Grin and Bare it

Traffic congestion and scorching heat did nothing to douse the mood at Woodstock, where, for party-ready young men and women, shirts and shoes are optional.

July 24, 1999|By J.D. Considine and Tamara Ikenberg | J.D. Considine and Tamara Ikenberg,SUN STAFF

ROME, N.Y. -- In 1969, Woodstock meant soaking rains, total confusion and hippie bliss. In 1999, Woodstock means blistering heat, efficient organization and raging hormones.

"This is not your ordinary Woodstock," said Joe Griffo, mayor of Rome, N.Y., as the 30th anniversary version of the festival opened in his city yesterday.

As many as a quarter of a million music fans were expected to make the trek to upstate New York to attend the three-day festival, in order to catch performances by such stars as Metallica, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Alanis Morissette, Rage Against the Machine, Limp Bizkit and others.

Like its celebrated predecessor, this Woodstock still considers itself to be a celebration of "peace, love and music" -- even as it is being held at a place where cruise missiles and B-52 bombers sit proudly on display. Still, the mood inside the festival was more like a frat party than a love-in. Much of the crowd was young and body-pierced; drinking, drug-taking and breast-baring were among its favorite activities.

Woodstock officially got under way at noon Friday, with a performance by legendary soul singer James Brown. Given the audience's youth, Brown made an odd choice for the starting slot (many of these kids' parents weren't even born when Brown had his first hit in 1956). But once he hit the stage and got into his act, the crowd reacted enthusiastically -- even if the loudest applause was for his Jimi Hendrix tribute.

Nonetheless, the mood was mellow among audience members. Perhaps that was why Mayor Griffo expected things to go so smoothly. "A lot of people doubted if all the planning could be realized," he said at a pre-show news conference yesterday. "This is working."

Well, "working" probably wasn't the adjective fans would have chosen as they waited in line or in traffic to get in. People began arriving at the site early Thursday, and by nightfall, traffic leading into Griffiss Park -- the former Air Force base where the festival runs through Sunday -- was backed up for several miles. Still, the wait didn't dismay the young people who attended. "They say getting there is half the fun, and you can believe it," said Jim De Zego, 26.

De Zego was basking in the scorching sun with old friend Ricky Ratsch, 19, both from Long Island, and new friend Colleen Allard, 24, from Boston.

"We met in traffic," said Allard, a makeup-free Woodstock princess with a honey tan, sparkling aqua eyes and a turquoise necklace to match.

"I jumped into her car because she looked lonely," De Zego explained. "But she had a guy in the back."

For the time being, though, she was hanging with the boys from Long Island. They both were hoping that she would mosh with them later, perhaps during Korn or Limp Bizkit. But Allard had her reasons for resisting the pit.

"I don't want my clothes ripped off," she said.

"OK, then. We'll take them off gently," De Zego said.

Many young people had no such qualms. At both the east and west stages, a mile-and-a-half apart, numerous female fans bared their breasts for the bands -- not to mention the Pay-Per-View and video-screen cameras.

With temperatures in the 90s, it was no wonder both men and women wanted to take their clothes off. Officials reported several hundred cases of heat prostration by mid-afternoon.

Securing the grounds

Fans fought the heat in various ways. Inside a tent, a napping fan lounged on a leopard-print pillow, the sunlight reflecting off her tongue ring. Others took long breaks at the water centers throughout the campgrounds. At communal fountains, they dunked their heads, slicked back their hair and dumped bottled water on themselves.

Both the original festival and the 25th anniversary concert in 1994 were besieged by gate-crashers, as hundreds of thousands of fans without tickets pulled down fences to get onto the site. So far, that hasn't been the case at this Woodstock, where a 12-foot fence and heavy security presence ensured that nobody got in who hadn't paid.

"So far, we've only had one person try to climb the fence, and he was a ticket-holder who just got tired of standing in line," said security chief Mitch Donohue early yesterday. Police reported only three arrests by early last night, most for traffic violations.

Fans arrived at the festival every way imaginable: by car, by plane, by bus, by train -- even by thumb.

Kelly Vaccaro, 18, and her boyfriend, both from Binghamton, N.Y., paid a gas station attendant to take them to Griffiss from Sherrill, N.Y. They planned on walking the 18 miles from Binghamton. But after 6 miles, and dropping nearly all their food by the side of the road, they surrendered.

Vaccaro's cutoffs had been full-length jeans earlier that day, she said.

"It's too much of a party environment," Vaccaro said of the Woodstock crowd. "I love being here. But I don't know why some of these people are here."

Vaccaro wasn't the only one dismayed by the frat-like mentality and aesthetic.

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