Members of Creed, Sevendust and Oleander said the chaos that ended Woodstock '99 was the inevitable result of concert-goers' enduring three days of heat, paying $4 for water and being surrounded by garbage and the smell of sewage.
The artists refuted the argument of Rome, N.Y., residents that the aggressive musical style featured at the massive three-day festival inspired fan rioting, arson and vandalism.
Rather, they said, concert-goers had reached a breaking point.
"Apparently a bottle of water was like four or five bucks, nobody was collecting garbage, and I guess everybody kind of got fed up with the living conditions, so to speak, and being out in the sun for three days straight," Creed drummer Scott Phillips said.
Event co-organizer John Scher blamed the riot and fires on a small group of destructive fans. Concession stand prices, he said at a press conference early Monday, were competitive with those at other similar events.
The Tallahassee, Fla., rock band, which had a hit with "My Own Prison" (RealAudio excerpt), the title track from its 1997 debut, played on the last day of the concert, just before the Red Hot Chili Peppers took the stage. It was during the funk-rock Chili Peppers' set that some of the estimated 150,000 festival-goers who remained began lighting bonfires that at times shot up more than 30 feet.
As the Peppers continued to play, fans danced around the fires and tore off pieces of wood from structures to add fuel to the blazes. By the time the show ended with a brief, pre-recorded tribute to late guitar great Jimi Hendrix, a full-fledged riot had broken out: Food vending trucks were burned and looted and the former Griffiss Air Force base, where the concert was held, was trashed.
"I feel like I can usually tell if the energy at a gig is dangerous or volatile, and it just did not feel that way to me," Chili Peppers bassist Flea (born Michael Balzary) wrote in a posting on the band's official website.
Flea called Woodstock "a f---ing gas." "We rocked, had fun and got the f--- out of there before we knew what had happened," he wrote. "Don't know about all those fires and vandalism and sh--, it all felt good to me."
Likewise, Oleander singer Thomas Flowers described playing on the first day of the festival as one of the most exhilarating moments of his life. But the day after Oleander performed, Flowers and his bandmates known for such songs as "You'll Find Out" (RealAudio excerpt) went into the crowd and got a very different view of Woodstock '99.
It was "overwhelming misery" out there, Flowers said.
"It didn't surprise me to hear of the riots on Sunday, because the conditions of the environment seemed very, very much like when prison conditions cause prisoners to riot," Flowers said Tuesday. "It was that bad. When you're selling bottles of water for $4 to people who have a need for water, that's pretty bad.
"It was something that I was not very proud to view. There was a stench of human waste that you could not get away from for a quarter-mile walk. There was overwhelming garbage heaps everywhere."
But Sevendust's John Connolly reasoned that concert-goers weren't fed up with the conditions on the festival site, but frustrated that Woodstock '99 was over.
"I guess, after any kind of festival like that, they really don't want it to end," said the guitarist, whose band played such songs as "Too Close to Hate" (RealAudio excerpt)."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."
Connolly, who said he was not surprised by Woodstock's fiery end, added, "that's just what happens when you put a quarter of a million people at one place and one time."
Others argued that no one could have predicted the melee, no matter what the conditions were.
Phillips, who called playing Woodstock "a once in a lifetime thing," said that during their Sunday evening set, he and the other members of Creed didn't foresee the crowd getting out of hand.
Hoping to beat the traffic leaving Rome, Creed packed up and loaded onto their bus. After settling in, they turned on the television, only to see live coverage showing several fires apparently burning out of control as the Chili Peppers rocked the east stage.
The Peppers have been criticized for closing their set with the Jimi Hendrix song "Fire," after Scher took the stage to warn fans of the potential danger of the bonfires and to urge them to allow fire trucks through. Scher said the Chili Peppers had no reason to believe there was any danger in performing the song, and their choice to play it was a tragic coincidence.
Phillips and Flowers said the band's choice to play the song had nothing to do with the rioting.
"That's like saying that any song with a theme that involves anything negative is going to cause kids to respond negatively as soon as they hear it, as if they're so brainwashed," Flowers said.
The same goes, he said, for any of the aggressive music that some blame for the violent outburst that turned the 30th anniversary of the original 1969 Woodstock music and arts festival in Bethel, N.Y., into a virtual war zone. The rioting left about 60 fans and police injured.
"That is bullsh--," Flowers said. "The bottom line is those promoters knew exactly what they were doing when they brought every one of those bands in. ... People were getting hurt at Los Lobos, they were getting hurt during the Chemical Brothers. If Joan Baez had came out and sang 'Kumbaya,' there would have been a mosh pit and people would have gotten hurt."
Explaining the band's decision to play "Fire," Chili Peppers publicist Gayle Fine said Wednesday that a half-hour before the band's set, Jamie Hendrix, the late rocker's step-sister, requested the band play something in honor of the '69 Woodstock hero.
"They're huge Hendrix fans," Fine said. "Flea has a tattoo of him on his arm. And 'Fire' is a song they perform, but hadn't done in eons. When she left the dressing room, they went into the back part of it and rehearsed the song."
Scher said "Fire" had been in the band's setlist for months.
Fine also said the Peppers were not aware of the extent of the chaos. "They had no clue what was going on," she said. "As far as we were told, there was one fire and they were bringing fire trucks in. They did not see seven or eight fires."
As the band returned to the stage for its encore, Anthony Kiedis said, Holy sh--, it looks like 'Apocalypse Now' out there," referring to the 1979 Vietnam war movie.
Other performers expressed relief they weren't around to witness the mayhem. "We are glad we played the first day before it got totally out of hand!" read a statement from pop-rockers Lit, whose set included the single "My Own Worst Enemy" (RealAudio excerpt).
Creed's Phillips said he was disappointed to see so much attention paid to the ugly side of Woodstock '99, when the festival offered three days of great music.
But he said he hopes the mistakes made there won't be repeated.
"I think the lesson to be learned is, what people need to live, you're not charging an arm and a leg for," he said. "Get a corporate sponsor for water and give it away. That's certainly more stuff they can throw at us onstage, which would suck for us. But they obviously learned something [from this], as far as just making sure that everybody is well taken care of."