Word comes over the walkie-talkie, and the scramble begins. ”They’re hidin’ in the swamp,” says Chris Cruz, decked out in a rent-a-cop’s black slacks and blue shirt. ”We’re gonna bring ‘em out.”
It’s Saturday afternoon at Winston Farm. A year ago, from Aug. 12 to 14, this field in Saugerties, N.Y., looked like a shantytown — a trash-strewn, muck-sloshed gathering of 350,000 people wallowing in the extravaganza of Woodstock ‘94. Today the pasture is clean and empty, its only music the chatter of crickets and birds. And those walkie-talkies.
All weekend, Woodstock ‘94 survivors have been sneaking through the woods to set up camp; Cruz and three other security guards are here to kick them out. ”It’s a real bummer, because these people don’t realize they can get arrested,” sighs Cruz. Moments later, two Woodstock pilgrims, Keith Shocker and Lance Herbert, stride across the tawny expanse. Cruz ushers them into a black Saab and escorts them off the property.
What made them come back to Saugerties in the first place? ”Memories,” says Shocker, a 24-year-old warehouse worker from Yonkers. ”It was important to me. It was the best time I’ve ever had.”
Shocker may cherish memories of the mud bath, but some investors are simply taking a bath. PolyGram, which sank a reported $35 million into the festival, admits that it lost $10 million on the gamble — and would not do it again. PolyGram was betting on a series of Woodstock tie-ins, but most of the spin-offs have spun out. The Woodstock ‘94 album stiffed at No. 50 on the Billboard chart. The companion video stalled after selling 121,000 copies. (Yanni’s Live at the Acropolis has sold five times that amount.) And Oscar-winning filmmaker Barbara Kopple’s movie remains unfinished because funding temporarily dried up. ”Hopefully, you’ll see it this time next year,” she says.
To be sure, Woodstock ‘94 had its winners. A pay-per-view audience of 250,000 catapulted performers such as Sheryl Crow, Green Day, Live, and Melissa Etheridge to million-selling status. ”From a musical and cultural perspective, we hit a home run,” boasts John Scher, who produced the festival as president of Poly Gram Diversified Entertainment. ”More new acts exploded out of Woodstock in ‘94 than probably did in ‘69.” And PolyGram reaped its rewards indirectly, since many acts, such as Crow and Blues Traveler, came from the label’s roster.
But others didn’t fare so well. The hapless Spin Doctors and Blind Melon did their careers more harm than good with limp and clownish performances. And after a set with the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir, bassist Rob Wasserman tripped on a rope behind the stage and broke his arm. Wasserman, who was preparing to tour behind his album Trios, says the mishap ”pretty much destroyed” both the tour and album sales. He has sued Woodstock’s promoters for $10 million.
As for Scher, he left PolyGram last De cember to get back to promoting shows on his own; his division at PolyGram has been shut down. Even so, Scher calls Woodstock ‘94 ”the most exhilarating experience of my life” and denies that the festival hastened his departure. PolyGram agrees; a spokes person says that Scher and PolyGram parted ways because they had different opinions about whether or not Scher’s division should expand.