Marketing, September 6, 1999
Oh, dear. Woodstock III was apparently not the roaring success its avaricious organizers had hoped it would be.
They seem unhappy about that unpleasantness toward the end — arson, violence, looting, the local fire brigades and constabulary called out, people arrested — and the whole mess wrapped up on kind of a bum note.
Did anybody expect this event to be anything other than a grim exercise in degradation? Have bloated outdoor “rock festivals” ever been anything more than a chance for feckless youth to get in touch with their animal selves in a sylvan setting (or, in the case of Woodstock III, on the broiling concrete of a decommissioned Air Force base), while paying for a ticket in order to live like their Neanderthal ancestors?
Afterwards, plenty of prattle appeared in the public prints about what it all meant. In the Globe and Mail, the world’s last living Marxist, Rick Salutin, issued forth some confused mumbling about missing Che Guevara. (I checked the liner notes from the original’s soundtrack, and the only Latino performer I could find was Carlos Santana. Was Guevara part of his backup unit?) At the opposite end of the political spectrum, in the Wall Street Journal, crypto-fascist scold Midge Decter blamed the Woodstock-generation parents of the Woodstock III rioter-revelers for their kids’ lawless freak-out.
I think everybody knew this year’s Woodstock would be just a little bit more wretched than its predecessors — we just didn’t know exactly how it would suck. Sequels are always worse than the originals. We’ve already had “Woodstock Original Flavor” in 1969 and “Woodstock II: Electric Boogaloo” five years ago. Anybody who didn’t know in advance that “Woodstock III: The Quickening” would be little more than a predictable, late-mannerist, decadent mockery of the first one is dumber than the rock-pigs who ponied up $150 a ticket to get inside a big cyclone-fence pen and vie to be crowned “Lord of the Flies.”
Woodstock ‘99 illustrates which lessons were learned in the 30 years that passed between Woodstocks I and III. First, there’s the durability of the term “Woodstock” as a brand for a too-big, badly organized homeless rock festival. It doesn’t intrinsically mean anything, any more than “Unisys” or “Xerox” or “TRW” mean anything. “Woodstock” is not a geographical term in these cases; none of the three events happened anywhere near Woodstock, N.Y. The first Woodstock Music & Art Fair was known for its “music” (40-minute drum solos, extended bass jams, endless three-note “weedla-weedla-weedla” guitar solos and roadies going “check...check-TWO, check”), mud, overcrowding, brown acid, food shortages and “peace and love” — terms used by young people of the late ‘60s to mean “narcotized catatonia and sloppy, bad sex with total strangers.”
The Woodstock of ‘94 is best remembered for mud and the fact it was 25 years after the first Woodstock. This time around, the bosses knew shortages didn’t mean sharing, caring, no profit margin and “breakfast in bed for 300,000”; they meant supply and demand. A pint of water outside the venue costs a buck; quintuple that on site. With precision-tooled boomer hypocrisy, drugs — probably the main reason Woodstock Classic was relatively trouble free — were not an option at Woodstock III. Too bad. Doping the audience would’ve been cheaper than the inevitable lawsuits, damage payouts and other costs associated with the festival-finishing melee.
Other aspects make less sense. Why is anybody still throwing unsustainably vast rockfests, for one thing? The whole model is designed to charge people a ridiculous amount of money, and in return give them bad sightlines, lousy acoustics, no way of eating and adventurous refugee-style accommodations.
That’s why really savvy marketers are doubtless already huddling to lay the foundations for “Altamont 2000,” reprising another big rockfest from ‘69: the one at California’s Altamont Speedway where at least one person was stabbed to death and numerous others were beaten senseless with chains and pool cues. “Altamont 2000” is a natural marketing opportunity for Marilyn Manson to really cement that satanic badass brand identity permanently.
Woodstock III didn’t have enough drugs, and as a result there was all that freakish frustration. Surely we can rectify that at Altamont 2000. Make drugs just one more product that attendees can buy along with the $8 nacho platters and $5 pints of tap-water; limit choice to downers and other depressants — stuff to keep folks mellow.
Violence at the original Altamont marred the event. This time, it’s one more aspect of the attraction. MTV could run a contest for suicidal adolescents. Don’t open fire on your classmates, get yourself ritually sacrificed by Marilyn himself in front of thousands of your peers — and live on pay-per-view in front of millions more. Underwriting opportunities are going fast. Get those bids in now. And reserve your brown acid to avoid disappointment.