I Will Survive.
Griffiss Business and Technology Park
After months of anticipation (49 bands in three days!), disappointment (Aerosmith bailed?), and questioning (will we get to take showers?), we were on our way. I picked up my friends at the subway in the Bronx, and we headed out around 10:00 PM on Thursday. Our chariot was not a VW Vanagon covered in day-glo daisies; it was my much-abused 92 Toyota Corolla adorned with Ozzy and Hole stickers. We chose to make a red-eye drive, figuring we'd get a jump on traffic and the crowds by arriving in the middle of the night. We figured wrong.
The 230-mile drive went smoothly. We stopped in the actual town of Woodstock to borrow a kick-ass six-man tent from crunchy granola friends who actually camp by choice and for fun. Having gone camping only once previously, I have trouble with that concept. We continued on the thruway toward Rome, stopping at the last oasis, paraphrasing Metallica with cries of "gimme fuel, gimme Doritos, gimme that which I desire." It was 3:00 AM, and the rest stop was packed with Woodstockers. My mind wandered back to the 70s gas shortage as we actually had to queue up for gas.
We continued on and hit a traffic jam at the exit, even though our $150 ticket included a parking pass and a "get past the toll free" card. We still had to slow down enough to hand the toll taker the card, and that caused a backup. Cops directed us through the humble town of Rome in a roundabout way and to the site of the concert, the former Griffiss Air Force Base. We sat in a long line of cars that snaked around a winding drive. Mist rolled over the hills. We watched the sunrise but were too tired and pissed off to find it beautiful. It was nearly 6:00 AM. Eventually, we parked and began the long walk from the car to the gates, loaded down with our camping equipment and bags and bottles of water. We walked along the Peace Wall to the gates, where security guards took our tickets and didn't open any of our bags. I guess we didn't look threatening, or maybe they were just tired too.
Once inside, we noticed a lot of people had set up tents right by the gates. We followed the mob and kept walking, and walking, and walking. Tents were jammed together with barely six inches of grass between them. Where would we be able to put ours? It felt like a death march. Our arms ached and we stopped often to readjust all our parcels and breathe. We began to truly appreciate the size of this venue. When woodstock.com advised wearing comfortable shoes, they weren't kidding. After rejecting some open grass near a bank of porta-potties, we found a suitable spot, near the showers but not too near, close to the northeast corner of the site, probably about two miles from where we had parked. After pitching the tent, we collapsed in our clothes and slept for a couple of hours. By 10:00 AM, it was too bright and hot in the tent to sleep. Plus our neighbors were restless and noisy. Some of them were drinking already. Like Sheryl Crow, Woodstockers like a good beer buzz early in the morning.
We were ready to get up anyway, excited to check out the site and see the bands. We walked around a little, discovering that we were about a fifteen minute walk from the smaller east stage and the "east village" area. The two stages were probably a 3/4 of a mile apart, and the west stage was where most of the action would take place. In between the two stages, there were many food booths, malls for clothing and bong vendors, an extreme sports area, an internet cafe, ATMs, an airplane hangar that housed a continuous film festival of cult classics, another airplane hangar that showcased new bands during the day and turned into a rave at night, and much, much more.
We found a spot on the vast lawn in front of the west stage and listened to the promoters and Wavy Gravy kick-off the festival. Then it was time for James Brown. Actually, it was time for James Brown's band to play a few songs, then for the band to introduce some broad who sang a few songs, and just when we were really getting annoyed, the Godfather of Soul stopped teasing us and appeared. The crowd was pretty indifferent, as James and his large band played their hits including "I Feel Good," "Sex Machine," and my personal favorite from the cold war classic Rocky IV, the anthem that inspired Rock to kick Ivan Drago's communist ass: "Living in America." The crowd did go nuts when James sang "Foxy Lady," the first of many nods to Hendrix and the original Woodstock legends by various bands throughout the weekend.
