Wreckage Still Smoldering Eight Hours After Woodstock Riot

Some blame actions of a few; Sevendust guitarist John Connolly calls melee 'inevitable.'

ROME, N.Y. — Eight hours after Woodstock '99 ended in a fiery riot, much of the wreckage still was smoldering in the garbage-covered field.

A line of state police in riot gear, helmets strapped on, batons at the ready, stretched for nearly a mile along the fence bordering the camping area on the north side of the festival grounds.

"They totally trashed the microwave dish [on our news van]," said an engineer at one of two local news stations whose news vans had been vandalized in the early hours of Monday morning (July 26), following the forced evacuation of the airstrip. "I never saw anything like it," said the engineer, who requested anonymity.

The 12 vendor trailers — which had been at the center of the largest of the nearly one dozen fires that raged following a festival-closing set by the Red Hot Chili Peppers Sunday night — still were billowing smoke at 8 a.m. Monday. Evidence of the widespread looting could be seen in the thousands of scorched and water-logged soft pretzels and plastic bags that lay underneath the vans. The vehicles' tires were melted away, the bare steel-belting draped over the metal rims.

On the trailer closest to the east stage, which bore a gaping hole in its right side, someone had left a series of ashen handprints on the rear section, which had not been completely destroyed by the fire. "Burn Rome" was written in ashes above the handprints, which framed the word "Woodstock" across the trailer's midsection.

The police lining the campgrounds spent much of the morning chatting with each other, twirling their batons and waving back festival-goers attempting to enter the former concert site to take souvenir photos. Hours before, the officers had been stern as they had attempted to herd the remaining 150,000 fans off the site. Now, many smiled easily and chatted with those same attendees, as the sun began to break through the early morning fog.

An overturned Mercedes Benz, reeking of spilled gasoline, sat in a pile of broken glass near the east stage. The driver's-side door bore a green bumper-sticker that read "Greed Pollutes."

Half a dozen journalists and a few local radio vans tooled around the site taking pictures of the wreckage. Many of them congregated around the twisted metal of a lighting tower that had been torn down in the melee and which lay in a heap several hundred yards from the smashed Mercedes. Between them lay a small trash-fire that was still giving off a few flickering flames.

Giving voice to the frustration many fans expressed throughout the festival with high food- and drink-prices were spray-painted and chalked graffiti slogans covering the protective walls and plywood fences surrounding the light towers. "No water," read one. "Greed kills" read another, written in red on the side of an overturned portable lighting tower.

Hundreds of discarded plastic beer bottles, each shoved through spaces in the chain-link fence surrounding a beer garden, spelled out the word "Woodstock." To the left, more bottles were arranged in the fence to form a giant dollar-sign.

The only evidence of the numerous tribal drum circles that had provided a cacophonous beat for much of the preceding 48 hours were a half-dozen piles of nearly flattened garbage cans along the former Air Force base's airstrip.

A stretch of the food concession area on the north side of the festival grounds showed signs of looting. Trays of sliced onions and spoiled hamburger meat mingled on the ground with broken glass, plastic water bottles, gym shoes, baseball caps and some scattered sandwich-board letters, including a dollar sign.

During the morning, state troopers checked the site to make sure there were no bodies on the grounds, according to Captain Harry Bullock. "Everything's calm, cool and collected," he said, reporting that police were not aware of any deaths as a result of the rioting.

A 35-year-old worker at Rome's Big Daddy Sandwiches, who refused to give her name, attended the concert and put the blame for Woodstock '99's chaotic end on the Chili Peppers. "That one band had a lot to do with it," she said. "That's when it got out of hand. It's the music they were singing — they were like, 'Light the fire, stand by the fire' and it got to the kids." The Chili Peppers played a set-closing cover of late guitar-legend and Woodstock '69 veteran Jimi Hendrix's "Fire."

She and her sister left when the fires grew. "I wasn't scared. But I knew it was time to go," she said.

Echoing the comments of organizers and police earlier in the day, Beeches Paul Revere Lodge hotel co-owner Frank Destito attributed the chaos that closed the show to "a few bad eggs," unusually hot weather and back-to-back rowdy music.

"These kids were here for four days. It was very hot, they had trouble with the water and bathroom and showers," Destito said, referring to the overflowing portable bathrooms and reports of scarce potable water.

"The kids were great. If you're talking about 250,000 ... I think you're talking about maybe 100 kids that were really involved in [causing problems]," Destito said. "For the most part, these kids were great kids. The TV has a way of exaggerating things. All you saw of this concert were the fires. It was serious, it was intense, because nobody knows what's really going to happen, but if you look at the injuries and the negative things that happened, remember you're talking about 250,000 people for four days. Take any city of 250,000 for four days and read the newspaper."

Sevendust guitarist John Connolly, whose band played a late Sunday afternoon set, said the band stuck around to see the Chili Peppers and Megadeth and waited to leave until 2 or 3 a.m. to avoid traffic jams. Connolly characterized the riot as "inevitable."

"That's what happens when you put a quarter of a million people in one place at one time," he said on the phone from Pennsylvania. "I guess, after any kind of festival like that, they really don't want it to end. That was what the problem was — they wanted it to keep going on and on and on. I guess they wanted four or five more supergroups to go onstage and surprise 'em, and when it didn't happen, they decided they'd just go on ahead and destroy the place."