Woodstock '99 Report #56: Festival Cashes In With Over-The-Top Prices

From $4 water to $100 candles to $5 hot dogs, vendors take advantage of the moment.

ROME, N.Y. — Woodstock '99, from its inception, was billed as a land of peace, love and music.

Many fans who came to the three-day festival this weekend said they found those things. But they also said they found something they weren't counting on: $4 bottles of water, $100 candles and $5 hot dogs.

"It's not Woodstock," said David Quilichini, 20, who drove more than 2,000 miles from Alberta for the festival. "They round up a bunch of kids and sell you a hot dog for $5. It's ridiculous."

Fans who paid $150 for a three-day ticket spent $4 on frozen yogurt, $7 on Italian sausage sandwiches, $12 for a 12-inch pizza — a popular item this weekend, judging by the empty pizza cartons strewn around the massive field — and $5 for a roast beef sandwich.

One vendor advertised souvenir T-shirts for $20. Here was his bargain: two for $30.

The walk to the vendor area for those items made the fans thirsty. But to quench that thirst they had to pay $4 for plastic bottles of water. A small paper cup of lemonade diluted by water cost $3.

Dancers in the rave area wore neon wrist bands — the bands sold for $10 across the way.

Women feeling daring could buy thongs for $8. Campers wanting to light the space around their trailers could purchase candles that cost between $10 and $100.

Fans in the field near the east stage could buy a laminated commemorative ticket for the event for $5. Marijuana enthusiasts spent $10 for plastic-replica weed necklaces. The costs were so high that some festival attendees were forced to sell their jewelry and other possessions to get money to eat or just get home, according to an article in the New York Times.

The costs came on top of the money fans spent on gas, camping supplies and, um, "recreational activities." About the only thing that was free was the love — Planned Parenthood distributed 40,000 condoms to concert-goers, according to an organization spokesperson.

The purchases also came in a climate scattered with advertisements for Toro lawnmowers and Harley Davidson motorcycles. Other brand names showed up at the Independent Film Channel film festival and the AMP3.com rave stage.

The situation bred a climate of cynicism. Jason Fontana, 21, of Detroit berated the "yuppies" checking out the nonprofit tent. Justin Johnson, 25, of Woodstock, N.Y., said he viewed the festival as a product of a good economy, one where well-off kids could take advantage of the perks.

His was a typical response for the weekend: "This is very commercial. But music is music, and it really doesn't matter."

John Scher, the festival's co-promoter, refuted the notion that Woodstock '99 was overpriced and overly commercial: "There's very little commercialism here. Show me where it is."

The only advertisement flashing from the stages was for artist Peter Max's website. The booths mostly were devoid of recognizable brand names, though Dove was the festival's official ice cream vendor.

Scher said he and partner Michael Lang were not shooting for high prices, but he said they were necessary, since the festival cost $38 million to produce, and it is unclear whether it will turn a profit.