Woodstock. When you think of that word, you think of almost everything that defined the 1960s. You think of great musicians from Jimi Hendrix to Creedence Clearwater Revival. You think of hippies using free love to protest a military industrial complex that was sending young people by the thousand to die in Vietnam. And you think of a shit-ton of drugs.
It’s amazing that Woodstock continues to be such a mythical name though, when you consider that the festival’s been horribly handled since day one. The original 1969 event wasn’t meant to be an anti-capitalist free-for-all, but a ticketed, money-making event – only, they forgot to put the fence up. In 1994, a 25th-anniversary resurrection that featured Green Day and Metallica failed catastrophically when more than half the audience snuck in. Then there was Woodstock ’99.
It should have been a slam dunk. Woodstock founder Michael Lang and promoter John Scher corralled the biggest musicians in the world – Korn, Limp Bizkit, James Brown, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against the Machine and more – for three days of catharsis in the sun. Instead, 250,000 festivalgoers ignited fires and rioted. Five rapes were reported and three people died. Countless asked: “What the hell happened?!” And now, Jamie Crawford’s new Netflix miniseries answers in chilling detail.
Neatly divided into three episodes (one for each day of the festival), Trainwreck: Woodstock ’99 lets the horror escalate in much the same way it would have done on that scorching New York airbase 23 years ago. Dozens of talking heads form the backbone of the series, and Crawford was wisely diverse in his selection.
The director interviews journalists, fans and security guards that were on the ground for all three days, as well as upper-management suits like Scher and Lang, three months before the latter’s death in January 2022. Festival performers from Fat Boy Slim to Korn frontman Jonathan Davis also lend their two cents.
It’s these peoples’ perspectives alone that guide us through the mayhem of Woodstock ’99, as the film foregoes voice-of-god narration or placing Crawford front and centre. The result is that Trainwreck not only recaptures the events of the festival, but also the incessant finger-pointing that they inspired.
In much the same way observers alternatively attacked Limp Bizkit, the promoters or those dang kids and their heavy metal, the interviewees are split. Junior staff blame their bosses, bands blame different bands, and the organisers blame one another.
That said, some emerge grubbier than others. Scher is the closest thing there is to a villain, as he admits he knew almost nothing about the acts he booked. He also overruled every other Woodstock higher-up to make the venue a summertime festival Griffiss Air Force Base: a runway with no shade whatsoever. All the while, Lang comes across as the clueless lackey, blissfully unaware of the scale of the madness he co-curated.
The soundtrack and footage is just as barebones as the presentation of the interviewees. Trainwreck largely relies on two-decade-old handheld camera clips to depict the horrors of the weekend, yet what it captures is graphic, comprehensive and impactful.
Serious injuries and sinister sexual encounters (such as when a crowd of men gathers ever-thicker and closer around a half-naked woman) carry an uncomfortable and all-too-real intimacy. Combine that with the music, which only truly stands out when it’s audio of bands playing at the festival, and you have a no-frills account that frequently feels distressingly raw.
Trainwreck is equally a candid dive into the depths of unchecked violence and a grim view of the consequences when the oblivious and greedy are responsible for hundreds of thousands of people’s wellbeing. It’s a powerful statement that Woodstock ’99’s oversights should never happen again – not to mention an in-depth, and at times gruelling, exploration of every single reason why.
Trainwreck: Woodstock ’99 is streaming on Netflix from 3rd August.