New HBO Documentary Recounts the Horrors of Woodstock ’99

New HBO Documentary Recounts the Horrors of Woodstock ’99

22 years after the fact, Woodstock ’99 continues to teach a lesson more powerful now than ever: do not forget history, nor view it through rose-coloured glass. 

Woodstock ’99: Peace, Love and Rage tells the stomach-churning tale of a reprise gone horribly wrong–the three-day “sequel” to the legendary 1969 music festival held in upstate New York. Woodstock ’99 was its ancestor’s antithesis in virtually every respect: a perfect storm of violence, looting, and toxic masculinity that continues to live on in infamy to this day. Over one mere weekend, the event led to three confirmed deaths, more than a thousand admissions to nearby medical facilities, 44 arrests and multiple accounts of sexual assault. What was meant to mirror the peaceful communion of the original Woodstock instead became known as “The day the ’90s died.” Onlookers could only watch in horror, as a decade quite literally went up in flames. 

Director Garret Price has no qualms about highlighting the contrast between the original Woodstock, and the failed ’99 iteration. The film opens with scenes from 1969, before crashing into the chaotic landscape of the festival’s twisted descendent. In an interview with Variety, Price elaborated on the significance of this contrast, stating: 

“It was important to go back to 1969, set it up, and use that as a framing device and the mythology around Woodstock and the Woodstock name. I feel like a lot more people feel like they were at Woodstock because they saw the film and felt that they were there, but I also had a lot of cultural context that I wanted to introduce throughout the film.”

Co-editor Avner Shiloah chimed in, as well. 

“That opening was the first thing that he put together, and we were off to the races. It was so smart to introduce that clip from 1969, because it just tells you so much, the contrast between theology and reality.”

The film features archival footage from the event–a surprising feat, considering 1999 was a time well before the advent of digital cameras and smartphones. Price worked alongside a specialized archivist to sift through videos taken via handicams, from attendees on the ground. Price notes that the on-screen behaviour of festival-goers was markedly different from what one might expect today–in an age before social media, people seemed to think less about the longevity of their actions, or the possibility that anything caught on film might survive for future generations to judge. 

Woodstock ’99 is HBO’s inaugural instalment in a series of Bill-Simmons-produced docufilms entitled Music Box: a project aiming to explore “pivotal moments in the music world.” Additional instalments will begin airing in late Fall of 2021, including Jagged: an exploration of Alanis Morrissette and her album Jagged Little Pill, and Mr Saturday Night: an in-depth look into the legacy of Robert Stigwood, and his impact on the disco era. 

Woodstock ’99: Peace, Love and Rage premiered on HBO Max on July 23rd–marking the 22nd anniversary of the festival. It is currently available for streaming.