For those watching the disastrous Fyre Festival earlier this year, it looked as though someone found a way to live-tweet from the seventh circle of hell. Looting, insufficient food, absent performers, and broken promises made the event into a dramatic reenactment of Lord of the Flies. But Fyrefest had nothing on its disastrous predecessor, Woodstock 1999.
The summer music festival was an attempt to improve on Woodstock 1994, where sanitation problems and contraband plagued attendees. Instead, it became an apocalyptic hellscape; imagine Mad Max: Fury Road with Darth Maul bongs and white dreadlocks. So what exactly made the festival so terrible?
Well, the weather conditions didn’t help. The heat hovered around 100 °F the whole weekend, which would have been bad enough on its own. The site was on an old airstrip, which had no trees and was covered in sun-absorbing tarmac, and the two main stages were 1.5 miles away from each other. Halfway through the weekend, almost a thousand people had already been treated for heat exhaustion. But it wasn’t just the weather. Woodstock 99 proved one of the main axioms of human nature: there’s no situation so bad that some idiot can’t make it worse.
First of all, the organizers failed to, well, organize. There weren’t enough showers, toilets, or drinking fountains, and the drainage was bad enough that most of the dirty water flooded people’s tents.
This was made even worse when attendees had the bright idea to destroy the water fountains to provide water to thirsty attendees. This might have been a good idea if there had been anywhere for the water to go. But, instead, it went into people’s tents. By the middle of the festival, there were mud pits throughout the grounds, making areas impassable.
Not only could people not bring outside food into the venue, the good inside was wildly overpriced, with a single slice of pizza going for $12 and water bottles priced at $4. The expense of food and water made the medical difficulties on site even worse.
The infrastructure inside of the site wasn’t the only problem. The surrounding towns weren’t meant to handle the 200,000 people who descended on the festival grounds. There was no hotel space for miles around, and the traffic was almost impassable. But all of this was minor compared to what happened later.
By the second day of the festival, people were taking any opportunity to create chaos. And it wasn’t like the musicians were encouraging stability and calm.
Fred Durst, the lead vocalist of Limp Bizkit, told his listeners, “It’s time to let yourself go right now, ’cause there are no [expletive] rules out there.” Well, he got what he asked for. Fans started assaulting other fans and destroying the plywood infrastructure.
Insane Clown Posse lived up to their name during their set on the East Stage, when they threw $100 bills into the crowds to create a riot.
But by far the worst thing about the festival was the attendees.
To begin with, there were far more of them than the organizers had planned for. Although the festival hadn’t sold out, there were so many people coming in with fake passes that there was no way to contain them. According to the Syracuse Post-Standard, “Security guards said they were confiscating fake passes at the rate of 50 an hour at just one gate.”
The festival was not a welcoming environment for women, as the male attendees took the idea of free love a little too literally. Any woman who walked on stage, whether she was performing or MCing, was greeted by a rousing chorus of “show your [expletive]!”
As the weekend crawled to a tired, muddy, hot end, the chaos became violent. Someone tried to drive a truck through the audience during Fatboy Slim’s set, and when The Tragically Hip tried to sing “Oh Canada,” the drunken attendees drowned them out by singing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and pelted rocks and bottles at the band.
And there wasn’t anyone to stop this from happening. Workers who were denied reliable food and water simply walked off into the crowds. This left the site understaffed and unsecured, so perhaps what happened next wasn’t surprising.
The grand finale to this weekend from hell was as ironic as it was painful. During the Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ finishing act, a group started handing out “peace candles.” And because sometimes the universe has a sense of humor, people started using them to light fires during the band’s performance of Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire.”
At first, the blazes were bonfire-sized, and people danced around them. But as the night wore on, they started spreading, and the fire patrol was called in.
Tents were looted, ATMs were destroyed, and a Mercedes Benz was set on fire. The crowd rioted for seven hours, destroying property and attacking one another. The organizers had to call in state troopers to get the attendees under control.
The statistics at the end: 44 arrests, over 10,000 people seeking medical attention, one death, and zero chances of it happening again.