Sugar Ray was supposed to be up next, but had cancelled. Some chick behind me said, "I can't believe they would try to replace Sugar Ray with James Brown and think we'd be okay with it. That just sucks, man!" She would not be the last disgruntled and clueless customer. Actually, Sugar Ray was replaced with G. Love and Special Sauce, and I felt that we had traded up. G. Love played a fun set, including his biggest hit, a song that everyone roasting on the lawn could relate to: "Cold Beverages." We queued up for $4 Cokes as G. finished his set. A muddy lake had formed near the toilets and water fountains by the stage and people were rolling around in the mud (or was it sewage?) and hurling clumps of mud. It looked like a scene from Saving Private Ryan as people covered their heads and ran through this area, trying to avoid getting splattered. People seemed to be manufacturing the mudfights, using the scant amount of mud they could find, looking to ensure they'd have what they considered to be the authentic Woodstock experience.
Next up, Jamiroquai, wearing a big white feathered hat. They managed to get most of the sluggish crowd up and dancing. Live followed with an intense set, focusing on their many hits from Throwing Copper. Sweat glistened on singer Ed Kowalcyk's bald head. He was shirtless by the end of their set, as were many Woodstockers, male and female.
Sheryl Crow took the stage around 5:00 PM, and it was still bloody hot. She wore a white tank top and skin tight pants. I liked everything about her performance, except her crappy cover of "Sweet Child O' Mine." It reminds me of something I might have recorded in a Six Flags karaoke booth at age 14. She needs to get down on her kn-kn-kn-kn-knees-knees and apologize to the world for releasing that song. Guys in the pit (yes, people were crowdsurfing to "All I Wanna Do") urged Sheryl to SHOW THEM HER TITS. She laughed and declared that we'd need to pay a lot more than the Woodstock ticket price to see her topless.
Post-Sheryl, for something completely different, Woodstock presented DMX. Rosie Perez introduced the band, and when the mosh pit demanded she SHOW THEM HER TITS, she said, "3.99, Blockbuster, go rent Do the Right Thing." "Where my dawgs at?" asked DMX. White guys responded by barking. They knew all the words to the songs, even though most of them had probably only experienced ghetto life when they took a wrong turn near Yankee stadium in Mom's Cherokee. The only song I knew was "My Niggas" from listening to Howard Stern. Most of the songs seemed to be about bitches and hos. I couldn't really glean the subtle difference between the terms bitch and ho as they seemed to be used interchangeably. Bitches and hos, clearly, are no good.
After watching half of DMX's set, we hustled over to the East Stage to try to catch the Roots. Woodstock promoters had an uncanny ability to schedule acts that would appeal to the same audience--like DMX and the Roots, and later Megadeth and Red Hot Chili Peppers--at the same time on the two stages which were a good half hour walk apart. We got there just as the Roots were ending their set and thanking their special guest, Erykah Badu. Bummer, but who knew?
Back at the tent in the early evening, I decided to check out the shower facilities. Memories of high school PE flooded my brain as I showered communally with 50 other chicks. I guess that was a glimpse of the true Woodstock spirit--nonchalant nudity, as opposed to the "SHOW ME YOUR TITS" demanded-nudity that characterized this festival. The campground had one shower hut, divided in half with a communal shower room for men and one for women. That's it. One shower facility for 200,000 people. There were long lines, unless you wanted to take a cold shower at night and risk catching your death of a cold. This would be my one shower for the weekend. After that, I learned to be at peace in my own filth. I would wash my face, hands, hair in the fountains near the toilets, and I'd have to wait in line just to do that. Nothing was easy at Woodstock '99, except spending money.
After freshening up, we headed over to the East Stage to watch George Clinton and the P-Funk All Stars. Clinton had 20-30 people onstage at any given time, including Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell, and Humpty Hump. George implored us to "Tear the Roof Off Da Sucker" and a couple of days later, rioters would do just that. The P-Funk songs go on like Grateful Dead songs and I was losing patience and my feet were starting to hurt. We decided to get funnel cakes and call it a night. We were missing Korn on the West Stage, but I didn't think that was a big loss. I passed on seeing Bush too, although a couple of my friends went and said it was one of the best performances of the festival. I'd seen Bush before. I knew Gavin was a hottie, and I was too tired to trek back to the West Stage just to watch him on the giant video screen. So, like an old lady, I was in bed by midnight, as the distant echoes of Gavin singing "Swallowed" lulled me to sleep.
I noticed the spaces on the lawn near me were being filled by people in well-washed Lacrosse caps and Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirts. This could mean only one thing -- Dave Matthews would perform next.
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