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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Love, Peace Go Down in Flames




ROME, New York -- Let's begin with the "how" before we get to the "why." On Sunday night at the former Griffiss Air Force Base, as what seemed like an enjoyable but uneventful Woodstock '99 drew to a close, 100,000 candles from a charity organization called Pax were distributed to concertgoers to promote peace.


As the Red Hot Chili Peppers performed, audience members used the candles to start bonfires, stoking them with giant pieces of the plywood perimeter fence, flammable trash in the area and even their own clothing. Naked men and women danced around and jumped through the flames, thinking that perhaps fire would be to this year's Woodstock what mud was to the last two.


When the finale, a Jimi Hendrix tribute, began, concertgoers actually stepped away from the bonfires to watch a video of the guitarist playing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at Woodstock '69. They gasped as a virtual image of Hendrix appeared on stage and then rose up into the sky. And then they looked around, confused, when they realized that was it, the show was over. The special guests rumored to be performing - the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Prince - never arrived.


Perhaps if the show had ended as it had the night before, with Metallica playing a boring set with three encores that slowly dissipated the audience, the flames could have been extinguished by the fire station on the base while the audience watched the stage. Instead, not only did the music on the main stage stop but a scheduled all-night rave was canceled by panicked promoters.


So the crowd turned its attention back to its bonfires, tipping giant speaker towers into the flames and setting tents ablaze. When security fled and police officers had not yet arrived, the crowd carried on: burning trucks, overturning trailers, smashing ATM's and raiding concession stands and even a first-aid tent.


Whom to blame? Let's blame the kids, because that's always who's blamed first. Mark Szczerbiak, 20, a body piercer from New Hampshire, walked away from the flaming trucks in a gas mask he had brought to the festival. "Our generation isn't about peace and love anymore; they're all about destruction and hostility," he said. "This is to show everybody that we're young and we don't care, just burn everything."


Next, let's blame the bands, because popular entertainment has always been one of society's favorite scapegoats. Some of the bands felt a successful show meant inciting the crowd to the brink of violence. The shock-rap group Insane Clown Posse stirred up its audience by throwing hundred-dollar bills at them and staged a violent fight with a man dressed as a police officer.


Now, let's blame the promoters. During the destruction and looting, audience members had the following complaints: expensive food, expensive tickets, expensive water combined with no tap water at certain hours on the campsites, minimally trained security, uninformed volunteers, short sets by bands, the near absence of trash receptacles or toilet cleaning, and a bad layout that had them walking great distances to get to concessions, tents or stages.


Next on the blame list is usually the media. Teenagers clustered around the phone trucks that hadn't been destroyed, calling home and telling their parents to watch them on the news. They flocked toward the few television cameras on site, standing on garbage cans with freshly made signs to get attention.


And, finally, let's blame the whole notion of Woodstock itself. Perhaps if this had not been called Woodstock, if there had not been a historical legacy to live up to (or to subvert), there wouldn't have been such destruction. There was a pervasive idea that if this generation has a Woodstock and nothing memorable happens, then it is not a memorable generation. So, with an acute self-consciousness, they made this Woodstock memorable. But what did they make their generation memorable for?