I made the rash, dangerous decision to go to Woodstock ’99 with a single female friend after the male friends we had planned on attending with (including my husband at the time) bailed on us. We loaded up her white Pontiac and made the five hour trek up to Rome, NY, on a Thursday evening. We arrived at the grounds sometime around 3 a.m. Friday, and were directed to follow a long line of cars to a quickly filling field for parking. We pulled up into a space immediately next to an RV full of college-age men who clearly had been drinking for several hours. Our first introduction to Woodstock was an invitation to trade: beer for sex. We unloaded our camping gear from the trunk of the car as quickly as possible and followed the stream of people heading toward the event grounds.
After waltzing through “Security” (a bunch of tired middle-aged men in black tee shirts, casually glancing over the crowd and pulling aside the most obvious troublemakers) with several small bottles of Jack Daniels’ cocktails hidden in our sleeping bags, we hiked about another mile into the grounds before finding a place to pitch our tent. We did so fairly quickly and then hung out for a bit, making friends with the Canadian boys in the tent behind us (who had traveled from Toronto to see the Tragically Hip, and agreed to see Rusted Root with us on Sunday morning). Those Canadian boys kept a loose eye on us that weekend.
Sometime around 5 we went to bed for the night, and rose the next day before noon. I dressed quickly and sat down on the wooden split-rail fence just in front of our tent, snacking on some already warm Gatorade and pretzels for breakfast. I watched people walk by, noting in particular a group of three young women who were clearly struggling beneath the weight of their camping gear. One of the women lagged several feet behind her friends. As I watched them make their way down the main road of the camping area, I heard chanting coming from the other direction: a large group of young men, one of whom was carrying a make-shift sign that said “SHOW US YOUR TITS,” were approaching. I jumped off the fence and backed up toward the tent, still watching. The group of men, echoing their sign with a chant, approached the trio of girls. The first two girls managed to sidestep the group, but the third girl was completely swallowed up by them.
Suddenly, a cheer went up from the group of men in front of me. One of the two girls who had managed to avoid the crowd realized they were missing their friend, and she dropped her camping equipment. She pushed her way through the group, and after a few minutes, pushed her way back out – dragging her friend, the third girl, by the arm.
This girl, who had been wearing shorts, a teeshirt and a pair of sneakers, had been assaulted. Her tee-shirt had been ripped off of her, she was missing a shoe, and the waistband of her shorts had been torn. She was crying as her friend pulled her along.
I stayed another day. I saw a few shows, mostly was able to avoid trouble, got a nasty sunburn and quite possibly sunstroke. Saturday, I lost my friend for about an hour when we attempted to get a drink at the water fountain: we got separated, and when I turned to find her, I realized I was packed in on all sides by several hundred people, all trying to get some fresh, cool water. When I finally found her, I insisted that we leave immediately.
I watched the rest of Woodstock go down on MTV; I was absolutely horrified by the coverage. That was the last time I attended a festival show for several years.
It doesn’t surprise me that events unfolded the way they did that weekend: alcohol + extreme heat + all the other poor organizational factors of the weekend = cranky crowd. Nothing in my life, though, opened my eyes to the mob mentality the way that weekend did.