Woodstock 1999

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 perimeters so they wouldn't have any gatecrashers. They decided to not 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 and 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 and one disc that contains everything else that was at the festival. With the exception of Live, who sounds glaringly out of place, the first disc contains all the testosterone-driven acts, including highlights from the notorious sets by Korn, Kid Rock, Limp Bizkit, and Red Hot Chili Peppers. The second is much more sedate, thanks to bands as diverse as Dave Matthews Band, the Brian Setzer Orchestra, Sheryl Crow, Everlast, Everclear, Jewel, Elvis Costello, Alanis Morissette, Jamiroquai, Chemical Brothers, the Roots, Rusted Root, and Bruce Hornsby. Dividing Woodstock 99 makes it more listenable, but it also points out the inherent flaw in the festival -- while the artists on the second disc were true to the intentions of the original festivals, everyone except Live on the first disc were 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 discs are separated from each other like misbehaving children, but that very tactic raises the question of who is this for. They're sequenced for two separate audiences, and each would embrace one disc while hating the other -- therefore, it would have been better to release them separately. Even if they released Woodstock 99 this way, it would have been a problematic release because the quality of the music is uneven on both discs. Not only are there some average artists, not every above-average artist turns in a worthy performance. This unevenness does nothing to contradict 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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