The time Green Day started a mud riot at Woodstock ‘94

Woodstock '94 was advertised as ‘3 Days of Peace & Music,’ but the festival turned out to be anything but for Billie Joe Armstrong and Green Day.

The pop-punkers have long since garnered a reputation for fronting an aggressive, anti-establishment style of punk rock throughout their career. Notwithstanding the countless iconic moments they now hold to their name, no incident perhaps represents this image more than Green Day’s muddy encounter with the stage-invading crowd of Woodstock ‘94.

The festival was a commemorative 25th anniversary of the infamous 1969 spectacle. Lineups featured both Woodstock veterans such as Santana and Joe Cocker, and newer bands such as the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Cypress Hill.

Thus, with anticipation high, nearly 400,000 people attended the event, despite ticket sales making up less than half of the attendees. According to Green Day drummer Tré Cool, tensions were high from the start for this very reason, as animosity brewed between those who had paid and those who had not.

As had been the case over the course of the weekend, torrential rain had turned the New York fields to muddy terrains that were becoming untenable, leading to the moniker ‘Mudstock’. Nine Inch Nails had appeared the day before covered head-to-toe in mud after a backstage wrestling match, whilst Primus’ set foreshadowed Green Day’s troubles as crowds had sporadically pelted mud at the band; an incident which led to bassist and singer Les Claypool branding those who threw mud as those with ‘small and insignificant genitalia.’


A band still in their commercial infancy, Green Day were to headline the subordinate South Stage on the festival’s closing day. With the majority of festival goers opting to instead attend Bob Dylan’s long-anticipated set on the pre-eminent North Stage, Green Day were left performing to a markedly younger audience.

In an already liberatory atmosphere, a crowd of teenagers and young adults not bound by supervision nor responsibility was the perfect setting from which anarchy could emerge.

READ MORE: ★★★★★ Trainwreck: Woodstock ’99 review | A chilling autopsy of rock music’s deadliest weekend

And emerge it did. Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong was provocative from the start, asking the already-rowdy crowd ‘How are you doing, you rich motherfuckers?’ Soon after, during the performance of ‘When I Come Around,’ members of the audience began to lob handfuls of mud at the lead singer. The set would continue, as would the mud, as several attempted stage-invasions were thwarted by security.

Then, nearing the end of the group’s 35-minute setlist, Armstrong abandoned his guitar in favour of hurling mud back at the lawless crowd. Noticing the frontman’s embrace of the crowd’s antics, the band’s rhythm section would segue into a rendition of Twisted Sister’s ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It,’ as pellets of mud continued to rain down on the performers.

As the anarchical atmosphere continued to heighten, Armstrong once again antagonised the audience, pulling down his pants and calling them ‘mud hippies.’ This scene would not only prove the signal for Green Day to evacuate stage, but would later become the subject of a ‘hate letter’ sent to the frontman by his own mother, expressing her disappointment at her son’s ‘disrespectful and indecent’ actions. Indeed, despite the singer’s evident involvement in the chaos, he would later describe it as ‘the closest thing to anarchy’ he’d ever seen, and that he ‘didn’t like it one bit.’

READ MORE: ★★★★☆ Saviors review | Green Day get toes tappin’ at the American Dream’s funeral

Yet just as the band was exiting the stage, and festival-goers were invading, things turned from bad to worse. As the group rushed off stage, a security guard mistook bassist Mike Dirnt for a rioting festival-goer, and in turn would punch him clean in the jaw, knocking his front teeth out and sending the Green Day member on an emergency orthodontist trip. 

Whilst recognition for Green Day was rapidly growing at the time of Woodstock ‘94 – Dookie had been certified Gold in the US in June that year – the incident would further aid in propelling them into superstar status. The show was viewed by millions worldwide, meaning the episode had a far greater reach than the near 400,000 at the New York campsite. Dookie would go from #19 on the Billboard Top 100 before the show to #4 in its aftermath. And from then on out, the punk-rock band would not look back.  

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