This Day In History: July 22

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The music festival Woodstock ’99 opens on July 22, 1999. The festival—timed to the thirtieth anniversary of the original Woodstock—attempts to bring the spirit of peace, music, and love to a new generation; instead it devolves into three days of scorching heat, raw sewage, misogyny and greed in upstate New York.

Woodstock ’99 was organized by John Scher and Michael Lang, one of the co-founders of the original Woodstock. Unlike the 1969 festival, organizers hoped to make money on this anniversary celebration. The venue was Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome, New York, which a Rolling Stone reporter described as “the least rock and roll venue imaginable,” full of concrete and airplane hangars and barbed wire. Poor planning and the desire to turn a profit led to a miserable experience on the scorching tarmac, where temperatures soared over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Portable toilets overflowed with raw sewage, contaminating the available running water. Water bottles cost $4 apiece.

250,000 people flocked to hear bands including Korn, Kid Rock, Insane Clown Posse, and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit encouraged fans to "break stuff" during his Saturday night set, which they promptly did, tearing down parts of a radio tower and "pelting the MTV crew atop it with garbage". Sexual assaults were reported, including several rapes. Three people died, and hundreds were treated for heatstroke and dehydration. The Red Hot Chili Peppers played the final set of the weekend, which devolved into chaos. They performed a cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Fire," in tribute to the Woodstock great, as festival-goers set fires, flipped cars, and looted tents and trailers throughout the venue. (Festival organizers made the strange choice to hand out thousands of lit candles during the set, which they hoped to use for a vigil for the victims of the Columbine shooting. The crowd had other plans.)

The festival's creators and promoters blamed the debacle on the rowdy young attendees, calling them "irresponsible, aggressive, and anarchic." Those who attended, however, said they were made to feel like animals, penned into the air force base in unsafe and unsanitary conditions. The Red Hot Chili Peppers said that the view from onstage reminded them of the movie Apocalypse Now. The San Francisco Chronicle simply called the festival "the day the music died."