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Day Three
What's So Fiery 'Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding?

We got going around 10:00 AM, and a lot of people had packed up and left. Most of the popular bands had played and people were sick of being hot and dirty and feeling ripped-off. We decided to break up our camp and load up the car, but we planned to stick around for the Chili Peppers, who would be headlining that evening, and for whatever surprise band might play after them. Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young? The Stones? The Artist? Lenny Kravitz? A Guns N' Roses reunion? Rumors abounded, fueled by the promoters themselves.

Willie Nelson serenaded us as we began another death march to the car. Willie played to a small, comatose crowd. When we reached the car, we collapsed inside and I cut on the air conditioning. This was the first time we'd sat in a climate-controlled environment on something padded in three days. You would have thought my Corolla was decked out in corinthian leather judging by our sighs of ecstasy. On our way back, we watched kids tearing down the Peace Wall, taking sections as souvenirs. We sneaked in a gaping hole and emerged near the front of the West Stage. The field was covered in garbage, plastic bottles and pizza boxes everywhere. A river of muck ran down the middle of the field and people had assemble a trash bridge to cross it. Although anybody could have walked in to the concert that day, very few people did. Who would want to? If the President had landed, he would have officially declared it a disaster zone. Not that the promoters needed any federal aid.

We watched a couple of bands on the Emerging Artists stage, mostly because it was shady. John Entwhistle of The Who played there. I bet now he's talkin' bout my fucked-up generation. Then we plowed through the garbage near the West Stage to find seats up front for Elvis Costello. So many people had left that it was really comfortable and would have been pleasant, if not for the trash everywhere and for the pervasive odor of the overflowing porta-potties. Elvis was supercool. He played an acoustic guitar and was backed by a guy (not, unfortunately, Burt Bacharach) on a grand piano. "Allison," "Everyday I Write the Book," "Radio Sweetheart," and "Veronica" were highlights, but "What's So Funny About Peace, Love, and Understanding?" seemed the most appropriate.

After Elvis, I was forced to endure a set by the world's bestselling poet, Jewel, yodeling and wearing a cowboy hat. Anyone who records a song called "I'm Sensitive" deserves to get crushed in a Limp Bizkit mosh pit, in my opinion. I thought her voice sounded a little ragged and cigarette-tinged. My friends didn't think she was so bad, so it's probably just my irrational Jewel-phobia. I would rather have listened to the kids banging on the trash cans in front of the concession area.

"What does Creed sing?" my friend asked. "They have some hit on K-Rock, something very Alice in Chains," I said. Turns out they have a few hits on K-Rock and they attracted a good crowd. Most of the people left at Woodstock assembled on the lawn, probably 150,000. Creed was okay, but I can't say I was really impressed. The singer sounded like he was channeling Eddie Vedder. The highlight of the set came when he introduced Robby Krieger of The Doors, who came out wearing yellow pants and looking like he might break a hip. But Robby can still play that electric guitar, and he jammed with Creed on two Doors classics: "Roadhouse Blues" and "Riders on the Storm."

Anticipation rose--if they've just given us a Door, surely they're going to do something big for the Jimi Hendrix tribute or after it. Just before 9:00 PM, the Red Hot Chili Peppers stormed the stage, led by a turquoise-haired Flea in his birthday suit. The crowd went nuts. We were desensitized to breasts, but male nudity sure was refreshing! Anthony Kiedis looked like Angus Young, wearing a school boy outfit of black shorts with a white shirt and tie. Of course, it wasn't long before he was just wearing the shorts. Chad Smith banged away on the drums and John Frusciante, who recently rejoined the Chili Peppers after battling a heroin addiction, looked very Charles Manson and didn't seem too stable. He sounded great though--they all did. They played songs off their new album Californication and classics like "Me and My Friends" and "Sir Psycho Sexy" and "Give It Away." In between songs, they would huddle, making up the setlist as they went along.

We were up in front of the control tower (now labeled with a cardboard sign: "The Alamo") and near the stage. An orange flicker caught my eye on the video screen and I realized there was a fire toward the back of the lawn. I turned around and saw several fires. It was tough to tell how big they were from that distance, but it was a little unnerving. I was glad the Peace Wall had been torn down...otherwise, 150,000 people might be scrambling for two exits, if things got worse. The Chili Peppers ended their set and one of the promoters came onstage and said, "As you can see, we have a little bit of a problem." He assured us the fires were not part of the show and that fire trucks were on their way and we should clear a path and then the Chili Peppers would return. Well, the fires burned higher and the Chilis came back out anyway. They only played one more song: "Let me Stand Next to your Fire."

Then the much-anticipated Jimi Hendrix tribute began. We watched video of Jimi onscreen, flanked by dancing lasers. The video Jimi morphed into a laser Jimi which rose into the sky and disappeared. Poof. That was it. No live accompaniment by Lenny Kravitz or The Artist. Nuthin'. The house lights came up and we were thanked for coming. Feeling gypped, but still feeling groovy because the Chili Peppers were smokin', we left through a gap in the Peace Wall. As we drove out of the park around 11:00 PM, we could see the fires were still burning, but we had no idea how bad things would get. It only took an hour to get out of the parking lot and back to the thruway, which was a pleasant surprise.

I got home around 5:00 AM Monday, slept for ten hours, then got online and read the news reports of the rioting and looting. I was disappointed, but I can't say I was surprised. All the factors that have been pointed out as causes--deplorable living conditions, high prices, hard bands, lack of security, disappointment over a lack of a big finish, desire to be on TV--make sense to me. I didn't feel like $150 was a ripoff, but considering that the concert organizers got $150 from at least 200,000 people, I think they should have had a little more liquid capital to invest in facilities to make those 200,000 just a bit comfortable. More shade, more water, more than one shower, staff members who would pick up trash instead of just wander the grounds and watch bands. Try emptying the porta-potties more than once and picking up garbage. I didn't expect the park to be as spotless as Disneyworld, but I didn't expect to be living in the city dump either. The place was Calcutta, minus the lepers, but without Mother Theresa, or even adequate security (they claimed security would patrol the campgrounds...I never saw one person). It's okay with me if you want to charge typical concert prices for food and drinks, but then don't stress "reasonable prices" on your official website. And maybe book a few more Lilith Fair artists in place of Ozzfest artists next time, if there is a next time. The promoters told us they plan to leverage the Woodstock brand, to have another festival every five years because "each generation deserves its Woodstock." Since when is a generation only five years? And wasn't the point of Woodstock that it was a spontaneous happening?

I think I represent the mostly-sane majority when I say that I had fun at Woodstock, that I saw some amazing performances, but I also suffered. The insane minority created the Lord of the Flies spectacle in the wee Monday morning hours, while the rest of us good Woodstock citizens were on our way home so we could get up and go to work.

Will I go back if they actually have another Woodstock in 2004? Probably not. At 26, I already felt too old at this Woodstock. Maybe I'll go if Aerosmith play. I'm still pissed that they cancelled. So pissed I think I might break some stuff. Get the fuck out of my way.

Read Woodstock '99 Haiku

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