Review: 'Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage' revisits concert disaster

HBO documentary looks at how 1999's 30th anniversary of Woodstock celebration went south in a hurry.

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

The main voice you want to hear from in "Woodstock 99: Peace, Love and Rage" is Fred Durst, frontman for Limp Bizkit, whose Saturday evening set at the 1999 festival embodied the idiotic fiasco the entire festival became. 

Durst isn't included here, but there are plenty of others who wax on the fest, its distillation of suburban angst and how things quickly went from bad to worse to literally on fire at what was supposed to be, at least on paper, a celebration of peace, love and understanding. 

An image from "Woodstock 99: Peace, Love and Rage."

Director Garret Price frames the sociopolitical realities of the time — it was the end of the Clinton era, the economy was stable, yet an undercurrent of white male rage was bubbling up from underneath the suburbs — against the pop culture war being waged on MTV (boy bands and pop girls vs. sludgy nü-metal rockers). 

And while there was no real reason to stage another Woodstock — Woodstock '94, just five years prior, was a successful follow-up to the historic 1969 original — commercialism won out, and promoters booked a slew of heavy rock acts (and just a few females) and attempted to throw a party on an Air Force base with $4 waters, very little shelter and a corrosive feeling in the air. It wasn't a surprise when things turned ugly fast. 

"Peace, Love and Rage" balances concert footage and historical perspective in an insightful manner, while introducing arguments about who gets to shape history (the case is made that through a different lens, the original Woodstock perhaps wasn't all it was cracked up to be). 

Moby, Jewel, Korn's Jonathan Davis and a handful of others describe what it was like to perform there, while journalists such as Steven Hyden and Spin's Maureen Callahan help contextualize what it all meant. It's an entertaining yet troubling look at how with poor execution, good intentions can go up in flames. Still, we'll have to wait to hear about what Mr. "Break Stuff" thought of it all.


'Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage'


Not rated: language, nudity, disturbing content

Running time: 110 minutes

On HBO Max