The Woodstock 99 Disaster, In 33 Photos Of Chaos And Destruction
By Marco Margaritoff | Checked By John Kuroski
Published August 10, 2021
Updated July 15, 2022
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.
It was the 30th anniversary of the most iconic music festival in history. 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, property destruction, and manmade infernos that necessitated riot police. Get a glimpse of this chaos in the Woodstock 99 photos below, then discover the full story behind recent history’s most infamous music festival.
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Woodstock 99 was held from July 22 to July 25 and was the third Woodstock Festival after the original in 1969 and and another in 1994.David Lefranc/Kipa/Sygma/Getty Images
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Misogyny on the ground wasn't the only form it came in during Woodstock 99. The official website for the festival itself posted topless photos of women in attendance without their consent. David Lefranc/Sygma/Getty Images
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Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit had no qualms about inciting the crowd with songs like "Break Stuff." And although many in the media blamed him for the destruction that followed, he was likely unaware of just how chaotic things would become.KMazur/WireImage/Getty Images
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In grand tradition of the Woodstock Music Festival, ticket holders willingly covered themselves in mud as a temporary retreat from societal norms. Although some of these "mud" pits were actually overflowing human waste.John Atashian/Getty Images
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So many people in the crowd flashed Dave Matthews during his set, he was compelled to remark upon it, saying, “Today, there’s an abundance of titties.”John Atashian/Getty Images
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More than 220,000 fans attended Woodstock 99, temporarily making Rome, New York, the third largest city in the state.John Atashian/Getty Images
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Two fans wear Woodstock 99 bumper stickers on the final day of the festival.John Atashian/Getty Images
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So many people tried to sneak into the festival that one security guard said he was confiscating at least 50 forged passes per hour on the first day. John Atashian/Getty Images
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Rapper DMX had 220,000 people chant along with the chorus of his hit song "Ruff Ryders Anthem." KMazur/WireImage/Getty Images
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A heavy Canadian presence revealed itself during the festival's sets for Alanis Morissette and Tragically Hip, who were nearly run off stage when they tried to sing "O, Canada."Bernard Weil/Toronto Star/Getty Images
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Kid Rock demanded that the audience pelt him with plastic water bottles, presumably in an attempt to release some frustration about their high prices. But the crowd threw so many in the air and on stage that he had to end his set early.KMazur/WireImage/Getty Images
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Because of the lack of sufficient public access to water and long lines at fountains, some people broke the water pipes, flooding the ground and creating huge mud pits around drinking stations. John Atashian/Getty Images
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Fans attending Woodstock 99 packed their own glow sticks and spent the nights dancing. At the campgrounds, one police officer noted that it seemed like no one slept.Henry Diltz/Corbis/Getty Images
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A cannabis enthusiast bears (nearly) all.John Atashian/Getty Images
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Around 100 people agreed to pose naked for artist Spencer Tunick at the festival. The photographer made a name for himself by organizing more than 75 large-scale nude shoots around the world.Scott Gries/ImageDirect/Getty Images
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With ATM and water fountain lines taking hours, pizza costing $12 and water bottles $4, letting loose seemed to be the only affordable option for many fans.Frank Micelotta/ImageDirect/Getty Images
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Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea performed entirely naked, with only his instrument covering his instrument.Frank Micelotta/ImageDirect/Getty Images
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People gathering among the mud and garbage in between musical sets, although few seemed aware that the mud was made up largely of human waste.David Lefranc/Sygma/Getty Images
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The rage-fueled music onstage added to the harrowing conditions below. One festival attendee called his mother from a payphone on the last night of the show in case he didn't make it out, according to MTV.David Lefranc/Sygma/Getty Images
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Exhausted festival goers rested wherever they could after a three-day marathon of drugs, dehydration, and noise.Andrew Lichtenstein/Sygma/Getty Images
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Women who attended Woodstock 99 reported a dangerous atmosphere on the ground, and there were several reported sexual assaults and rapes during and after musicians played.Frank Micelotta/Getty Images
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The Insane Clown Posse used its set as an opportunity to toss $100 bills into the crowd, spurring a dangerous stampede.David Lefranc/Sygma/Getty Images
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Eric Boehm and Dana Avni of Michigan and Toronto, respectively, embrace after an adrenaline-fueled "mud bowl."Bernard Weil/Toronto Star/Getty Images
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After 72 hours of mass activity, festival goers left behind a mile-and-a-half of garbage.Andrew Lichtenstein/Sygma/Getty Images
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Once a few people learned that the "mud pits" by the portable toilets were actually filled with human waste, men took to urinating in it and dubbed it the "piss pool" — even as people continued to play in it.Henry Diltz/Corbis/Getty Images
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Woodstock 99 had 10,000 staff members on set, with 500 New York State Troopers attempting to impose some semblance of law and order. But by the end of the three-day festival, nearly half the security had disappeared into the crowd. David Lefranc/Sygma/Getty Images
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The fairgrounds are barely visible beneath a foot-deep layer of trash, shoes, and bottles at the end of the second night.Bernard Weil/Toronto Star/Getty Images
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After people began overturning cars and setting anything they could on fire, local law enforcement came to aid the State Troopers in their quest to quell the riots.Andrew Lichtenstein/Sygma/Getty Images
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Mob mentality took hold, with fans throwing virtually anything they could into the series of makeshift bonfires lit at the end of the final night.Andrew Lichtenstein/Sygma/Getty Images
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In the end, it was barely distinguishable whether the overcast sky was fog or leftover smoke.Andrew Lichtenstein/Sygma/Getty Images
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Many festival goers simply stopped in their tracks to sleep before launching their departure from the fairgrounds in earnest.Andrew Lichtenstein/Sygma/Getty Images
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The last attendees and rioters were finally cleared from the festival grounds by dawn the day after Woodstock 99 ended.Andrew Lichtenstein/Sygma/Getty Images
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Today, Woodstock 99 is remembered as "the day the nineties died."David Lefranc/Sygma/Getty Images
The Woodstock 99 Disaster, In 33 Photos Of Chaos And Destruction
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.
How Woodstock 99 Went 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.
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. Even the most harrowing Woodstock 99 photos could never capture the oppressive intensity of the heat. And with temperatures only going up, 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.
Andrew Lichtenstein/Sygma/Getty ImagesPandemonium on July 25, 1999, as captured in one of dozens of disturbing photos from Woodstock 99.
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 was terrific," said Moby, who performed at 1 a.m. on Saturday morning. "Unfortunately, I didn't get laid."
The True Anarchy That Even The Photos From Woodstock 99 Didn't Capture
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. These blazes quickly made for some of the most intense photos from Woodstock 99.
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."
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.