How was it? For anyone who survived the rain, madness, and filth of Woodstock ‘94, the question crops up incessantly. And it’s nearly impossible to answer. For three days, the estimated 350,000 who poured into Winston Farm dealt in extremes. Heaven and Hell. Music of sacramental beauty, and utter dreck. Moments of crushing misery and moments when the pain blossomed into exhilaration. Add it up and you have an event that was neither a success nor a failure. It just was.
But how was it? Muddy. Savagely muddy. Gray-brown gobs of mud swallowed everything. People swam in it, moshed in it, slept in it, threw it, ate it, and used it to inscribe graffiti on their flesh. ”It feels like being encased,” said Steve Asaro, a 26-year-old from Boston. ”Kind of slimy, kind of gooky, kind of kinky.” In keeping with that muddy motif, here is a splatter- painting of Woodstock ‘94’s peaks and valleys:
* The Stench. Woodstock reeked. Pizza crusts and boxes, beer, vomit, and excrement fermenting in the mud turned Winston Farm into an 840-acre latrine. ”El stinko, man!” said John Squires, who kept a eucalyptus-soaked bandanna wrapped around his face. ”The closer you get to the stage, the stinkier it gets.”
* The Turf War. That aromatic mush became a weapon during Green Day’s hyperkinetic Sunday afternoon show. Moshers showered the band with affectionate clumps of sod, and halfway through the set, singer Billie Joe playfully put down his guitar to retaliate. A free-for-all ensued, with freaked security chasing down stage-crashing fans.
”The band seemed to enjoy it a great deal,” said chipper Woodstock promoter John Scher-but Green Day’s manager had a different story. ”Nasty security guards” smashed three of bassist Mike Dirnt’s teeth, says Elliot Cahn. ”I’ve got a hurt guy in my band, so I gotta say I’m pretty bummed about it.” Coincidentally, Cahn performed at the 1969 Woodstock as a member of Sha Na Na. A comparison? ”Different times, different kids,” Cahn says. ”Crazy kids. Not so nice kids.”
* The Throng. At times, the crush of thousands felt like the slow march of the dead in Dante’s Inferno. Rivers of humanity inched between the tents and food stands at a snail’s pace, making ”Where’s Waldo?” the catchphrase of the day. When they weren’t warning people to stay away from the Felix the Cat acid, emcees repeatedly announced lost kids, some as young as 6. By Sunday, when the bus system backed up, the dam burst. ”I’ve had people beating on my door with metal chairs,” reported one frazzled driver. ”I’m outta here!”
* The Free Love. It wouldn’t be Woodstock without it, from shades-of-‘69 innocence to the Beavis and Butt-head drooling variety. One guy held up a sign that read ”Free! 100% all-natural hugs. Inquire here.” ”I’m picking up energy, bud,” he said. ”I’ve gotten hundreds of hugs.” A few feet away, two meatheads offered ”Free mammograms!” to passing women. Still, only a handful of people actually stripped down to their birthday suits-and usually for the cameras.
* The Dawning of the Age of Apocalypse. When a drizzle began Saturday around 3 p.m., an announcer decreed: ”Woodstock is official now.” But the christening truly kicked in during Henry Rollins’ hammerhead set, when a downpour strafed the stage like grapeshot. The barefoot Rollins fed off the wet punishment, the crowd fed off him-and the symbiosis lent the weekend its first whiff of urgency. That night, Nine Inch Nails turned that into chaos with their blistering industrial rock. Coated in mud, screaming, ”I want to f – - you like an animal,” Trent Reznor scraped the romantic glaze off the Woodstock Nation. The masochistic crowd lapped it up.
* The Poet Laureate. Others couldn’t muster the fire to wake up a noise- and rain-beaten audience. Spin Doctors met with yawns; Crosby, Stills & Nash sleepily harmonized through their set as if they were playing the Catskills Pumpkin Seed Festival. Ironically, the one old-timer to revive Woodstock’s magic was the legend who snubbed it the first time: Bob Dylan. Looking like some punk Doc Holliday, Dylan combined talent and the force of myth to create a ”moment” as genuine as it was rare. Churning out a string of classics, from a torrential ”All Along the Watchtower,” to a beatific ”Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” Dylan’s famous croak recharged the waning hours of the festival.
* The Media Frenzy. Faced with 1,200 journalists, a horde of publicists fluttered about the VIP zone-often with absurd results. When one handler tried to create a photo op between African singer Youssou N’Dour and Blind Melon frontman Shannon Hoon, both of them begged off. ”I don’t know you,” a puzzled N’Dour said to Hoon. ”What do you do?”
* The Rumors. They rose in outrageousness faster than the mud. ”Five people died in the mosh pit,” insisted one beefy guard. ”They drowned.” Crowd estimates zoomed from 150,000 to 500,000 to a million within hours. The Rolling Stones were going to play. Metallica was a no-show. Pearl Jam was playing the canceled show in Bethel. All untrue.
* The Message. Despite the passion that erupted on the Saugerties stages, the fest never acquired meaning. When David Martin, 44, attended the original in ‘69, he came with a low draft number-a sure ticket to Vietnam-and a budding sympathy for the counterculture. ”I thought my freedom was up,” he said. But Woodstock ‘94 lacked that charge of life-and-death drama. ”These kids don’t have anything to escape from,” Martin said. Fortunately, they know that. ”It’s just a concert,” opined Jennifer Klein, 23. ”It’s not about anything.”
If anything, it was about the experience-one both surreal and strangely heartening. Because for every moment of lunacy, there was a moment of generosity to match. On the dark road out of the site, a Communist tried to sell copies of The Revolutionary Worker to sodden, dirt-encrusted Woodstock ‘94 survivors. ”We need to make our world look more like this world!” he yelled, gesturing toward the field’s putrid jambalaya of mud and feces. On another road, a white van stopped to pick up lost strangers and take them back home. One of the rescuers, it turns out, was named Angel. *