Peace, love, music ... then arson, vandalism at end of Woodstock '99

July 26, 1999

BY JOHN KEKIS ASSOCIATED PRESS

ROME, N.Y. -- What began with scattered bonfires near the close of Woodstock '99 -- just as peace candles were being handed out -- ended in a destructive melee that was finally quieted early this morning.

Tents and booths were destroyed, concert light stands and a speaker tower were toppled and a mob tried to destroy a radio station truck over several chaotic hours beginning late Sunday.

"This is not the real Woodstock," said a disgusted Mike Long, 31, of Detroit, as police moved in. "They messed up. They messed up the whole name of Woodstock."

Seven people were arrested on charges ranging from rioting to criminal mischief, State Police Superintendent James McMahon said today.

Five concertgoers were injured, one seriously, when a trailer was toppled on them, he said. Two troopers also were injured.

McMahon estimated that 200 to 500 youths actively took part in the rioting, although thousands more watched and cheered.

"It's a great shame that this happened because in so many ways it was so uplifting," promoter John Scher said. "It puts a permanent blemish on what happened here. I think the kids made a mistake. They did not intend for this to happen."

The violence that erupted after almost three days of peace and love at Woodstock '99 came as the Red Hot Chili Peppers were in the midst of their festival-closing set and a group named Pax was handing out candles to the audience.

Scher said the show was stopped when the first fire was set near the East Stage, but fire officials decided it was a controllable ground fire and the band played on.

About a quarter-mile from the stage, several concertgoers then set fire to a dozen parked vendors' trailers and pulled cases of soda and merchandise from the trucks, feeding the flames with debris.

To some, it seemed like a reaction to the high food and beverage prices.

"When it first started, there was something to it," 18-year-old Spencer Parker said. "It has a little bit of meaning when you pay $4 for a pretzel."

The rioters, who fueled the fire with pieces of the plywood wall surrounding the site, also pulled down a large T-shirt stand, looted a trailer full of hardware and tipped over a car and burned it. All around, tents and booths also were destroyed.

Fire and police units did not respond immediately as officials seemed to be caught off guard.

"Where are the police? Where are the firemen? Where are the people in control?" asked Ruth Mahorn, 36, of Binghamton, N.Y., as she walked quickly away from the disturbance with her friends. "These kids are animals. It should never have gotten this far."

Scher said the 1,250-person internal security force was not activated because they were not properly trained to handle a riot.

More than an hour after the melee began, state troopers in riot gear moved in, dodging lemons and oranges thrown by the crowd. They had moved most of the remaining 150,000 concertgoers into the camping area by 2 a.m. today. About 200 people remained near the middle of the venue, using trash cans for drums as they had since the concert began on Friday.

By early today, flames inside the venue had been extinguished and the situation was stabilized. The effect, though, was not likely to go away anytime soon.

"They're jerks," said Karen Thomas, 24, of Massachusetts. "It's been great all weekend. People were cool, and now this is how people will remember Woodstock."

Thousands of campers missed the riot, having packed up Sunday morning so they could make quick getaways once their favorite band finished up.

"We all have got to work in the morning," said Mara Kugler of Baldwin, N.Y., a sleeping bag tucked under her arm.

State police said the exodus was expected to take up to a day because more than 225,000 had packed the site.

The day had started on a more cheerful note. Slightly over 100 people decided at daybreak that stripping was better than grabbing an extra hour or two of sleep and turned out for a massive nude photo shoot as a brilliant orange sun lit up the sky.

"I just want to see the expressions that the photos could bring for decades to come," said Sarah Warner of Allston, Mass. "Picture your kid going, 'Grandma, was that you? You were hot!"'

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