Inside the Music Pt 1: Woodstock ’94 vs. Summer Camp 2008

This is Part One of a two part post inspired while I caught some rest between sets at Summer Camp 2008. I propped myself up against a tree in the shade and starting reading Inside the Music, a book of artist interviews I came across recently written by pop culture writer Dimitri Ehrlich.

For this first post I’ve pulled a portion of his recounting of Woodstock ’94, where he vividly describes the horrible scene that more closely resembled a “war zone” than a rock concert. I share it with you because what I was reading was in such drastic contrast to the environment that surrounded me. The passage was also a stark reminder of how bad Woodstock ’94 really was and what can happen when a festival turns into a nightmare(and remember, this is, of course, a less-severe scene compared to what would happen five years later at Woodstock ’99 ).

In Part Two, I’ll share a portion of Ehrlich’s interview with Perry Farrell and explain how reading the interview brought some perspective and insight to some of my Lollapalooza and other Farrell concert experiences. Both posts will fit in nicely as a contextual primer as Lollapalooza 2008 is just around the corner in a few days.

As I sat among the crowd at Summer Camp and read Ehrlich’s Woodstock ’94 account, I glanced back and forth from the page to the generally relaxed and chillin’ Summer Camp crowd and thought about how something like both Woodstock scenes could even begin to happen at Summer Camp or any of the other festivals I’ve been to in the last few years. I also wondered how much of an impact the Woodstock disasters have had on planning and promoting of future festivals.

Ehrlich’s eerie, disturbing and unsettling account is below. And during his account he uses Farrell’s Woodstock ’94 performance as a segue into the interview, during which a younger Farrell, back in 1997, answers questions about his artistic vision, which after reading have forced me to revisit some of my past comments about Perry Farrell and his m.o. as a festival creator and performer. 20/20 hindsight always helps but not always a luxury when reviewing concerts.

“You haven’t really experienced true mud until you’ve slogged through a field where half a million white people have just spent forty-eight hours throwing the ultimate frat party in the pouring rain. The mud was mixed with sweat, urine, and beer and tromped into ghoulish oatmeal. Kids were running and diving head first into it. Line and line of young men who looked strangely like marines, leading face forward into the earth. It was unhygienic. One kid had a bloody lip, another had a gash on the bridge of his nose, but there was no concern for germs. A girl with no shirt was being photographed as she rubbed her muddy breasts together. A young hairdresser from Long Island stabbed a can of beer with a pen knife so she could drink it from a small puncture she’d made in the side. “It’s called a shotgun. It gets you drunk faster. I wanna get wasted.”

“The mud took on its own visceral beauty, like luscious chocolate icing that some benevolent baker had spread all over the earth….I was going to slush through the crud to test some of the Woodstock pizza, but the shit stink was burning my eyes….the collective grumpiness factor was reaching a threshold point (alcoholics can only goes so far to ameliorate conditions of prolonging physical unpleasantries, particularly when the misery is not only self-inflicted but in many cases cost $135 a ticket.) The odor was so severe that although I am allergic to cigarette smoke, I was begging my Quaker friend to smoke a cigarette and blow the smoke in my face. Cancer before shit death.”

“A disturbingly steady flow of bodies were being carried out on stretchers. Afterward, one of the directors of medical services said he would have preferred to have been in the Vietnamese or Korean War for those forty eighty hours.”

Usually I do bring a book to read at some point at a music festival when I’m looking for a moment of rest and sonic escape, but I was a bit ambushed by this tragic account and surprised at how much this serendipitous reading pertained to and contrasted my current relaxed and laid-back Summer Camp experience.

What I was reading didn’t even come close to resembling the environment that surrounded me, but the account did remind me how bad my fellow music fans can get and how destructive something as simple as a music festival can become.

Like Ehrlich, I began to wonder what was it that had ignited such destructiveness and brutality at a festival that was to promote peace and community. As fans, I know we bring a whole suitcase full of emotions to a show and some of us see the live show as a moment of release and some of us see the show as a moment of reflection—and usually it a small unruly minority that see it fit to work out their emotions in a fit of rage and destruction that cause fear and pain for everyone, fan and artist. Why does this happen? To answer that question I’ll have to talk more with my friends who are experts at understanding human behavior and psychology. I have a few theories, but I’ll get back to you after I talk with the experts themselves.

If you attended Woodstock ’94 or ’99 or any other festival that was a disaster, I’d like to learn about your account and hear your thoughts on why things like this happen. Leave a comment or drop me an email.

Coming up…

Part Two: Rethinking Perry Farrell.

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