(Ten years ago this weekend, I covered Woodstock '94 for Relix Magazine. Here it is.)
Jimi Hendrix kissed the sky, creating nostalgic rain showers that blessed the silver anniversary of Woodstock.
Like the original, the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair '94, held on the 840-acre Winston Farm at the foot of the Catskill Mountains in Saugerties, N.Y., was a muddy mess, with music the universal -- yet juxtaposed -- connection for a crowd that swelled to 350,000 on the second of three days.
The festival, which began Friday morning, Aug. 12, with a showcase of local bands and ending with a set by Peter Gabriel early Monday morning, was a chaotic success.
The Woodstock sequel wasn't about nostalgia. If that's what you were looking for, you were in the wrong place. It's hard to get nostalgic when an electronics store chain hawks CDs and iced cappuccino is available at all hours. Among the discomforts was the mud, but if the slippery attire presented an atmosphere of eroticism and danger, who was to care?
Woodstock '94 was about chaos, and that's what made it work.
Nostalgic? When Country Joe McDonald made a surprise appearance Sunday morning with his "Fixin' to Die Rag," most people in nearby tents didn't realize he was singing about the Vietnam War. No, the mostly 20-something audience at Woodstock '94 was there to make the scene, not recreate history by protesting a war.
The question was, could 350,000 people get along under adverse conditions made tolerable through good music in 1994? They did.
And, with a few exceptions, the new Woodstock nation proved to itself that brothers and sisters, regardless of backgrounds or interests, make a family, and that a sharing spirit is contagious.
The common bond was the contrasting music -- whether the Red Hot Chili Peppers or Crosby, Stills and Nash were on the stage. Funk met classic rock, heavy metal met gospel and it worked. There was no escaping the sound, only turning your back to it and taking refuge in a tent. You had to listen. It was loud, and it was supposed to be. That was the purpose.
Did Woodstock '94 deliver? If you thought the sequel should be better organized than the original, with pristine order from conception to completion, it did not. If you thought chaos was the magical formula for success, it did.
The chaos is what brought the legions together. Friday afternoon, before security broke down, the scene was poetic, quiet, serene. That wouldn't have worked over three days. When the fences were broken down and thousands walked onto the farm carrying booze but not tickets, the essence of Woodstock '94 was hatched.
An estimated 160,000 ticket-less revelers would walk through the gates by Saturday night as security plans, which had been in place for months, burst under the weight of the crowd.
"There's no security here at all," said Les Feltmate, 20, of Massachusetts. "We brought in four gallons of vodka. I could have brought in a bazooka."
And Woodstock truly became Woodstock on Saturday afternoon when, as the crowd swelled in front of the south stage to see The Band, the skies opened with heavy rain. There were beaming smiles among the masses as the chaos, excuse the expression, mushroomed. The mud is what truly brought the campers together. It introduced a common hardship, giving people a vehicle with which to help each other. Human chains were formed to assist each other up and down the hills.
"I'm here now because I didn't exist in 1969," said Ron Waldbaum, 22, of California. "We are nearly half a million strong. There's a lot of crap in the world. This is a chance to take a break from that for a few days."
As the crowd grew, there was a feeling of anonymity, knowing you were one of 350,000. This opened a window of reckless freedom, and this is when the clothes came off and the mud people created their own society.
"This is absolutely crazy," said Carla Cotroneo, 24, of New York. "There are so many people. There's no order."
Music Makes It Happen
The hordes were drawn to the site, needing to be a part of new history. They were drawn to the music, which was ever-present.
And the music, at times, was remarkable.
A notable Friday winner was Futu Futu, a six-piece band from neighboring Woodstock, whose half-hour of fame was a funky fusion-based set that combined world rhythms with searing guitar melodies. A brand new band called Live was exceptional. But the performance of the day was turned in by Blues Traveler, headed by the harmonica-toting singer John Popper, who put on a 40-minute jam that separated his band from the local wannabes and other last-minute additions.
Popper's stirring harmonica rendition of Hendrix's national anthem was a keeper, a reminder that this was a silver anniversary party, not just another concert. Popper's solo conjured images of those who exist solely in spirit -- Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Ron "Pigpen" McKernan, Jim Morrison, Keith Moon and Duane Allman, to name a few -- and hit a nostalgic nerve with the older audience.
When Popper finished his solo, the world's greatest emcee, Wavy Gravy, proclaimed, "It's moments like that which make me proud to be an American."
Joe Cocker, who, 25 years ago, made musical history on a stage in nearby Bethel, kicked off Saturday's music, roaring through a set that opened with "Feelin' All Right," and peaked with the legendary "A Little Help From My Friends."
The remainder of Saturday's musical lineup was immensely satisfying -- especially inspired sets by Melissa Etheridge, Traffic and The Band (with special guests that included Bob Weir, Rob Wasserman, Bruce Hornsby, Jorma Kaukonen, Jack Casady, Roger McGuinn and Rory Block).
Saturday night simply rocked with stirring sets from Nine Inch Nails, Metallica and Aerosmith, the latter playing through driving rain well into the early Sunday morning hours.
On Sunday, stellar sets from the Cranberries, Allman Brothers, Paul Rodgers, Santana and Bob Dylan rang loud and true as the crowd began thinning out due to the rainy, muddy and windy conditions. And it was Green Day’s set that perhaps brought the crowd to its craziest furor, as a mud fight between fans and the band cut short their set.
Gabriel's set late Sunday night into early Monday morning was a fitting conclusion to the weekend. The massive encore, which included fans holding thousands of candles, brought back memories of Melanie's awe-inspiring set at the original Woodstock.
When it was over, Woodstock '94 grossed $25.6 million, based on 190,000 paid tickets at $135 apiece. That figure will increase from the live album, concert film, corporate sponsorships, merchandising and pay-per-view TV. In contrast, the original Woodstock grossed just $1.8 million in ticket sales.
Through it all, the experience is what mattered. The moshing -- people hurling themselves onto the hemmed-in crowd in front of the stage -- was excessive, and in part caused medical officials to treat 6,000 people on site, many of whom suffered broken bones and sprains from falling in the mud.
There were 24 arrests connected with the three-day festival, but just four on the grounds. Temperatures dropped to the 40s Sunday night, which resulted in 100 fans being treated for hypothermia in a Pepsi tent turned into a makeshift hospital.
Togetherness, under the common theme of live music, was what Woodstock '94 was all about. It was not for everyone, but those who enjoyed it did so because they chose what to take home with them. There was a universal feeling of making history, not repeating it.