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