Monday, July 22, 2019

We Watched The Woodstock '99 PPV: Day 1 (07.23.99)



Woodstock '99 PPV:

| DAY 1 | | DAY 2 | | DAY 3 |

By 2000-2001, we had already made up our minds about labeling Woodstock '99 as The Worst Concert of All Time -- an assessment we've been strongly reconsidering in hindsight. With the 20-year anniversary looming and all the big music blogs preparing their various takes, July 2019 seems like a good opportunity for renewed analysis.

Today we're posting the first of a 3-part series examining the Pay-Per-View of Woodstock '99 shown live on July 23, 24, and 25, 1999. Within the past month, we were lucky enough to find a very large video file including all 62 hours of this TV event. Upon digging into Day One, we soon realized this adventure would prove more tedious than our revisits of the VMAs, with far more elaborate context and lore to consider.

Unlike the VMAS, most of Woodstock '99 is still on Youtube which eases the burden of wordy contextual descriptions. However, the PPV arguably does a better job of maintaining the festival's rawness. Many of the sets and off-stage activities are shown in real time. Frequent live split screens show bands playing on the left side of the screen; meanwhile, the right half shows skaters on a halfpipe, or massage booth patrons, or an old crusty dude with a sock on his dick, or boobs getting painted.

Additional context was provided from a re-familiarization with the coverage from SPIN, Rolling Stone, and MTV, as well as the recently launched and aptly titled Podcast 99 -- an often frustrating but surprisingly informative dissection of the festival's proceedings. (Another related podcast titled "Break Stuff" launched within the past week, but we haven't heard it yet.)

Background

In July 1999, those interested in checking out Woodstock were provided several options, depending on desired level of attendance:

- Full investment: If you wanted to physically attend the festival, 3-day passes cost $150 plus Ticketmaster's service charges. The round trip from Rome, NY may have cost many people a few days worth of travel investment, plus food, water, lodging, drugs (because it's Woodstock), a change of clothes that will almost certainly get destroyed, physical and mental exertion, existing uncomfortably within the organism of the festival itself surrounded mostly by jocks and bullies.

- Casual investment: For the marginally curious, Westwood One provided a heavily edited (not live) simulcast which could be heard for free on stations like 92.3 K-Rock in NYC. MTV News aired frequent on-location updates, interviews, song fragments, and incomplete performances.

- Pay-Per-View: An option was provided for those who simply couldn't fuck with the idea of getting confronted by a potential living hell, but whose fear-of-missing-out on history was just enough to desire consumption of everything.

Providing far beyond what Westwood One and MTV were legally allowed to air, cable companies would gladly unscramble PPV for one day's worth of Woodstock '99 for $29.95 (the same price as that year's Wrestlemania PPV) while $59.95 would provide a 3-day package (about $10-20 more than most UFC or boxing PPVs).

Illegal cable boxes could access the PPV in its entirety for free. But for those without illegal cable boxes or $59.95, the limits of 1999's cable box technology still allowed audio to continue while only video stayed scrambled, providing access to the PPV's uncensored audio for those who just wanted to hear the music and didn't care what it looked like.

The PPV primarily focused on performances from two of Woodstock's stages -- The "East Stage" (the main stage) and the "West Stage" (the largest side stage). Other performance areas of the fest encompassed less than 1% of the coverage: This includes the "AMP3.Com Emerging Artists Stage," a film festival hosted by IFC, and a rave called The 6th Element lasting every night from midnight to 6AM with artists like Moby, Perry Farrell, and Fatboy Slim.

#1 The Death Count

As of Day One, the Woodstock '99 death count remains surprisingly low, although we don't know the back stories of everyone who performed.

- Bernie Worrell played a set at the Thursday party on July 22nd and performed again with George Clinton and The P-Funk Allstars on Day One.
- James Brown's unannounced surprise set opened the East Stage on Day One.
- The OG line-up of Lit performed on the West Stage mid-afternoon along with drummer Allen Shellenberger who passed away in 2009.

#2 Highlights

Working through the entirety of Day One is hell, but the highlights are worth locating. They take a minute to find, but moments of magic are definitely buried in there.

2.1 "Medley: Somethin' Stank / Booty / Jam"

Our top pick for the crowning highlight of Day One goes to a gentleman named Louie "Babbling" Kabbabie -- a stocky, balding dude in his mid-to-late '50s who kinda looks like Paul Heyman, described in P-Funk's Thursday night 7/22/99 pre-show set as "the hardest working man in show business." Louie arrives center-stage without introduction halfway through George Clinton's set to rap on a rare non-album cut titled "Booty." The song was part of a medley featuring George Clinton's teenage granddaughter Shonda rapping about weed on the song "Somethin' Stank (And I Want Some)" and an extended jam surpassing the 10-minute mark.

