`It's Woodstock without a soul'

Festival: Filmmaker bummed out by footage of consumerism, crudeness and vandalism. Not all pictures were so bleak.

July 27, 1999|By Tamara Ikenberg | Tamara Ikenberg,SUN STAFF

ROME, N.Y. -- Documentarian Scott Boyer is upset that the footage he acquired at Woodstock '99 is less about peace, love and music and more about beer, semi-naked women and fire. It may be a great formula for a Hollywood blockbuster, but it's not exactly a great tribute to the neo-Woodstockers who gathered at Griffiss Air Force Base this weekend.

"I came out here expecting something totally different," says Boyer. "People threw trash everywhere. It's Woodstock without a soul."

It's Sunday night, and he's aiming his video camera at the blazing tractor trailers set on fire by rowdy concertgoers. A murky orange fog hangs over the concert site. State troopers hustle in aggressively, and a swarm of concertgoers bolts away faster than people on hallucinogens should be able to.

Woodstock '99 ended in chaos for any number of reasons -- candles distributed before the festival-closing set or a horde mentality spiked with drugs and alcohol. There were plenty of troublemakers peddling crystal meth, chugging bottles of Jack Daniel's and crudely encouraging every female in sight to expose herself (which many did).

But other concertgoers wiled away their Woodstock peacefully, swaying to the tunes and making friends with tent neighbors.

To look around during a music performance was to grasp the whole needle-in-a-haystack concept. Meet me at the entrance to the west stage at midnight? Forget it. At Woodstock, once you were lost, you were lost -- a tiny tie-dyed speck in a tent- and drug-filled universe.

In the sticky, stagnant heat, deep red sunburns and blinding sweat were de rigueur. The walking didn't help, and with a mile and a half between stages, boy, was there a lot of walking.

And while you were walking, boy, was there a lot to see:

Such nice kids: Out of the throng of amped-up youngsters weaving their way toward the after-hour rave party Friday night, Nancy and Tom Hennessy are, how do you say, um old?

"We're over 40 and under 60," says Nancy Hennessy. "That's as good as it gets." She and her husband are Red Cross volunteers at the festival.

But their responsibilities are over for the day. They just want to "cruise."

They really dug Korn earlier in the evening and are looking for more excitement. Their two grown children think they're insane for volunteering at Woodstock. And the Hennessys would have never let their kids attend a concert like this when they were younger.

"We were just like Ricky Nelson and Ozzie and Harriett," Tom Hennessy says.

Suddenly, a breathless, cherry red-headed young woman approaches to ask for directions. Stephanie Merlino, 20, is lost.

Before they help her, they conduct a mini-interview. "Really happening, isn't it?" Tom Hennessy asks Merlino. "Once you get older and have children, would you let them come to something like this?"

Merlino shrugs and says, "If they wanted to."

The Hennessys tell her where the campgrounds are. She thanks them graciously. Such nice kids at Woodstock, the Hennessys agree.

The Hennessys walk away, and Merlino's eyes follow them briefly. Then she rolls her eyes, grunts and says, "Whatever."

A bigger mess: Standing in front of the drum circle in front of the rave hangar, across from the extreme sports enclosure, Jim Maher, 45, is floored by the number of things there are to do at Woodstock '99.

The sunburned postal worker, with tufts of white hair, was at the original Woodstock. And it wasn't as romantic as people envision.

In 1969, his tent and sleeping bags were stolen. Water and food were scarce. Hygiene was not an option.

"That was a mess," says Maher, of Rochester, N.Y. "This is a bigger mess."

The facilities and water supply are filthy and inadequate, in Maher's opinion. One thing he has been impressed with are the young fans.

He's not familiar with many of the acts at the festival, with the exception of Metallica and Dave Matthews. The one he's waiting for is Willie Nelson.

"He's got more outlaw in his little finger than anyone else does in this whole place," Maher says.

High adventure: Some people prefer exotic tropical resorts or maybe a whirlwind week in Paris for their honeymoon.

Tom and Jennifer King, ages 25 and 27, who eloped to downtown Buffalo on July 21, are spending it at Woodstock.

"We decided to get married as a justification for spending the money," Linda King says, laughing.

They're adorable together. They both have nipple rings. They're lovingly spreading sunblock on each other.

Woodstock was the perfect choice.

Wearing a purple shawl with watercolor suns and moons and little else, Jennifer King is the bride of Woodstock.

"It's an adventure," she says. "High adventure."

It's show time: Gavin Rossdale of Bush is working it like a sexy British rock star should, and the 100,000-plus East Stage crowd is going insane.

It must be quite a charge to play to such a throbbing sea of admirers, even if most of them can't even see him. At Woodstock, you didn't actually have to see the performers to appreciate it.

The real spectacle is the audience.

Fans who strayed from their friends weave in and out of the compressed crowd. They might as well get over their separation anxiety and enjoy the show.

One not-so-conscious woman looks particularly lost. She joins a group of friendly partiers who temporarily adopt her. Then, at the risk of getting trampled, she takes a seat on the ground and drops her head in her hands -- not a good method for seeing the show, which is now even sexier than Gavin Rossdale.

There they are, two girls perched on fellow fans' shoulders, being egged on by the trademark Woodstock exposure chant.

For the men of Woodstock, some things take precedence over rock and roll.

Pub Date: 7/27/99

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