Not the age of Aquarius

Woodstock '99: Repackaging a storied concert into an uninspired summer institution.

July 27, 1999

WOODSTOCK'S third reincarnation was a party that ended with a riot. The music festival at the former Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome, N.Y., did not resemble the Age of Aquarius. Nor did anyone expect it would.

The original Woodstock has, the truth be told, been sentimentalized beyond reality. The concert at Max Yasgur's farm featured some of rock music's biggest stars -- Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Joan Baez. The 350,000 youths who attended the event -- and the millions who didn't, but now act as if they did -- genuinely believed their presence and behavior at that concert changed America.

In retrospect, we know that Woodstock was a memorable countercultural event, but it didn't change society. Concertgoers put up with a shortage of food and an abundance of rain and mud. A spirit of shared misery and some memorable performances have been inflated beyond their importance. But that is the case with most youthful excess.

Woodstock '99 -- and earlier versions in 1994 and last summer -- were too contrived and commercialized to assume the transcendence assigned to the original. Nevertheless, for the 200,000 who came to Rome, N.Y., this past weekend will be a memorable moment in their lives. They will recall the crush of people, the heat, some notable performances by bands most baby boomers don't recognize, such as Limp Bizkit and Rage Against the Machine.

For those whose generations aren't named for alphabet letters, however, Woodstock '99 won't hold any more significance than the original did for those who were older than 30 at the time -- the age at which adults were deemed no longer trustworthy by their children. The commemorative Woodstocks are at best insipid promotional events that won't come close to the exalted status of seminal countercultural milepost.

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