Woodstock News

Fires, looting mark end of Woodstock

Peace, love abandoned as the crowd unleashes chaos on the last night

July 27, 1999


ROME, N.Y. -- The Woodstock '99 site looked like a war zone Monday: twisted metal from a sound tower lay on the ground, litter blew in the wind, the charred remains of 12 storage trailers still smoldered.

Promoters stopped short of calling it a riot, but the Sunday night melee, at the end of the weekend music festival, left five people injured, seven under arrest, and caused thousands of dollars in property damage.

The chaos began late Sunday, after the Red Hot Chili Peppers finished its set, the final act of the three-day show. As a tribute to Jimi Hendrix played on a giant screen, dozens of people in the crowd used "peace candles" that had been distributed to set fire to an overturned car.

From there, Woodstock descended into chaos as bands of young men, inspired by the car fire, used lighters to start fires to vendors' trailers.

Tents and booths were destroyed, concert light stands and a speaker tower were toppled and a mob tried to destroy a radio station truck.

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

New York State Police Superintendent James McMahon estimated that 200 to 500 youths took part in the rioting, as thousands more watched and cheered. The mostly peaceful music festival had drawn 225,000 fans to the former Griffiss Air Force Base.

Some concertgoers cited high prices and poor conditions as reasons for the change in mood. Vendors were charging $4 per bottle of water; portable toilets weren't cleaned; the tarmac was littered with refuse; the security force did not do its job.

"The mood deteriorated because of the ...cost, the lack of food, the lack of water and heat exhaustion," said Tom Pilette, 31, who divides his time between Eastpointe and Los Angeles.

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?" said Ruth Mahorn, 36, of Binghamton, N.Y., as she walked away.

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

There were hints throughout the weekend that the Woodstock '99 vibe had little to do with peace and love. On Saturday, three aggressively heavy rock bands -- Limp Bizkit, Rage Against the Machine and Metallica -- closed out the evening with successive, testosterone-fueled sets.

Doug and Eric Cornell of Corunna, west of Flint, made the trek to Rome to do promotional work for the Internet music site amp3.com, which provided Web access to concertgoers through much of the weekend. By Sunday morning -- with still a full day of music ahead -- the Cornells said they knew it was time to pack up their equipment, worth several hundred thousand dollars.

"My brother said it was the fear in the security agents' eyes," Doug Cornell said. "It was post-apocalyptic. There were no rules out there."

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