I remember Willie Nelson singing beautiful gospel songs to the very unwashed masses on Sunday. I remember Bootsy Collins reuniting with George Clinton for a thrilling P-Funk set. I remember Rage Against the Machine sparking what seemed like the biggest mosh pit ever on Planet Earth.
I even recall Alanis Morissette bringing some much-needed serenity and feminism. Granted, as one of only three female acts the entire weekend, her set is pretty easy to remember.
Those are just some of the many fond memories I have from Woodstock '99. But you won't see much of the good stuff in a new HBO film about the clearly troubled but not entirely disastrous festival.
Following the popularity of dueling documentaries on the Fyre Festival — the Caribbean Island music fest that never actually happened — "Woodstock '99: Peace, Love and Rage" paints a similar, guffaw-inducing picture of greedy organizers, bad planning and desperate festivalgoers.
It was a mess, to be sure. After watching the film, though, I had to wonder: Was it really that bad? Why do I actually remember having something of a good time there?
Admittedly, I had two advantages that made it easier to enjoy the three-day meltdown at a decommissioned Air Force base in Upstate New York: I was working press, and I wasn't a woman.
The aggressively sexual and sometimes just plain rape-y atmosphere toward female attendees at Woodstock '99 definitely was a scourge on the festival, and a stain on '90s pop culture as a whole. (More on this later, but please know for now that in no way am I discounting how disturbing this scenario was.)
Covering the event for the Austin American-Statesman — Willie provided my hometown angle in this case — I was lucky to have media credentials. It meant I could pitch my tent next to the press-area parking lot instead of being crammed into the campgrounds.
I'd hardly call it VIP camping. The cheapest campsites at modern-day Coachella are more plush than this set-up. But we were able to use our car to run into the nearby town of Rome for a real breakfast instead of spending $12 on a small cardboard cheese pizza.
Still, I was in the thick of it for most of the fest. And by "thick," I mean the fields of mud and random streams of murky water conspicuously close to the under-served portapotties. Yes, it really was as gross in person as on screen.
After seeing footage from the first two Woodstock fests, though, I thought muck and ooze were part of the game. Did they even have toilets at the first Woodstock?
I also chalked up the overpriced concessions — the $4 bottled water is brought up every 10 minutes in the HBO doc — as part of the experience. The days of doling out free stew like at Woodstock '69 were long gone by the late '90s, when corporations like Clear Channel (now Live Nation) started to take over the concert industry.
Another advantage I had in enjoying Woodstock '99: I actually liked good music at the time. Watching the movie, you'd barely believe good music was even an option there.
In 1999, I had already recognized Kid Rock as the hokiest thing on two turntables. I also wasn't much into the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Limp Bizkit, Korn, the Offspring, Creed, Bush or Insane Clown Posse (all prominently featured in the doc). So I skipped most of them. It was really quite easy to do.
Instead of all those numbskulls, I enjoyed the Roots, Los Lobos, the Tragically Hip, DMX, Ice Cube, Elvis Costello, Rusted Root, the Chemical Brothers, Mike Ness, future Minnesotan Brian Setzer and poor Sheryl Crow, who has never looked so deeply invested singing "A Change Will Do You Good."
And hey, Woodstock '99 was the only time I got to see James Brown perform. For that reason alone, I'm glad the fest happened.
Most of the talking heads in the HBO doc have nothing good to say about the festival. Among the pundits are a lot of East Coast music journalists and performers like Moby, most of whom I'm guessing haven't spent much time sleeping in tents or attending metal concerts.
They blame a lot of the problems on the predominance of metal bands in the lineup. As if no other genre (or Woodstock fest) ever had problems with sanitation or toxic male behavior.
Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit is particularly ridiculed in the documentary, which is rather fish-in-a-barrel in the year 2021. The main complaint? People in the crowd who were already breaking stuff kept breaking stuff while he sang "Break Stuff." Oh, and the crowd actually loved his band's set, too. Damn him.
Steven Hyden, a Twin Cities-based music scribe who co-helmed an earlier podcast about the festival, provides some of the clearer and less grandiose soundbites while being interviewed at First Avenue. Conversely, one guy from the festival's emergency team says it was worse than Hurricane Katrina.
Um, no. Woodstock '99 wasn't worse than a storm that killed 1,800 people and left 600,000 households upended. All but one of the 220,000 festivalgoers got to go home afterward.
Surprisingly, a friend of the guy who didn't go home — he died of heat exhaustion — is one of the few people interviewed who doesn't entirely trash the festival.
The pundits rightfully have plenty to say about the sexual harassment and assault of women and girls prevalent at the fest. They're not overstating it. Not a lot needs to be said, either. Enough breast-grabbing, cat-calling and worse were caught on camera that it really speaks for itself.
Maybe the documentary's greatest lesson comes in comments by one of the concert's promoters. John Scher downplays the number of (reported) assaults to "about 10" before playing himself up as a genuine bonehead.
"I am critical of the hundreds of women that were walking around with no clothes on, and expecting not to be touched," Scher says in the recent interview (not that it'd be any worse to say this in 1999). "They shouldn't have been touched, and I condemn it. But you know, I think that women that were running around naked are at least partially to blame for that."
Maybe these women were going around shirtless because it was ungodly hot? Or because everyone's clothes were uncomfortably covered in muck?
Doesn't matter. By Scher's logic, all the men who took off clothes at the fest also deserve to be groped.
I hope today's younger men and boys watch "Woodstock '99" and think of it as a how-not-to video. I also hope some of the memorable performances not seen in the documentary get a proper airing without all that stench in the air.