Disturbing Photos That Tell The Story Of Woodstock 99’s Rage And Rioting

Published August 10, 2021
Updated August 11, 2021

Woodstock 99 was meant to be a three-day celebration of music. Instead, it deteriorated into a chaotic mess of human waste, sexual assault, fires, and rioting.

Cheering Fan Crowd Surfing At Woodstock 99
Acid Sign At Woodstock 99
Fred Durst Giving Woodstock 99 Crowd The Finger
Two Naked Muddy People At Woodstock 99
Disturbing Photos That Tell The Story Of Woodstock 99’s Rage And Rioting
View Gallery

It was the 30th anniversary of the most iconic music festival in the world. Like the original 1969 Woodstock festival before it, Woodstock 99 was meant to be a three-day celebration of "peace and music." Instead, it became a hotbed for sexual assault, heat exhaustion, and manmade infernos that triggered riot police.

Woodstock 99 was held July 22-25 at Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome, New York. More than 220,000 people attended, temporarily making Rome the third-largest city in the state. But organizers left them to combat 100-degree temperatures atop a tarmac runway virtually on their own. And $4 water bottles led to fiery tempers.

As chronicled in the HBO Max documentary Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage, the music itself had changed from the acid-induced psychedelia of the '60s to the rage-fueled resentment of the '90s. Multiple sexual assaults and rapes went unchecked as 700 people suffered heat exhaustion. Crowd members overturned cars and set them on fire.

In the end, outnumbered security and state troopers had to wrangle festival-goers across the charred remains of a what looked like a battle ground. And, as the Woodstock 99 photos in the gallery above showcase, while groups like Korn and Limp Bizkit scored the pandemonium, some security simply gave up.

Woodstock 99 — From Rock To Riots

Before the first note was played, Woodstock 99 already seemed like a cynical endeavor. Event organizers set ticket prices at the high price of $157 to see a lineup of acts with no obvious relationship to each other. Among them: Limp Bizkit, Alanis Morissette, The Offspring, The Dave Matthews Band, Sheryl Crowe, James Brown, Kid Rock, and DMX.

Fred Durst At Woodstock 99

Frank Micelotta/ImageDirect/Getty ImagesWoodstock 99 photos capture the mayhem of the event. Here, Fred Durst performs atop a piece of plywood that has been ripped from the venue walls and used to crowd surf.

It was a stark contrast to the cohesive lineup of the original Woodstock Festival. This was no unified bastion of anti-war artists who united their fanbases. And John Entwistle, the bassist for The Who and one of the only performers who had actually played the original Woodstock, was relegated to the "Emerging Artists" stage.

Few attendees has prepared for the heat wave. With bottled water priced out of reach for many and few public water stations, drinking fountain lines took hours. There was a 1.5 mile walk between the two main stages across sweltering tarmac, during which many people fainted from heat exhaustion. Tensions rose rapidly.

And the actions of Woodstock 99 performers didn't help. Insane Clown Posse caused a frenzy by throwing $100 bills into the crowd. Kid Rock had to end his set early after he told the audience to throw anything they could in the air and they began pelting him with water bottles.

Female artists, meanwhile, were met by chants to "show us your tits." On the ground, the scene was even more sinister. Festival volunteer David Schneider recalled seeing a 100-pound girl being pulled into a mosh pit — and violated by two men.

"Due to the congestion of the crowd, she felt that if she yelled for help or fought, she feared she was going to be beaten," the police report read.

Fire And Flags At Woodstock 99

Andrew Lichtenstein/Sygma/Getty ImagesPandemonium on July 25, 1999.

Even some musicians who have since positioned themselves against the misogynist chaos of the festival were less critical of the atmosphere at the time.

"In the dance area, where there were no rock bands, the vibe war terrific," said Moby, who performed at 1 a.m. on Saturday morning. "Unfortunately, I didn't get laid."

Woodstock 99 Photos Show A Dangerous Atmosphere

The 10,000 Woodstock 99 staff members, including 3,000 security guards, were aided by 500 New York State Troopers, although they proved largely unable to manage the crowd. Only 44 people were arrested. And by the end of the weekend, only half the security staff remained, many of whom had joined the rioting crowd. One person even drove a truck through the audience during Fatboy Slim's set.

It was during the festival's closing set by the Red Hot Chili Peppers that things turned truly anarchistic. Their cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Fire" saw aggravated fans light bonfires that turned into several infernos. People ransacked and looted vendor booths, tearing down merchandise and walls before burning the wreckage.

The riots weren't quelled until dawn on July 26, when reinforcements of state troopers were called in and formed a police wall. But by then, the damage was done. When city officials took stock, the site was a 1.5-mile long cesspit of mud, burnt plywood, human waste, and trash as far as they could see.

And the air, according to one MTV report, "smelled of burning garbage, as well as urine and feces."

Browse the gallery above to see the shocking Woodstock 99 photos that tell the behind-the-scenes story of "the day the '90s died."

After learning about Woodstock 99, read about the Altamont Speedway Free Concert marking the end of the hippie era. Then, check out 55 photos from history's most iconic music festivals.

Marco Margaritoff
A staff writer for All That’s Interesting, Marco Margaritoff has also published work at outlets including People, VICE, and Complex, covering everything from film to finance to technology. He holds dual bachelor's degrees from Pace University and a master's degree from New York University.