Bernie Worrell's 20 minute set (incorrectly labelled on the PPV as George Clinton) was performed in what appears to be a glamorous blue pope's outfit.

We had no idea that Shock G continued the "Humpty" persona as late as 1999, nor did we realize he was ever a hype man for George Clinton. Yes, P-Funk absolutely should have performed "The Humpty Dance," but we'll take what we can get.


2.2 "ARRRE YOUUU READAAYY?"

The sea of chaos immediately after Jonathan Davis screams "ARRRE YOUUU READAAYY?" in the intro of "Blind" might exemplify the utter fucking insanity of the monstrous crowd-size better than any other moment from Day One. The bodies somehow create actual waves resembling the Atlantic Ocean during hurricane season. We've never seen anything else quite like it in any other concert footage.

We recently spoke to at least one firsthand account who specifically notes the intro of "Blind" as Day One's apex of absurdity. Friends standing beside each other were suddenly pulled 15 feet apart. Those lucky enough to stay afloat still trampled over heads and arms against their best efforts. In that moment, a fraction of the crowd all at once decides "fuck this" and wisely trudges further out, slightly loosening the East Stage's crowd density for the remainder of the night.

Incidentally, Korn were in absolute top form. In one part, they tease Slayer's "Seasons In The Abyss." (!!!!) Jonathan Davis and Fieldy would later acknowledge their hour set as the high point in their career.

2.3 DMX's Prayer

The earnest, impassioned prayer closing out DMX's set gave nothing if not the aura of a genuine sermon of worship. The day's most intense and frequent cult-like call-and-response crowd participation began with fans loudly chanting "D!M!X!" the instant the previous set had ended. The backstage Q&A found here indicates DMX only saw the crowd size for the first time the moment he started his first song while stepping onto the stage alone. Just one MC and one DJ. The day's best 3-in-a-row: "Get At Me Dog" -> "Ruff Ryders Anthem" -> "Slippin." Special awards for Best Overalls and Best Underwear.

2.4 Best Song: Sheryl Crow

"My Favorite Mistake" -- the jam that might or might not be about Eric Clapton -- is probably the best song played all day by anyone (with regards to "Swallowed," "Glycerine," and "Miserable"). Sheryl Crow unexpectedly plays bass for about half of the set (!!!!) and wins a special award for Best Pants.

2.5 Best Wrestling: Insane Clown Posse

ICP arguably played Day One's most visually engaging set. Midway through, some "heel" cops rushed the stage, grabbed the mics, and announced "We're just been informed that this show is over! Everybody go home!" The kayfabe policing predictably set off 100,000 rounds of boos. But moments later, Violent J saved the day, crushing the pigs after descending from the top of a ladder. A piledriver from Shaggy 2 Dope sent another cop through a table.

Podcast 99 noted the one lone Juggalo who claimed a spot for ICP two hours early, seeming awkwardly out of place front-and-center for The Roots.

Rome, NY falls well outside Faygo country, so we're guessing ICP had to transport their 300+ bottles all the way from Michigan. We feel very bad for George Clinton and P-Funk, who had to perform moments after the stage was covered in a sticky pool of 100 degree soda, although the floor was likely cleared off by stage hands between sets. And maybe they ended up enjoying the soda grime since George Clinton and P-Funk would go on to play Gathering Of The Juggalos in 2011.

2.6 Best Drugs: Buckcherry

We ultimately decided to award Buckcherry a spot within the highlights. Special award for Outstanding Achievement In Blackout Wasted Stage Banter. There is no way this dude remembers a single thing about Woodstock. Any random moment in this 45 minute set is a 10 out of 10, but here's our 3 favorites:
- 9:49, "Hyaaahh. Drankin? Smoauh? Fuckin!"
- 27:18, "Talkin' about some fuckin TENT FUCKIN, you know what I mean?"
- 30:10 "COE. CANE. COE. CANE."

2.7 Best Inflatable Dick

- Best Crowd Decoration goes out to the person at the West Stage who remembered to bring their 10-foot inflatable dick.

