Festival ends in flames as concert fans start riot

July 26, 1999|By Tamara Ikenberg | Tamara Ikenberg,SUN STAFF

ROME, N.Y. -- Peace and love went up in flames as Woodstock '99 ended last night.

Around 9: 30, about halfway through the festival-closing Red Hot Chili Peppers' set, concertgoers started lighting bonfires at the east stage. They knocked down a nearly 30-foot tower at the front of the stage.

About an hour later, state police started arriving. Vandals had set six tractor-trailers at the left side of the stage on fire. As the propane tanks exploded, onlookers hooted and hollered.

Fire trucks and police cars congested the roads behind the stage. Woodstock and state police officials made no comment, and no injuries were reported. The riot was reported under control by around 1: 30 a.m.

Several areas were closed off, and police guarded the vendor stands throughout the site.

"It was totally out of control," said Nick Brolin, 20, of Hartville, Ohio, who saw the destruction of the tower and the beginning of the bonfires.

"I'm leaving before something else happens."

Brolin was standing in front of the hangar where the nightly rave parties have been held. Many Woodstock participants had been directed toward that area by the police after the fires started.

People who had been rocking and partying since the concert began on Friday watched the blazes like a movie.

"It's like `Mad Max,' " said Sam Boyer, 33, as the tractor-trailers burned, sending billowing amber streaks into the night air. He was filming a documentary on Woodstock all weekend. "This is all about destruction."

Tony Mistretta, 30, who also saw the fire begin, said the candles distributed before the Red Hot Chili Peppers took the stage were a major contributor to the arson and looting. "Don't give candles to people on acid," he said.

"When it comes down to what Woodstock '99 was, this is what people will remember," Renee Lemieux said as she ducked a flying bottle and was struck by a pretzel. "It's actually scary." Other people who joined in the rampage toppled light stands and speaker towers and smashed bottles, while another group tried to destroy a radio station truck.

Many in the crowd simply watched the melee with a mixture of awe and disappointment, neither participating in the destruction nor condemning it. Several people blamed the chaos on Woodstock's organizers for setting high prices for the very soda and water that was whizzing by their heads.

"Four bucks a soda!" one young man yelled as he roamed about, holding up a carton of looted Coke bottles and offering them to anyone who wanted one. "Go on, we're here, might as well get ripped off!"

The New York Times contributed to this article.

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