Woodstock ’99 isn’t the only disastrous music festival in US history
What makes one tragedy worse than another is subjective.
Anyone who’s watched Netflix’s new three-episode docuseries Trainwreck: Woodstock ’99 (or last year’s HBO incarnation, Woodstock 99: Peace, Love and Rage) might be inclined to award it the most chaotic, poorly planned, and terrifying show (literally, people were swimming in runoff from overflowing portable toilets) in American music festival history. Three people have died, including 24-year-old David G. Derosia, who suffered from hyperthermia after spending time in Metallica’s mosh pit at the Rome, New York, event characterized by incredibly hot temperatures.
By the end of the weekend, four women had said they had been raped, and there were countless other instances of non-consensual groping and harassment. Broadcasting towers were rocked to the ground, and cars and other structures were set on fire. There was, by all accounts, a general sense of white male aggression permeating the weekend. The HBO documentary highlighted a particularly disturbing moment when DMX, a black rapper, led a call and response that saw the mostly white audience very comfortably shout the N-word at him.
But there have been other weak moments in the history of music festivals in this country. Newsweek come back to some of them.
Civil Rights Congress concert, August 1949
Long before Woodstock ’99 singer Kid Rock was even a twinkle in his mother’s eyes, Peekskill, New York, was a powder keg of white male aggression. In response to black artist and activist Paul Robeson’s headlining performance in a concert that also featured Pete Seeger, racists, anti-communists and anti-Semitic extremists showed up to smash car windows, riot and burn Robeson in effigy, Newsweek‘s Jon Jackson reported.
Woodstock, August 15-18, 1969
Americans’ retrospective rose-colored glasses reflect the original Woodstock as three days of peace, love and music, and it was…but it wasn’t. only this. New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller officially declared the counterculture event a disaster, and at least two people are believed to have died. Urban legend is also remembered for a proliferation of toxic batches of LSD doing the rounds, and festival-goers were repeatedly urged by loudspeakers to “stay away from the brown acid”.
Altamont, December 6, 1969
Officially called the Altamont Speedway Free Festival, this Northern California spectacle was supposed to be the West Coast counterpart to Woodstock, but is best known for the murder of an audience member who was allegedly racially motivated. While the Rolling Stones were performing, Meredith Hunter Jr., an 18-year-old black man, was stabbed to death by Hell’s Angel Alan Passaro, who had been hired to work in security. As Hunter approached the scene, Passaro and other angels reportedly pushed him away, at which point Hunter returned with a gun and Passaro stabbed him to death. Passaro was found not guilty in Hunter’s death, saying he acted in self-defense. The attack was filmed and appears in the 1970 film give me shelter.
Woodstock ’94, August 12–14, 1994
Woodstock’s first reincarnation, in Saugerties, New York, is best remembered for lots and lots of mud – with Green Day throwing the lion’s share at the audience and Primus playing his single “My Name Is Mud” as a sort of of the anthem and the perimeter fence that fell, allowing people who had not paid for their tickets to enjoy the festivities. But two people are said to have died during the three-day festival, which is perhaps the most tame of its three namesakes, but not without tragedy.
Woodstock ’99, July 23-25, 1999
Butt rock, price gouging, looting, sexual harassment and assault, arson, toxic white masculinity, and a general lord of the flies– like the ambiance are the legacies of Woodstock ’99. As Brian Rosenworcel of the rock band Guster, who performed on the second day of the festival, said Newsweekthe crowd “felt MAGA before MAGA”.
Fyre Festival, April 28-30 and May 5-7, 2017
Technically, this festival took place in the Bahamas, but we’re including it because it was conceived by American Billy McFarland and attracted a crowd of mostly US-based aspiring influencers and the like. Like Woodstock ’99, the debacle spawned competing docs, both in 2019 – Netflix Fyre: The Biggest Party That Ever Happened and Hulu’s fire fraud– documenting the abject negligence of promoters who, for just $1,200 and more, promised partygoers the time of their lives alongside models (Kendall Jenner, Hailey Bieber and other beautiful famous people appeared in ads ) with acts like Blink-182, Tyga, and Skepta on an island once owned by cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar. Instead, upon arrival, viewers were greeted with accommodations comparable to FEMA tents, cheese sandwiches, mostly canceled programming, and little else. Additionally, many Bahamian vendors have not been paid for their work preparing for the festival. McFarland pleaded guilty to wire fraud in 2018 and served four years of a six-year prison sentence.
Route 91 Harvest Fest, September 29-October 1, 2017
Arguably the most gruesome entry on this list, the Las Vegas event brought massive gun violence to the realm of the music festival. As Jason Aldean played to an outside crowd of more than 20,000, Stephen Paddock opened fire from the 32nd floor of the nearby Mandalay Bay hotel. Using rifles fitted with bump stocks, Paddock was able to kill 60 people. Hundreds more were injured. Paddock committed suicide after his rampage.
Astroworld, 5-6 november, 2021
Travis Scott’s Houston Festival, named after his 2013 album, was conceived as a beloved franchise for the city, created as a love letter from one of its most famous local heroes. But the rapper, who is known (and adored) for his ability to piss off a crowd, is now facing thousands of lawsuits and a criminal investigation for a huge crowd crush that happened at the show last year. , resulting in 10 deaths and countless injuries.