#3 Other Notes

3.1 The First 2 Hours

- The Woodstock '99 PPV kicks off with a 25-second bumper prominently displaying the words "Inked, Pierced, and Ready to Rock" as a horribly shitty "TV ad" version of Hendrix's "Star Spangled Banner" introduces the festivities. The 2nd thing shown in the PPV is an aerial shot of Griffiss Technology Park (a former toxic waste dump repurposed as an Air Force base) while a stage announcer introduces "a guy here from the health department who wants to tell you something about drugs," which is met with cheers from the crowd.

Reports from our firsthand source tell us the crowd expected Sugar Ray to kick off Day One. At 12PM Noon time, the East Stage's unidentified MC arrives to tell everyone that Mark McGrath reportedly became too sick to play. Instead, James Brown kicked off the show with an unannounced surprise set, and the crowd loses their shit in disbelief. However, it takes JB almost 30 minutes before he appears on stage at all. And so the first song performed on Day One of Woodstock '99 is instead sung by a literal Janis Joplin impersonator from Las Vegas named Tomi Rae Hynie (who James ended up marrying and divorcing within subsequent years). Tomi also sings the 2nd and 3rd songs played at Woodstock '99. The crowd is so stoked with Positive "Day One" Energy that they love every minute of this. Finally, James Brown arrives to sing on "Get Up Offa That Thing" and all of his other biggest hits. When he's not in front of the mic, he frequently hangs out in the back playing keyboards (!!!!) while other members of his band take solos. We didn't know he ever played keys on stage this late into his career.

By the way, none of the excitement from that last paragraph is shown on the PPV until well after midnight. Instead, the PPV's first 90 minutes include banal and nondescript rock music from Oleander, G. Love and Special Sauce, and moe. An Australian sketch comedy group called The Umbillical Brothers are responsible for the most cringeworthy moment of the first 2 hours. Met with bewilderment, a resounding stream of boos, and at least one guy screaming "WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS SHIT," The Umbillical Brothers' brief segment might be the only non-music performance to appear on the PPV.

3.2 Depraved Behavior

Jamiroquai is the PPV's first band who does not completely suck, but this also marks the beginning of a series of patterns related to Woodstock '99's excessively depraved debauchery, all shown uncensored:

- About 2 hours in: Jay Kay's stage banter marks the earliest on-stage acknowledgement of the crowd's half-naked women. "Repeat after me: American breasts are the best breasts." The speech awkwardly continues for a little too long. Much raunchier takes on the same observation arrive later from Lit, Buckcherry, and ICP, who invite many crowdsurfing topless women on stage during their set.

- About 3 hours in: The crowd during Live may have included the first instances of unwarranted gropes caught on camera.

- Around the start of Hour 4: Andy Dick becomes the first to pull out his dick on stage midway through a song called "I'll Fuck Anything That Moves" - a strong candidate for the worst song performed on Day One (and that's really saying something).

- Halfway through Hour 4: Correctly assuming she would get harassed by the crowd to show her tits, Sheryl Crow arrived on stage prepared, casually remarking "It's a take your top off kind of day -- Sike!" between her first 2 songs and alleviating the awkwardness.

- Midway through Hour 5: Rosie Perez briefly appears on stage to introduce DMX, and gracefully dodges the blatant crowd harassment. "Yo, for real, you wanna see 'em? $3.99 at Blockbuster: Do The Right Thing. Go and order it baby!"

- Around the start of Hour 7: At long last, The Offspring are the one and only band from the entirety of Day One discouraging the crowd from groping crowdsurfing females. "Just because a girl wants to go crowdsurfing or whatever, that doesn't give the guys the right to molest them, you know what I'm sayin? So if you're a guy and you see a girl passing overhead, give her a break, you know what I'm sayin?"

There's literally hundreds more (especially during ICP), but these are some "firsts" that we noticed.

3.3 Future Hits

At the time of Woodstock '99, "Scar Tissue" was in the middle of a 16-week run topping Billboard's Alternative Singles chart, which overtook an 11-week run for "My Own Worst Enemy."

Many "buzz" acts were booked for Woodstock '99, partially to keep the festival seeming edgy, partially to align with the freshness of the 1969 and 1994 line-ups, but mostly because new bands with one minor hit are cheaper to book. This contributed to a phenomenon where a lot of Woodstock 99's music later went on to become hits in some capacity.

The Offspring "The Kids Aren't Alright"
We're counting this since the video premiered on 120 Minutes 4 days prior and debuted at #10 on TRL 1 day before the festival started. The single had been steadily climbing Billboard's Alternative Singles since mid-June. For whatever reason, it's remained Offspring's most-scrobbled song every week since many years ago.

Buckcherry "For The Movies"
Issued to radio August '99, peaked #25 on Billboard Modern Rock.

