close by the portable toilets. So, there is now water for all. Only, it isn’t just water. As the man from the state water authority reveals, tests of water retrieved from the site showed that all of it was heavily contaminated with human faeces. (The film boasts some smart editing work here, intercutting between a sinister furry mass creeping over a petri-dish and a bearded fellow at one of the impromptu water stations, grinning happily into the camera as he gives his teeth a vigorous brushing with, well, you know... I just hope he never sees the film.)

To give you an idea of the more ‘out there’ attendees, a worryingly large number think it a splendid idea to roll around in the ‘mud’ which has been created by the freely gushing water. Which, if you recall, is right next door to the portable toilets. Their bare asses are coated in a brown crust which is quickly baked into the skin, courtesy of the soaring temperature, relentless sun, and complete absence of any shade. As Speaker of the House George Thomas almost used to say with frequency, “Ordure! Ordure!”

Inadequate bins and staff and the indifference of many mean that litter soon takes over, leading a veteran of the 1969 festival to predict there may be trouble ahead. She makes valiant solo attempts to hand out trash bags to between 250,000 and 400,000 people but soon observes something of a lack of the original Woodstock spirit.

One talking head points to the period’s aggressive music and the violence portrayed in films such as Fight Club as a contributor to the festival’s downward spiral into dystopia. And the acts sure don’t help.

Boneheaded Wyclef Jean outdoes even his dismal Jimi Hendrix impression by exhorting the audience of pumped-up hooligans to throw stuff at the stage. As does Kid Rock, who is afforded a rapturous welcome. If ever there was danger sign, this was it: any crowd that goes nuts for Mr Rock is clearly stacked with wrong ‘uns.

The RHCPs are closing the show. Or are they? Rumours have been pinging around that there is a big surprise coming (and indeed there was, but not in a good way). It is all talk that the organisers do nothing to dispel, even though they know that stories of Dylan or The Stones appearing are without foundation. Could it be because they were anxious to stem the tide of people fleeing what had turned into a combination of a sun-baked refugee camp and garbage dump with en suite sewer, and a real-life episode of The Walking Dead but with extra violence?

The organisers hand out 100,000 candles to a frazzled and increasingly angry mob in the expectation of a sudden peace rally breaking out. Boom! Fire upon dangerous fire is set all over the encampment. Backstage, the RHCP’s singer, Anthony Kiedis, is asked to speak to the crowd to try to quell the riot but he refuses because he “wouldn’t know what to say.” Although, back onstage, he does manage to rummage around in the old empty headspace and come up with something. He remarks how amazing the fires look from the stage, comparing them to the film Apocalypse Now, and then the band plays Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Fire’. They really do. To paraphrase Fiona Bruce on the Antiques Roadshow: dumb, dumber, dumbest.

And then things take a turn for the worse.

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