Woodstock 1999, Vol. 1: Red Album

The 25th anniversary of Woodstock was such a resounding success, both commercially and critically, that it was inevitable that Woodstock 99 would appear on the 30th anniversary of the legendary free rock festival. Woodstock 99 was a different beast than any of its predecessors, however. The promoters designed it as a mercenary event, trying to earn as much money as possible in the course of three days. They picked a massive abandoned Air Force base in Rome, NY, and built plywood fences around the perimeter so they wouldn't have any gatecrashers. They decided not to allow any outside containers -- a common and logical safeguard, but that also meant everyone had to pay for water in the middle of the summer. All this was a prelude to a weekend of mayhem that ended in riots and rape. Some may argue that the riots were a reaction to the greed of the promoters, and they have a point -- but that doesn't excuse the numerous sexual assaults and rapes that occurred during the festival. Those assaults, the fires, and the aggressively macho alt-metal acts became the legacy of Woodstock 99, and that's probably not what Epic had in mind when they signed a deal to release a double-disc set of highlights in October 1999. Woodstock 99 appeared on time, divided into one disc of metal (The Red Album) and one disc that contained everything else at the festival (The Blue Album). Once the double-disc set ran its course, the album was separated into two individual discs -- The Red Album and The Blue Album -- which made sense, since they each appealed to radically different audiences. With the exception of Live, who sounds glaringly out of place, The Red Album contains all the testosterone-driven acts, including highlights from the notorious sets by Korn, Kid Rock, Limp Bizkit, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Dividing Woodstock 99 makes it more listenable, but it also points out the inherent flaw in the festival -- every act on the first disc, with the exception of Live, was added to the bill to attract young males, who were ready to embrace Woodstock 99 as an opportunity to "f*** sh** up." Consequently, not only was the festival haunted by violence, it also was musically schizophrenic instead of eclectic. There was no reconciling aggro-metal with funk, dance, folk, pop, swing, and straight rock & roll, since the aggression just bulldozed everything else. That doesn't happen with the recording of Woodstock 99, since the two discs are separated from each other like misbehaving children, but that very tactic raises the question: who is this for? It's sequenced for two separate audiences, and each would embrace one disc while hating the other; therefore, it would have been better to release the discs separately. And several months later, in early 2000, the company did just that. But even separated as such, it's still a problematic release, because the quality of the music is uneven on both discs. Not only are there some average artists, but not every above-average artist turns in a worthy performance. This unevenness does nothing to dispel the notion that Woodstock 99 was an ill-conceived commercial venture from the get-go -- and it doesn't erase the bad taste left by the riots, rapes, assaults, and mayhem, either. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

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