Lit "Zip-Lock"
Issued to radio in August, peaked #11 on Billboard Modern Rock. Its video (featuring Dee Snider) hit #9 on the August 20th edition of TRL, and placed at #37 on TRL's "End of Summer Countdown" on August 28th.

Live "The Dolphins Cry"
Released in late August, peaked #3 on Billboard Modern Rock, #78 on Hot 100.

Bush "The Chemicals Between Us"
Released on September 14th. Peaked #1 on Billboard Alternative, #67 on Hot 100.

Korn "Falling Away From Me"
Released in late October, prominently featured in a Halloween episode of South Park, peaked #7 on Billboard Alternative, hit #1 on TRL multiple times throughout November and December.

Vertical Horizon "Everything You Want" (from the 7.22.99 pre-Woodstock "party")
Issued to radio in January 2000, hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in July 2000.

Lit "Miserable"
Issued to radio in February 2000, peaked #3 on Billboard Modern Rock. Its video (featuring Pamela Anderson) debuted on TRL at #6 and placed 5 more times on TRL throughout February.

Vertical Horizon "You're A God" (from the 7.22.99 pre-Woodstock "party")
Issued to radio in July 2000, peaked at #23 on the Hot 100.

3.4 WTF Moments

- Again, Andy Dick singing "I'll Fuck Anything That Moves" and pulling out his dick on stage has to be the weirdest and most disturbing moment of the day.

- For some reason, Stephen Baldwin (from the movie Bio-Dome) appears on stage multiple times to introduce bands.

- Lit's "workin' on my hot rod" aesthetic helped them easily win "worst dressed" for the day. During their last song, the guitar player uses a vibrating dildo as a slide (which sounds shockingly awesome but looks horrendously douchey). A few moments later, he lights his guitar on fire with lighter fluid, raises it above his head, and smashes it to pieces. The crowd approves.

- As much as we appreciate their anti-groping speech, The Offspring's set was probably the most grating out of all the big-name acts. Dexter Holland sounds like he either genuinely can't sing, or can't hear the monitors, or some combination of both. Also in one part, they use baseball bats to decapitate mannequins bearing likeness to The Backstreet Boys.

- The character Buffalo Bill from Silence Of The Lambs is actually based on the life of Ed Kowalczyk from Live who also locks humans in cages in his basement. They play "Shit Towne" from Throwing Copper, and Ed ad libs "God bless America" into the lyrics. Before playing the godawful ballad "Turn My Head," he encourages the crowd to grab someone's skin "if the romance moves you."

3.5 Miscellaneous

- Overall, Day One was surprisingly good aside from the overbearing masculinity. They couldn't have asked Garbage or Missy Elliott or The Cardigans or Fiona Apple to play this thing?

- The surprise cameo from Erykah Badu highlighted The Roots' set. It's too bad she couldn't have been booked to perform on her own.

- Two acts cancelled their Day One slots: Sugar Ray and Aerosmith were scheduled to open and close the East Stage respectively.

- Unpopular opinion: Bush's first 7 or 8 radio hits are entirely unoffensive, and they simply weren't worth the rockist vitriol they received. They were never "alternative" in the literal sense but rather "pop with distortion pedals," wisely allowing their management to package them as a heartthrob-focused Nirvana clone. The remixed version of "Mouth" from An American Werewolf In Paris was a bad management decision, however, and it was this song that set off our own disdain of Bush between '97 and '99. But that turned back to positive after we heard the PJ Harvey influenced "Greedy Fly" on K-Rock's Woodstock simulcast. It's a much weirder song than it gets credit for. Their set was fine, aside from the speech before "The Chemicals Between Us" -- "I am a black man / I am a white man / I am an Englishman / I am an American" -- appropriately labelled on the Podcast 99 show as pretentiously Bono-esq.

- This has nothing to do with the PPV, but MTV's "Live From Woodstock '99" edition of TRL took place on this day sometime between 3PM and 5PM. The top 10 looked like this:
10) Eminem / Dr. Dre "Guilty Conscience"
09) Orgy "Stitches"
08) The Offspring "The Kids Aren't Alright"
07) Joey McIntyre "I Love You Came To Late"
06) Blink 182 "What's My Age Again?"
05) Christina Aguilera "Genie in a Bottle"
04) Britney Spears "Sometimes"
03) 98 Degrees "I Do (Cherish You)"
02) Limp Bizkit "Nookie"
01) Backstreet Boys "I Want It That Way"

Woodstock '99 PPV:

| DAY 1 | | DAY 2 | | DAY 3 |

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