Let's Talk About Woodstock '99

Event safety has always fascinated me. As an aspiring rock n roller (surely there is still time for me to become a famous rock god at 35?) I grew up attending ear shattering gigs and festivals where I was probably lucky to escape relatively unscathed. However watching the recent Netflix documentary “Train wreck: Woodstock 99” I was still amazed at some of the flagrant safety and infrastructure issues shown during the three-episode arc. (Warning spoilers ahead).

For those not in the know, Train wreck documents the setting up of the Woodstock 99 festival – an attempt to hark back to the days of peace and love of the 60’s during the frat boy/ladette culture of the 90’s (what could go wrong here?).

Anyone with any sort of musical history knowledge knows that the original Woodstock was not without its own infrastructure and safety issues. One teenager died at the original Woodstock after being run over by a tractor, another from a drug related injury. Also famously Hendrix wanted to headline and play last, but although he was booked for midnight on Sunday he ended up playing on Monday morning due to major delays caused by technical issues and weather (and the rumoured half a million strong crowd had petered out to around 200,000 by then).

However surely by the late 90’s we had learned our lessons and come on leaps and bounds in regard to safety? Well watching the Train wreck documentary would suggest almost the exact opposite.

I won’t give everything away (do go and watch it yourself, as it was a real eye opener into event safety issues as well as an excellent trip down memory lane for those of us fond of the Nu Metal sound prevalent back then) but Woodstock '99 was plagued with issues from the forefront, that seemed to be exacerbated by a lack of care for the wellbeing of the attendees by festival organisers.

There were multiple issues including price gouging on water (up to $12 a bottle by the end of the festival) causing major heatstroke in thousands of teenagers. This combined with the lack of sanitary facilities meant that drinking water at the festival became contaminated with human faeces causing an outbreak of Trench mouth, something much more common during the first world war than the 90s. By the end of the second day attendees were well and truly fed up and (whipped into a frenzy by Limp Bizkit) began to cause major damage at the site, pulling down sound towers and wooden fencing panels. And by the third day a staggering idea to introduce flames to a group of disenfranchised youths (watch to find out who’s bright idea that was!) meant that the festival ended in flames and almost ruin.

The event organisers were keen to blame everything from the teenagers to the artists. In fact Promoter John Scher said:

"You had a cheerleader in Fred Durst, who, if I haven’t said enough times, is a complete a**hole. Fred Durst was a moron. He was out of his mind. He was completely out of his mind".

Event organisers failed to take on any accountability for anything themselves, where as to me (as a spectator) it seemed clear that everything that happened was as a result of the organisers putting the safety and wellbeing of everyone at the absolute bottom of their priority list.

I would like to think that event safety has come on leaps and bounds in the 23 years since this event (oh gosh am I actually that old? I’m just pausing here briefly for an existential crisis) and this would certainly seem true based on the numerous leisure and hospitality clients that we work with. But I would love to hear from you! Anyone here that has been involved in event safety (or similar) and has potentially watched the documentary or read about it (or attended it even) I would love to hear your thoughts on the differences apparent in festival planning during the 90s and the modern day. (and if anyone wants to invite me backstage to Glastonbury or similar to see safety first hand please feel free!).

To continue the conversation (or offer me free festival tickets) comment below or email laura.aucott@hserecruitment.co.uk

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