Twenty Years Ago Today: Woodstock 1994

Everybody's been crowin' this week about the anniversary of the original Woodstock, the three days of peace and love in upstate New York that had nothing to do with Mel Brooks or heart-shaped hot tubs.

I’ll admit that wild August weekend in ‘69 was a watershed moment for the decade, right up there with the debut of “The Munsters” in ‘64 and the introduction of Tupperware to Europe in 1960. However, for people like me who were raised in the ego-driven era of Atari, Michael J. Fox, and Garfield coffee mugs, Woodstock was just another lifeless entry in our history books (like Teapot Dome with a few stray, blurry boobs). Besides, they couldn’t even get Tommy James and the Shondells to show up at that bitch. What kind of drug-infused hippie festival were they trying to run over there?

Honestly, if you want to get all in my face about a corporate jack-off music festival disguised as some kind of important cultural event for the young generation, you’d better be sure you’re screamin’ about Woodstock ’94 (which quietly celebrates its twentieth anniversary today in the shadow of its older, more established brother). That was the heaping pile of money and useless nostalgia I cared about. The memories are still so vivid. Why, it seems like just yesterday I was watching the liberating and mustachioed antics of Jackyl lead singer Jesse James Dupree on the Woodstock ’94 Pay-Per-View special. Please don’t tell me that band’s rendition of Headed for Destruction didn’t touch a nerve with you or your loved ones, because that performance spoke to every U.S. citizen the minute Jesse sauntered on stage in his flashy white tuxedo and giant American Flag top hat. And you thought Steven Tyler knew how to wear ostentatious head gear.

Of course, what most people remember about Woodstock ’94 (aside from the lousy coverage on MTV and the inexplicable presence of both Roguish Armament AND Huffamoose) is mud. Oh, the mud. It was everywhere—on the ground, on the crowd, on the bands, in the drinking water, squirting out of reporter’s microphones, and flowing spectacularly from Calvert DeForest’s ear canal. Some Woodstock ’94 participants derided the mud, such as Primus’s Les Claypool (his name is HYPOCRITE), but most found joy in the excess of watery dirt. Green Day staged a massive PR stunt around it. Nine Inch Nails wore it as an accessory to accentuate their grimy, frightening industrial sounds. Indeed, the mud at Woodstock ’94 played an integral role in defining the festival as the most unsanitary event since the first Woodstock (or perhaps Rick James’s first week in prison).

Speaking of people who weren’t there for those two extra days of peace and love (and delicious Pepsi, the choice of a new generation), a lot of big name artists were inexplicably absent from the Woodstock ’94 roster. Where was Pearl Jam or Soundgarden or the Beastie Boys or Smashing Pumpkins or even goddamn Dr. Dre? What were these motherfuckers doing that weekend? Dicking around at Lollapalooza? Playing Sega Genesis? Engaging in some other early nineties activity of a humorous nature? The alternative revolution was at critical mass, and we got Blind Melon instead of Billy Corgan? Weak sauce, bro. Thank God Rollins Band and Cypress Hill were in the house to iron out the serious cred issues this multi-million dollar farm jam was burdened with.

On a similar topic, I believe Woodstock ’94 hosted the one of last “classic” Metallica performances, by which I mean one of the last performances before Metallica hired a professional stylist, busted out the slide guitars, and generally started acting like the rich pompous jerks they always knew they were. Someone should erect a monument in Saugerties to James Hetfield’s old hair, the once mighty heavy metal mane that commanded an army of unwashed American youth to just rock in a pure, unadulterated fashion. Future generations must be aware that once upon a time the biggest band in thrash didn’t look like a renegade GQ pictorial.

There’s no getting around the fact that Woodstock ’94 was a tad silly in concept and execution. Yet, it could have been a whole hell of a lot worse. I cite the rumor that KISS was offered some ungodly sum of money to reunite their original line-up and headline (this was back when KISS was still sans make-up, unaware that no one wanted to watch a bunch of grizzled old men in leather chaps pretend to be Warrant). I can’t imagine a more transparent attempt to boost ticket sales while eschewing whatever tiny spirit of the original festival remained. Oh wait, yeah I can—how about attempting to reunite Nirvana with a new lead singer less than six months after Kurt Cobain’s death? Apparently, the people behind W’94 tried to put that vile plan into action as well.

Let’s stop for a minute. It’s August of 1994. Who could possibly substitute for Kurt Cobain in a reconstituted Nirvana? The list is pretty short. Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Regis Philbin. That kid from “Squirt TV.” No, I’m joking. Kurt was a one in a million dude, and no one could ever fill his tattered Converse shoes… not even Gene Simmons.

If the original Woodstock was a snapshot of generational sands shifting, Woodstock ’94 was a snapshot of a loosely organized family reunion where a bunch of far removed relatives you aren’t sure you recognize show up for the open bar. Multi-day rock concerts had become par for the course years prior to this unnecessary sequel, and an air of “does this really mean anything?” hung over the proceedings like a stale fart. For me and virtually everyone I knew, the answer to that question was a resounding “no, not at all.” We were the “Beavis & Butt-head” generation. Sarcasm and eye-rolling always won out over heart and earnestness. Our sand-shifting moment was… I don’t know. Maybe Letterman’s move to CBS?

Still, I don’t outwardly reject Woodstock 2: The Search For More Money. There were a few hot performances. It gave America something to talk about for a week or two. I cannot directly link it to any misfortune or pain I experienced that year. WS’94 may not have been as meaningful or explosive as Woodstock ’69, but it sure was a hell of a lot cooler than Woodstock ’99 (two days of beer pong, rioting, and sexual assault). I cringe at the Limp Bizkit-tinged memories of that soulless crap pile.

This has been adapted from a piece that originally appeared on James Greene Jr.’s blog in 2009. James is the author of This Music Leaves Stains: A Complete History Of The Misfits.