Woodstock '99 Report #6: Estimated 150,000 Pour Onto Festival Grounds

Organizers, police report no problems as massive weekend-long concert gets under way.

ROME, N.Y. — The massive and potentially chaotic undertaking that is Woodstock '99 was unfolding smoothly Friday morning (July 23), organizers said.

In contrast to the previous two Woodstock festivals in 1969 and 1994, fans without tickets are finding it difficult to breach the concert's security, according to co-producer John Scher, who said most interlopers are turning away when they see the walls that protect Griffiss Air Force Base.

About 150,000 ticket holders had descended upon the site of Woodstock '99 by Friday morning, and 70,000 more were expected by the afternoon, Scher said at a press conference. The festival officially began at noon Friday with a performance by Godfather of Soul James Brown.

Scher announced that Sugar Ray had dropped off the bill due to illness, although he seemed to mistake the band for a solo act. "We hope Mr. Ray feels better," he said.

Sugar Ray singer Mark McGrath is sick, but the illness is not serious, according to an Atlantic Records representative. G. Love and Special Sauce were scheduled to fill in for Sugar Ray on Friday afternoon on Woodstock's east stage.

Scher compared Rome's mayor, Joseph Griffo, to Max Yasgur, who allowed the organizers of the original Woodstock to use his farm in Bethel, N.Y., for the festival. "This year, we needed to find an angel who was willing to host us. We found that in Mayor Griffo," Scher said.

"Hope you all enjoyed the fine weather," the mayor said. "It's gonna get just a little hotter — the sun will continue to shine. It's not your ordinary Woodstock" (RealAudio excerpt of interview).

Torrential downpours struck the original Woodstock in 1969 and its 1994 sequel. Thunderstorms and continued mid-'90s temperatures are predicted for Saturday.

Fans parked 50,000 cars on the site, facing only occasional traffic jams on their way in, according to Major James Parmley of the New York State Police, who have a strong presence at the base. For the most part, fans made it in without incident, although police reported three arrests Thursday night off the grounds. One of the arrests was for speeding, drunk driving and drug possession, Parmley said. He did not detail the other two.

Fans who are arrested on the festival grounds will be arraigned and jailed there via an on-site court system and holding facility, which has a 200-person capacity, according to Ken Donahue, Woodstock's chief of security operations.

But, Donahue added, fans had thus far been well-behaved, and few incidents had been reported.

"It's the Super Bowl of music entertainment," Griffo said from behind a pair of dark sunglasses. "It is the concert to end the century."

Scher added that there was no cut-off limit for tickets to the show. "[The base] could hold 1 million [people]," he said. "But there are not a million coming."

(Staff Writer Chris Nelson contributed to this report.)