COMMENTARY : Money-Making Ventures Aside, Woodstock ’94 Lets Fans Search for Identity : Pop culture: The audience at the $30-million N.Y. event became the story despite the attempt to exploit the festival’s 25th anniversary.
Woodstock ’94 or Greed$tock ’94?
It was hard not to be cynical about this $30-million festival, dismissing it as a shameless attempt to exploit the 25th anniversary of one of the most defining moments in pop culture history.
The event was underwritten by record industry conglomerate PolyGram Diversified Ventures with every sort of money-making side venture known to man: pay-per-view TV (nearly $50 per household, thank you), an album (in time for Christmas, of course), a documentary film (video to follow) and an endless array of souvenirs, including an official Woodstock ’94 condom.
Adding to the early backlash: Tickets, $135 a pop, could be bought initially in blocks of four (credit card accepted). Each order was accompanied by rules so restrictive that it conjured up the image of going to prison instead of a concert. So much for the liberating spirit of Woodstock.
Yet they came this weekend to this 840-acre Hudson Valley site--250,000 strong and counting--and they, as did the original Woodstock audience, became the story.
With threats of thunderstorms and the potential for physical clashes always a fear during the long night, there is no way to declare the concert a success until the three-day affair ends after midnight tonight.
But Woodstock ’94, the most ambitious rock undertaking since the “Live Aid” benefit concerts a decade ago, was exhibiting sufficient energy and spirit by late afternoon Saturday to stand as more than simply a footnote in history--which has been the fate of so many rock festivals over the years.
Beneath all the weekend rock-summer-camp trappings, you had the feeling of another generation of young people struggling to find their own identity in a rock culture that has long been in the shadow of Woodstock. It’s a struggle as dramatic as any song that will be played by the 50-odd bands during the weekend, which was good for the festival because the talent lineup hasn’t the cutting-edge urgency of its legendary predecessor.
There were occasional attempts Friday and Saturday to identify with the hippie philosophy of the ‘60s, including peace signs flashed on stage and in the audience. However, most fans, in a crowd dominated by 18- to 24-year-olds, were interested in making their own statements, even if those interviewed seemed uncertain about the precise nature of that statement.
“I’m tired of all the talk about us being the Generation X or the slacker generation, and I hope this gives everyone a chance to maybe prove we do have a direction and a goal,” said Chris Black, 19, of Alliance, Ohio.
Jimmy Miller, 19, who drove here from Atlanta, said he was proud to be at Woodstock, doubly so because so many adults had put down the festival.
“My parents . . . even some guys at work say we have no right to have another Woodstock because our generation doesn’t have anything to protest again . . . no Vietnam War, no civil rights movement.
“Haven’t they heard of AIDS or the homeless or the economy?” he continued, standing near the stage before the opening act Saturday. “The way I look at it is, Woodstock was supposed to represent an idea, but a lot of those ideas have disappeared. Maybe we can get some of them back today.”
That doesn’t mean that there was evidence of a generational consensus.
Just as the contemporary music scene is far more splintered than it was in the ‘60s, part of the audience felt closest to the anger and aggression of such contemporary bands as Nine Inch Nails and Metallica, both of whom were on Saturday’s bill.
Others leaned more toward the mainstream rock spectacle of Aerosmith, which was also part of the Saturday lineup, while some expressed a preference for the social consciousness of Bob Dylan and Peter Gabriel, both of whom were scheduled to perform tonight.
Others, however, were just eager to party.
“I’m going to stay up until the last band is finished,” boasted Tommy Bell, 22, of Albany, N.Y.
Like the fans, musicians also wrestled with the focus of the weekend--and its ties to the original Woodstock.
Several artists took irreverent slaps, in interviews or on stage, at the commercialism and stringent rules of the festival, urging the audience to do its own thing.
“Has anyone seen the Woodstock spirit? Is it out there?” the lead singer of the British band James said on stage at one point in what was a slap at what he thought was the over-commercialization of the affair. “It’s not on the (expletive) Pepsi can.” (Pepsi-Cola is one of several concert sponsors).
Moments later, however, the bassist with King’s X, another contemporary band, seemed to embrace the Woodstock spirit, urging the crowd to assert its own identity.
“This is not Woodstock ’69, this is Woodstock ’94,” he shouted into microphone. “This is your year.” But his exhortation for the crowd to make its own statement was followed, ironically, by a version of a song associated with one of the biggest heroes of the original Woodstock: The late Jimi Hendrix.
In the understatement of the day, Joe Cocker, who also performed at the original concert, smiled when asked in the press tent after his performance about the difference between the two Woodstocks.
“Well, it’s really like two different things . . . " he said.
As the first act on Saturday’s bill, Cocker gave the weekend its first jolt of musical electricity--though it took him a while to get started.
Many of the young fans in the crowd seemed only vaguely aware of the English singer’s history. “Wasn’t he at the first Woodstock?” asked one as Cocker walked on stage at noon.
The result was the crowd remained relatively passive as Cocker went through some of his old hits, including “Feelin’ Alright” and “The Letter.” But that changed when he got to his signature hit, “With A Little Help From My Friends.”
Apparently recognizing the song from the Woodstock film and album, the crowd started cheering during a lengthy instrumental introduction. Even though his version was far more subdued than in the old days, hundreds in the huge mass of fans locked arms and sang along. The festival was in high gear, with the most exiting bands yet to come.
As Cocker finished, Charles Williamson, who came here from Wisconsin to celebrate the day in 1969 when he marked his 22nd birthday at Woodstock, said he felt chills.
Then he cast a fatherly glance over the mass of young fans stretching as far as he could see from his spot near the stage, storm clouds over them all.
“I always thought it was a miracle that we all got through the first Woodstock, and I just hope that these kids get through it and can come back (25 years from now) and watch another generation trying to find its own place in the world.”