Generational Cycles – Woodstocks
Kobus Cilliers | On 26, Apr 2020
We are stardust
We are golden
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden
The Woodstock festival of 1969 was a defining moment in the coming-of-age of the Baby Boomer generation in the US. Three days of peace and music attended by 400,000 hippies. It is widely regarded as a pivotal moment in popular music history. Rolling Stone listed it as one of the 50 Moments That Changed the History of Rock and Roll. The festival is also widely considered to be the definitive nexus for the larger counterculture generation.
It was generally felt to be an unrepeatable moment in time.
But that didn’t stop a group of post-hippie bread-heads deciding that a 25th year anniversary repeat would be a good way to make some well-deserved money.
And so upstate New York found itself party to Woodstock 94. Here’s what one review said of the event:
One thing I know: Whoever organized this was a buckethead,” said one state trooper directing traffic at Woodstock ‘94. The show’s promoters, Woodstock Ventures, would likely disagree. They expect to make a ”small profit” on this trip back to the garden. But small by whose standards? More than 190,000 tickets were sold (at $135 each), while the profits from pay per view ($5 million-$8 million) and the upcoming CD, video, and film are still to be counted. Other numbers from the much-hyped weekend:
*There were no official tallies on how much food was sold, but one vending area grossed $400,000 the first day.
*Once vendors shut down on Sunday, everything but the 840-acre Winston Farm was for sale. Among the collectibles: Peace Patrol security T-shirts ($100- $500) and Peace & Love pizza boxes ($1).
*Despite drug-sniffing dogs, illegal substances made the scene. Pot: $2-$5 a joint. Acid: $3-$10 a hit. Ecstasy: $20-$25.
*Then there was cleanup. It will take 150 workers, 50,000 bags, and 20,000 pairs of rubber gloves to collect the estimated 1 million pounds of garbage. Will Saugerties — the New York town that was offered a performing-arts center by the promoters for hosting Woodstock ‘94 — do it again in 2019? ”We need a day of rest,” says town clerk Eleanor DeForest, ”but I’m sure in 25 years we’ll be ready.”
So much for peace, love and understanding. The GenX kids basically got fleeced by the Boomers.
The Boomers liked it. They decided to repeat the con again in 1999. The thirtieth anniversary.
Here’s a review of that event:
“This is not the real Woodstock. They messed up. They messed up the whole name of Woodstock.”
Volumes have been written about the disaster that was Woodstock ’99, but if you’re looking for a succinct appraisal of the infamous festival that started out as a 30th anniversary celebration of a watershed moment in American pop culture and ended in blazing riots, the above quote — taken from an Associated Press report filed as the sun rose on the final night’s smoldering wreckage — is pretty solidly on target. Sadly, anyone who’d been paying attention could have seen it coming.
Part of the problem stemmed from motivation. Promoter John Scher, was determined not to repeat past mistakes. As he told reporters, “You can have a Woodstock, and it can be a safe and secure environment. We’re going to try and make a profit on this one.” To that end, Woodstock ’99 was moved to Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome, N.Y. — a questionable decision not only because it lies hundreds of miles from the original Woodstock, but because the grounds were once toxic enough to qualify for EPA Superfund site status. Even more problematic was the fact that trees on the site had been cleared out to increase safety on the landing strips, thus removing any natural shade spots — and given that Woodstock ’99 was scheduled for the weekend of July 22–25, 1999, when temperatures soared over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, concertgoers found themselves coping with sweltering heat.
As it turned out, heat was only one of the potentially dangerous environmental factors that concertgoers were forced to deal with. According to David Moodie and Maureen Callahan’s damning postmortem for Spin, the promoters cut corners just about anywhere they could, including skimping on plumbing for vendors and installing an alarmingly low number of toilets and showers (which were then situated in the worst possible height and distance from the campgrounds).
Staffing was also a major problem. Moodie and Callahan describe an environment in which low-paid workers, denied water or regular meals, simply walked off the job partway through the festival, leaving trash bins to overflow and letting attendees get away with a long list of alleged abuses that included theft, sexual assault and rampant, inappropriate pooping.
Adding to the negative energy building over the weekend were the outrageous prices for everything, starting with the $150 it cost for a ticket and continuing through inflated charges for beer ($5), personal pizzas ($12), burritos ($10), bottled water ($4), and bags of ice ($15). As Los Lobos member Steve Berlin, who performed at the festival, later observed, “This is the first generation that’s been branded their whole lives. They’ve been identified as a market opportunity since they took their first breath. And when you take those people and tell them this is going to be culturally and historically important and it turns out to be another commercial, I’d probably get pretty pissed off too.”
Sad as the event was, it turns out to be highly symbolic of how generational arcs play out. 1969 Woodstock was the perfect showcase for Narcissistic Prophets. Woodstock’s 94 and 99 were cynical, corporate money-making machines that, no surprise, Alienated Nomads responded to by burning the place down.
It’s difficult to imagine anyone being brave enough to try another Woodstock.
Which would – ironically perhaps – be a great shame because now the generational tide has turned again. I suspect a Heroic Generation Y ‘50th anniversary Woodstock’ in 2019, provided the money thing gets properly squashed, could easily become a defining moment in that generation’s history.
Call it a prediction.
Based on this: