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'Trainwreck: Woodstock '99' - A Hellish Tour of Toxic '90s Youth Culture in America

Michael Lang has long been associated with Woodstock since his integral involvement with the iconic 1969 music festival. Immortalised as a symbol of peace and love through the ages, there was an attempt to revive the festival for modern audiences in 1994. Due to a number of issues, including poor infrastructure and subpar security, the dream wasn't realised and Lang decided to attempt another revival of Woodstock again in 1999.

Thirty years after the original, the 30th anniversary seemed like a good reason to celebrate the history and ideals of the first Woodstock. However, as docuseries Trainwreck: Woodstock '99 reveals featuring interviews with Jewel, Fatboy Slim and Bush frontman, Gavin Rossdale, it was not to be. Composed of three 45 minute episodes entitled "How the F**k Did This Happen?", "Kerosene. Match. Boom!" and "You Can't Stop a Riot in the 90's.", this damning behind-the-scenes tour uncovers Woodstock '99, a hedonistic binge fest of a music event that continues to haunt with its devil-may-care attitude and rampage of riot, rage, sexual assault and faeces. In some ways, an echo of HBO's Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage, Trainwreck goes deeper into the toxic culture of America in the '90s and how the insane festival ended in a cloud of smoke.

Trainwreck: Woodstock '99

Being 1999 with talk of the Y2K bug and the end or turn of the millennium, the world was already on edge. Hosting a music festival about love and peace for up to 200,000 fans may not have been the best idea given the Zeitgeist of the time. Putting about 186,000 young people on a "playground" campus without rules for 3 days is bound to result in mayhem and unfortunately whatever instigates it, some of the most primal urges are bound to come out. As shocking as it is... it's even more impactful when you get the full context of the underlying fury.

Watching live concert footage of Rage Against the Machine's performance from the time, which is actually missing from this documentary's final version of events, you can get a sense of the angst. Trainwreck: Woodstock '99 refers to their famed Killin' in the Name track with a reworked Rage track but actually focusses more on the likes of Korn and Limp Bizkit's performances in firing up the crowd.

The first mistake for festival organisers, Michael Lang and John Scher, was making it mostly about money. The 3-day event had a gross take of $28,864,748 based on the sale of some 186,000 tickets. Obviously arranging a music festival is not a non-profit enterprise, which requires months and even years of planning. However, Woodstock '99 was a bait-and-switch because it was coasting on the ideals of a brand name associated with hippie values. The concept of Woodstock is nothing like the 1999 event that unfurled and the momentary illusion came crashing down around the festival, its attendees, the performers and the organisers.

Failing to provide the necessary infrastructure in terms of safety and security, this festival has been lambasted for its many inadequacies in hindsight. Trying to host a massive 3-day music concert with nearly 200,000 people, you need to ensure that you keep everyone safe and well-provided for, especially when the festival is a law unto itself and so closely associated with excesses and public nudity. Passing a blind eye over happenings within the grounds, in spite of being relayed via live television footage, gave the attendees a sense of impunity.

Trying to maximise profits, you can be sure the organisers were trying to do what they could to minimise costs. This meant selling off the rights to provide food and drinks as well as hiring security personnel who were inexperienced or ill-equipped. Hiking the prices for food and water, Woodstock '99 found participants paying unreasonable prices for refreshments with basic items like water and hot dogs selling for $4. Not being able to bring your own supplies into the venue, this monopoly only fueled the anger and indignation of concert-goers.

Experiencing warm weather and being essentially locked into an old air base's grounds, the crowd needed water, even more so in light of the dehydration caused by drinking and narcotics. Relying on substandard water for drinking and makeshift ablution facilities, it's actually a miracle Woodstock '99 didn't result in more dire consequences.

Not providing adequate sanitation and infrastructure, the air base invited poor living conditions tantamount to the squalor of some of the worst refugee camps. Starting off well on Day 1 with spirits high, things naturally devolved as you'd expect in a mismanaged space inhabited by hundreds of thousands of people. Already infused with drugs and alcohol, Woodstock '99 was already powder keg situation with dehydration and tempers running short.

As if the conditions weren't bad enough, the cherry bomb on the top was the festival's epic line-up of bands. The '90s were famous for grunge music with hard rock acts riding teenage disillusionment. While Woodstock in 1969 was characterised by more low-key musical artists, this festival was the antithesis - boasting the likes of Korn, Limp Bizkit, Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Rage Against the Machine, some of the loudest bands with the most inflammatory lyrics.

Mosh pits are already a cesspit of aggression and Woodstock '99 effectively incited an already boisterous crowd. Just short of a riot, live footage shows just how active the festival goers were, a literal sea of people crowd-surfing and swaying in unison. Trainwreck: Woodstock '99 documents how the festival featured a great deal of nudity, substance abuse and was largely infiltrated by a toxic spirit. Relaying some rather hellish scenes with the aftermath compared to a war-torn Bosnia, it's no wonder this doomed event became the subject of two documentaries much like the infamous Fyre music festival.

Featuring extensive interviews with everyone from organisers, security, crew, performers, journalists and concert-goers, Trainwreck: Woodstock '99 offers a fairly comprehensive overview. Getting candid interviews with organisers, many of whom still see the event as an overall success, this docuseries provides a well-balanced retrospective in terms of the dizzying failure that caught world headlines. Inspired by Fyre, these documentaries are now seeing the festival for what it was in the cold light of day after more than two decades.

In spite of everything that went wrong, it's curious to note that some festival goers still regard Woodstock '99 with some nostalgia. While the overarching problems are easier to see from an bird's eye view and in retrospect, the substandard camping conditions and apparent lawlessness must have given its attendees a rare yet strong dose of reckless freedom. Some teenagers crave this kind of rebellious outpouring and ending with the concert goers essentially burning Woodstock '99 to the ground just seemed like they may have got the festival they wanted and ironically some of their best memories ever.

While the fictional Waynestock (now an actual festival's name) also didn't go to plan, it would be hilarious to see a Wayne's World 3 find Wayne and Garth gearing up to attend Woodstock '99. The cable TV show duo connected themselves indelibly with the '90s rock music scene with Wayne's World and Wayne's World 2 so it would be funny to see Mike Myers and Dana Carvey make a long-awaited return. They reprised their characters in some Super Bowl ads recently, proving they can still do it and there's still a fan base so who knows. Maybe taking it from a found footage perspective and given the renewed interest in the malfunctioned Woodstock '99 festival would give it just the right mix of ingredients for a rebirth.

As far as Woodstocks go, the dismal press from the '99 edition certainly buried any hope of another festival. Moreover, Michael Lang's passing in January 2022 means that it will definitely not be under his oversight. While that's probably a good thing, given the false starts of the '90s, the extensive coverage of the infamous Woodstock '99 may be just the tonic to have someone take a stab at it again. After all, based on the documentary findings and steep learning curve... it can only get better.