A Music Fan Who Survived Woodstock 1999 Tells All as Woodstock 50 Approaches

‘That last day … was scary. When we saw police dressed in riot gear coming in, we got out’

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Red Hot Chili Peppers, Diddy, Kid Rock and Alanis Morissette. / Frank Micelotta/KMazur/Getty Images

When the Woodstock 50 lineup came out earlier this month, attendees of Woodstock music festivals of yesteryear were triggered by good and not-so-good memories of their past experiences.

“[At Woodstock 1999], it wasn’t the best idea having a lot of aggressive bands play in a row on the same stage. Limp Bizkit to Rage Against the Machine to Metallica was pretty rough,” Chris Spear, who was 23 back then, told ONE37pm 20 years later. “The last day when people were rioting, breaking into souvenir trucks and lighting things on fire, that was scary. People started fires during the Red Hot Chili Peppers set. When we saw police dressed in riot gear coming in, we got out.”

The original Woodstock festival took place in 1969 and has often been regarded as one of the most pivotal cultural moments in music history for its influence on rock ’n’ roll and future festivals. As Woodstock 50 marks the event’s 50th anniversary, it’s hard not to remember what went down 20 years ago during the festival’s 30th anniversary, an event that was tainted by violence and sexual misconduct.

Curious about Woodstock ’99, ONE37pm found a music fan who attended Woodstock that year to ask him about his memories, to have him compare this year’s lineup to that year’s and to create dream pairings of artists from then and now.

‘I will remember it forever’

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Chris Spear at Woodstock 1999. / Courtesy of Chris Spear

Chris Spear, 42, was 23 when he attended Woodstock 1999. He lives in Frederick, Maryland, and works as a chef and owner of Perfect Little Bites personal chef service.

What memories do you have of Woodstock ’99?

Spear: Overall, the experience was more positive than negative for me. I went with a close friend from high school and one of my roommates from college. It was my first time at a Woodstock event. What was great was that I saw such a diverse lineup and many acts I wouldn’t have the opportunity to see again. Seeing both James Brown and George Clinton was pretty awesome. I saw as many acts as possible. It was my first time seeing Mike Ness too. The bad part was that it was really hot. Food and drinks were so expensive. We only ate hot dogs all weekend because they were the least expensive thing. If I recall, bottled water was about $3 or $4 each.

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A riot fire Chris Spear saw at Woodstock 1999. / Courtesy of Chris Spear

What was your initial reaction when you saw this year’s Woodstock 50 lineup? Surprised? Impressed? Let down? How do the lineups compare to you?

Spear: I was half impressed. Maybe it’s my age—a lot of these bands are popular, but I’ve never heard of half of them. I feel like you could cut one day out and make a really solid two-day show. They’re doing it in August and setting themselves up for another event where people are hot, drunk, tired and dehydrated, and by day three, you could have chaos. It looks like the bands are a little more mellow than ’99, so you won’t necessarily have the bro contingency and aggression you had in ’99, though anything is possible when people are drinking heavily. I feel like this lineup isn’t as good as any of the previous years.

If you went this year, whose sets would you go see?

Spear: I’d see a lot of them. The Killers, the Raconteurs, Robert Plant, Jay-Z, the Black Keys, Soccer Mommy, Common and Boygenius would be on the top of my list.

If you could pair anyone from the ’99 lineup to this year’s lineup, which acts/artists would you put together?

Spear: Mike Ness with John Fogerty. DMX with Miley Cyrus. Wyclef Jean with Common. So many dream pairings.

In your opinion, what’s the best part about Woodstock coming back?

Spear: You have the chance to see a ridiculous number of bands over a short period of time. You’ll probably be exposed to a lot of new music outside of your traditional tastes, and you might find some new favorites.

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Courtesy of Chris Spear

What lessons should organizers this year learn from the ’99 experience?

Spear: Have free water and affordable food options. No need to excessively gouge your captive audience. More toilets or have them cleaned more frequently. Find a way to keep people from breaking into the event. It added additional people, and it sucks to pay so much only to have a lot of people get in for free. More trash bins—the garbage was out of control.

Anything you would like to add?

Spear: I had an amazing time and will remember it forever, even if many of those bands didn’t really make it into the 2000s.

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