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The Battle of Woodstock 99 Documentaries – Who Did It Better?

With the success of documentaries about Fyre Fest and Woodstock ‘69, it was only a matter of time that the topic of the 1999 revival attempt of the beloved festival would be breached, especially given the disastrous story surrounding it. Interestingly enough, two documentaries about Woodstock 99 have come out in the last year. Woodstock 99: Peace Love and Rage was put onto HBO Max last summer on the 22nd anniversary of the event, but I only just watched and reviewed it a few months ago. You can check out that review here. It lined up well that I waited however because Netflix released their documentary about the event called Trainwreck: Woodstock ‘99 just a little over a month after I’d watched HBO’s documentary. With them lining up so close together and with the gripes I had about how HBO handled some of the subject matter, I decided to check out Netflix’s take on the event. So, here are my thoughts on Trainwreck: Woodstock ‘99 (shortened to Trainwreck going forward) and how it compares to Woodstock 99: Peace Love and Rage (shortened to PLR going forward).

Trainwreck: Woodstock '99 Image | The Stories Straight

Given how lately Netflix has been producing a massive amount of content on a weekly basis but only about half of it is decent quality, I wasn’t expecting much from this documentary. Looking at content on Netflix vs HBO, I find myself seeing better quality content over on HBO. But to my surprise when it comes to these documentaries, my point of view is flipped.

Maybe it’s because it’s a documentary and Netflix’s documentaries tend to have a higher quality compared to their movies and TV shows, but I came out of Trainwreck feeling a lot more satisfied than I did with PLR. There was such an antagonistic tone throughout PLR that it makes you feel hopeless about society, and to me, it did a lot more concertgoer blaming than I liked. Let’s compare some of the big takeaways I got from each documentary.

Peace Love and Rage: At the time of Woodstock 99, there were a lot of toxic white males in attendance who listened to angry nu metal and felt that the world owed them something, therefore, this destruction was inevitable with the type of crowd they brought in. Oh, and poor planning, corporate greed, yadda yadda.

Trainwreck: These hundreds of thousands of kids were promised a Woodstock experience and what they got was a cheaper version due to poor management and corporate greed. With little care for them as attendees, they became more frustrated by the mistreatment, and when the tension reached a breaking point, they released that anger.

Now, which of these sounds more accurate to you? While I agree with elements of both, the focused messaging of Trainwreck is better in my opinion. Because, while yes during that time, we lived in a society where men had an entitled way of thinking that they could do what they wanted and women just had to accept it (something the Netflix version also addresses), that is not the reason Woodstock ‘99 was a disaster.

While it can be argued that it was a variety of things creating the perfect storm, the bottom line is this: greed. While yes, the festival failed because of an uncontrollable crowd, and yes, some artists may have added fuel to that fire, there are plenty of rock festivals that do not end with riots. Why? Because they’re properly planned. They have the proper security, the proper resources, and the proper planning to manage a crowd. Woodstock ‘99 failed mainly because of poor planning due to the greed of the team behind it. They wanted to make as much money as possible, so they cut corners. This came at the cost of the safety and happiness of the attendees. Because Trainwreck focused on this aspect of the disaster instead of entertaining the idea that it could be the fault of the type of music and type of people there is why I feel it was done better than PLR.

Credit: Trainwreck: Woodstock '99, Netflix

Trainwreck interviewed a woman named Lisa Law who I think was a great addition to this documentary. She was a photographer, filmmaker, and Woodstock '69 attendee. She had many quotable moments but the ones that struck me were...

- While looking at all the trash in the area. “That is gonna be the downfall of Woodstock ‘99...Because these kids are not gonna be happy. We’re not taking good enough care of them. They wanted the Woodstock spirit.”

- “The kids are getting agitated. They about had with the trash, with the heat, with the expenses, and they’re going to do something about it...The kids had had enough.”

Both moments accurately capture the building tension in a way that doesn’t demonize the concertgoers but implores us to understand what drove them to that point, and I think that was a good way to approach this.

Lisa Law in Trainwreck: Woodstock ‘99. Credit: Netflix

Some other shocking accounts that were new information I don’t recall getting from Peace Love and Rage included...

  • The average price for a bottle of water in the late '90s was around 65 cents. At Woodstock '99, however, a single bottle cost a ridiculous $4.00, which then went up to $12.00 when vendors ran low on stock. (I knew the prices were hiked but not what the original costs were, my goodness).

  • A member of the Peace Patrol (the joke of a security service used at Woodstock ‘99) was one of many who were selling their yellow security shirts to random festivalgoers for some extra cash. One guy even said he wasn’t worried about selling his because he had another in his tent. Absolutely wild.

  • Joe Paterson, a public health investigator, examined samples of the drinking water available at Woodstock '99 and found that they were all severely contaminated with feces. He said, “The thought that people are out there, drinking this, exposing themselves, bathing in this stuff . . . It was like the worst nightmare."

  • One worker said this about the final day, "To give flames to an audience that is three days into being treated like animals . . . It was not a very smart decision,"

  • When the concertgoers were rioting, they were chanting Rage Against the Machine lyrics, “F*ck you, I won’t do what you tell me.” Which just sums up the reason for the riots perfectly. This was a good addition.

There were also some chilling quotes I wanted to call out because of how effectively they sum up the rioting.

  • “There was nothing to do but turn on the staff and venue...If the venue doesn’t care, why should you?”

  • “Once you become part of a herd, you become like animals. And all of these people were acting like animals...It’s mob mentality.”

  • “There was a palpable sense of anger, and it wasn’t just the overstimulated testosterone of young males at this point. Everybody was pissed off.”

By the end of both documentaries, one thing is abundantly clear. Scher and Lang still stand by their actions. They refuse to acknowledge any of their wrongdoings, including the severe budget cuts. Instead, they choose to blame the festivalgoers for what went down. They were wearing blinders, convinced it was a few bad apples when the anger behind that crowd was in a big way, their fault. Another thing both documentaries made clear to me was how awful of a person John Scher is. His out-of-touch and judgmental thinking is probably a big reason why this festival failed. There were multiple examples of lower-tiered workers expressing concerns during the event and he ignored all of them, even once telling one worker to shut up. The team behind this disaster refuses to admit that they’re partly responsible for its downfall. And that’s frustrating.

Michael Lang (Center) and John Scher (Right). Creator: Courtesy of Netflix | Credit: Netflix

What’s interesting is if you watch both documentary trailers, it seems like they’re going to be identical. The Netflix trailer even pandered to the same narrative that the HBO doc focused on. So it’s interesting how different they ended up being. You can check out both trailers below.

Woodstock 99: Peace Love and Rage Trailer

Trainwreck: Woodstock ‘99 Trailer

As a person who knew nothing about Woodstock ‘99 before watching both these documentaries, I think there’s important information in both if you’re a person who knows little on the subject. I’m happy that I saw both so I could get a clearer picture of this disastrous event. While the same topics were covered in each, both works managed to tell them in unique and different ways that I think makes both of them worth watching. BUT, if you don’t have 4 hours of time to set aside, I’d say Trainwreck: Woodstock ‘99 is the better of the two.

You can watch Trainwreck: Woodstock ‘99 on Netflix right now.

And if you haven’t seen Woodstock 99: Peace Love and Rage, you can check it out on HBO Max. And if you want to check out my review of this documentary, you can read it here.

Written by Kristen Petronio

Special thanks to this article which helped me pull some of the quotes I loved from the documentary.


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