225,000 having a hot time at expansive Woodstock '99

One death, one birth, few arrests at festival

July 25, 1999|By J. D. Considine and Tamara Ikenberg | J. D. Considine and Tamara Ikenberg,SUN STAFF

ROME, N.Y. -- Woodstock '99 is, in some ways, the biggest Woodstock of them all.

It has big stars, big crowds and big acreage. Most of all, it has big buzz.

Before the three-day festival was halfway through, Woodstock '99 was being dubbed by journalists, performers and audience members as "one of the greatest concerts in rock history" (a claim the promoters were quick to quote).

Not only did the festival boast some of the biggest names in pop music -- Kid Rock, Limp Bizkit, DMX, the Dave Matthews Band, Alanis Morissette and Metallica -- but it was also being cast as a pivotal event for Generations X and Y.

The festival's 225,000 attendees were acutely aware that pay-per-view cameras ringed the two main stages.

100 acres

With its stages, independent-film pavilion, vendor villages, campgrounds, extreme-sports park, backstage compounds and support-service areas, Woodstock '99 took up about 100 acres of Griffiss Park (formerly Griffiss Air Force Base). Audience members had access to a small fraction of that acreage, but for those making the 1.5-mile trek between the two main stages, the site is plenty big enough.

"It's the second day, and we still haven't been to the other end," said Tina Pitman, 19.

Pitman and Joel Deems, 29, of Philadelphia had studiously committed the landmarks surrounding their tent to memory: the blue tarp a few feet away and trees with orange cords wrapped around them. But the best tent-locating object was the huge American flag hanging near their outdoor digs.

"God bless whoever put up that flag," Pitman said.

The former Air Force base is enormous. Enormous as in the walk of nearly an hour between the east and west stages, assuming you know where you're going. Enormous as in so much time is spent walking from the public showers to the camping area that concertgoers end up looking and smelling as if they hadn't showered in the first place. Enormous as in campers nearly being driven to nervous breakdowns as they tried to find their tents in the sea of tents, lounge chairs and smashed pizza boxes.

"It's crazy to watch people have mental collapses looking for their campsites," said Tom King, 25. "It's a logistical nightmare."

The Buffalo native was honeymooning at Woodstock with his wife, Jennifer, who has a pink, green and blue lotus flower tattoo on her chest.

King, nipple-ringed and tan, takes a break from rubbing sunscreen on Jennifer's face to pull out a map of the campgrounds that he drew. "The map they give you is totally useless," he said.

The audience for Woodstock `99 is nowhere near as large as the storied "half a million strong" who attended the first Woodstock in 1969. But even though the number of concertgoers is smaller -- even smaller than at the 25th anniversary show in 1994, which drew an estimated 350,000 -- this Woodstock has the highest paid attendance of the three, mostly because the 12-foot-high fence surrounding the grounds has thwarted gate-crashing.

Few arrests

Woodstock '99 has been peaceful. At midday yesterday, New York State police had reported 16 arrests, mostly for driving under the influence or drug possession.

"We're really astonished at how few arrests we've had," said Maj. Mitch Pamley of the New York State Police.

A 44-year old Massachusetts man died of cardiac arrest "due to a pre-existing condition" (his name was being withheld pending notification of his family). There was one birth, at a nearby hospital.

As it was Friday, the weather yesterday was hot and humid, though a moderate cloud cover and a persistent breeze mitigated the heat. Despite a short cloudburst about 4 a.m., the site remained dry, and concertgoers were urged to wear hats and sunscreen and drink water regularly. By midday yesterday, more than 700 had been treated for heat exhaustion and dehydration.

Woodstock '99 has appealed to a broad range of rock 'n' roll interests. Friday evening, for instance, tens of thousands of fans packed the east stage area with eager to mosh to Korn's hip-hop-influenced heavy rock.

When the band finished, much of the audience left. Fans heading to see the next act -- alternative-rockers Bush -- must have felt like salmon swimming against the current. Yet, by the time Bush ripped into the raucous, raging "Machine Head," the east stage area was packed once again.

Although the two main stages drew the biggest crowds, there was also an audience for the festival's other attractions.

At midafternoon Friday, a substantial crowd gathered at the former hangar being used for "emerging artists," though some in the crowd might have been there more for the shade than for the music of Bijou Phillips.

Ten hours later, the hangar housed the first of three Woodstock raves (Moby was the featured act). Some in the packed, sweaty crowd undulated blissfully to the throbbing bass of the techno music. Others seemed to be merely curious and milled about the fringes like shy kids at a middle-school mixer.

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