The second iteration of the benchmark music festival was more cash cow than dairy farm

By Erin Richter
Updated August 15, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT
Woodstock '94
Credit: Woodstock '94: Vincent la Foret/Stills Press/Retna

Traffic. Tie-dye. Long lines. Music. Magic. When the rain hit the stage the weekend of Aug. 12-14 in Saugerties, N.Y., Woodstock ’94 officially became the muddy mirror of the festival that defined a generation 25 years ago.

This time around, however, the rock revolution was slickly produced, marketed, and televised. Funded by PolyGram Diversified Ventures and sponsored in part by Pepsi and Häagen-Dazs, the $30 million-plus megashow boasted a multiplatinum bill of 49 acts, including headliners Metallica, Aerosmith, Bob Dylan, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Tickets carried equal heft at $135 each. Critics and sentimentalists complained of corporate exploitation, dubbing the show ”Woodschlock” and ”Wood$tock,” but neither nicknames nor the soggy forecast dampened the spirits of the music fans planning to get themselves back to the garden. Indeed, the garden quickly became overgrown — as it had in 1969. The crowd (which was mostly young and white) topped out at 350,000 on Saturday night, making it hard to take out 1,400 tons of trash or clean the 3,000 Port-O-Sans. By Sunday afternoon, ”everybody was miserable,” says Green Day bassist Mike Dirnt.

The audience endured overcrowding, costly food, and pungent smells. The same crowd that raged in front of Nine Inch Nails swayed to Crosby, Stills & Nash. And, barring the mudslinging melee that capped Green Day’s Sunday performance, costing Dirnt five teeth, they did it fairly peacefully. A squad of 1,200 medics tended to some 6,000 injuries, mostly minor, from dehydration to a nose broken in a deer encounter. (Officials reported just two deaths, both from preexisting conditions.)

Some of those on and behind the stage, however, didn’t escape so unscathed. While acts like Green Day and Melissa Etheridge burned up the charts after performing in front of an audience that included 250,000 pay-per-viewers, groups such as Candlebox, Jackyl, and the Spin Doctors have since faded away.

PolyGram reportedly lost $10 million, while Oscar winner Barbara Kopple’s documentary was delayed after losing funding (”My Generation” skipped theaters and will air on Encore Aug. 17). Following the fires and reported sexual assaults that marred Woodstock’s third go-round in 1999, the future of the fabled fest looks dim. ”Some things are so great that you want to relive them,” reasons Dirnt. ”The first Woodstock was peace and love, the second chaos and confusion, and the last one was just stupidity…. The times, they are a changin’, man.”