Woodstock '94: so far, it's fiasco-free On The Scene WOODSTOCK THE TRIP BACK

August 13, 1994|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

Saugerties, N.Y. -- After a half-million people descended on Max Yasgur's farm for the first Woodstock in 1969, someone boasted from the stage that the festival was the third biggest city in New York state.

Woodstock '94 isn't quite as populous as that (although no precise count was available, ticket sales were said to have passed the 200,000 mark by Friday evening), but it is more like a real city than its predecessor was. It has its own roads, housing, plumbing and it has its own police.

It also has its own problems, the largest being wasted space at the remote parking lots. Because some of the early arrivals did not park efficiently, some 20 percent of the available parking space was wasted, which forced the promoters to suspend ticket sales late Friday.

But on the whole, Woodstock '94 works amazingly well, with none of the food shortages or traffic trouble that made the first festival such a famous fiasco.

"It's usually the case that cities this size get built over hundreds of years. We built this one over a couple months," Joel Rosenman, one of the three promoters who organized both the original festival and the current one, said yesterday. "We're very happy it's working as well as it is."

Things got off to a muddled start Thursday, with no major problems but some annoying minor ones. Early birds wound up cooling their heels for as much as six hours when the gates opened at 6 p.m. instead of noon as promised. The elaborate system of color-coded wristbands was thrown into disarray when several bus loads of handicapped concertgoers were given the wrong passes. And, several hundred campers set up tents in the North Field before any of the organizers realized the tents were where listeners were supposed to go.

None of these were lasting problems, though. The early birds got in, the crowd-control staff was warned about the wristband problem, and tent-dwellers were being dealt with as gently as possible ("They'll be moved to allow access," Rosenman said).

Even the traffic situation seemed under control. Contrary to some news reports, there was no slowing on the New York State Thruway -- in fact, barely any sign of the festival at all, apart from signs indicating where the designated parking areas were. The only backups in Saugerties itself were where state police were checking to see that people had the proper passes to get in.

Most of the people attending the festival seemed surprised at how smoothly things were running. "I didn't expect it to be the way it is," said 18-year-old Jessica Mundy. Mundy, from Long Island, N.Y., arrived with wheelchair-bound Jessica Bogin, 18, at 4 a.m. Twelve hours later, neither reported any trouble in getting around the site. "I expected it to be more chaotic," said Bogin. "It's very organized."

Well, on a physical level, maybe. Musically, Woodstock '94 seems to be having as much trouble keeping to a schedule as the original did. Even though the music started fairly early yesterday morning, things were running an hour late by mid-afternoon.

Part of the problem was the number of local bands added to the bill at the last minute, a move that might have been meant as a goodwill gesture by the promoters but was greeted with indifference by the audience. (Believe me, you've never heard a smattering of applause until you've heard 100,000 people smatter).

Still, some of the acts were actually happy with the delay. "It's great for us," said Doug Pinnock of Kings X. "We had been scheduled for quarter of eight, when it's only just getting dark. This way, we get the lights."

As for the crowd, it perked up precisely at 3 p.m., when the sun came out and Peacebomb came on, whipping up a sound hard and funky enough to get a sizable mosh pit going in front of the stage. The moshing continued throughout the afternoon, regardless of whether the act on-stage was playing thrash, rap or even folk rock (believe it or not, there were actually people moshing to Orleans).

Naturally, some bands got better reactions than others. Although the crowd seemed to appreciate the rhythmic vitality of the Goats, its political content seemed almost out of place in Woodstock's party-hearty atmosphere; consequently, the streaker who cut across the stage midway through "Rumblefish" got almost as big a reaction as the song itself.

But that bit of nudity was nothing compared to what Jackyl frontman Jessie Dupree offered. Toward the end of his set, the singer not only dropped his trousers, but proudly put himself on display. Twenty-five years ago, that would have been a scandal; Friday afternoon, Dupree was no big deal.

As for the scene, it ran the gamut. Most of the attendees were young, white and casually dressed, with most of those on the lawn at the North Stage dressed in shorts, T-shirts and halter tops. But there was also a sizable contingent of listeners old enough to have been at the last festival, as well as a few young enough to constitute a third generation.

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