Woodstock ’94: Music, Moshing, Mud … and Bob Dylan
Woodstock ’94, also known as Woodstock II, has been called the “middle child” between the peaceful original 1969 concert and 1999’s disaster -- the latter of which was halted after incidents of arson, looting and rape. It actually had more in common with its predecessor, at least in terms of the weather.
Kicking off on Friday, Aug. 12, 1994, and staged on Winston Farm in Saugerties, N.Y., this 25th anniversary event was also plagued by incessant rain. Only, it got much, much worse. In fact, the sloppy conditions eventually earned this subsequent concert a new name: Mudstock.
In contrast to the disaster that followed in 1999, Woodstock '94 saw most of the 350,000 attendees enjoying a relatively peaceful weekend of music performed by more than 50 bands. Two people died, but both from pre-existing conditions -- one from a ruptured spleen and another from complications relating to diabetes.
Tickets to Woodstock '94 were $135 each; the event was also available via pay-per-view for $49. Companies like Haagen-Dazs, Apple and Pepsi were official sponsors. Promoters were beginning to change the free-love quality that surrounded the Woodstock myth with a new commercial aesthetic, but not to a jarring degree.
“I feared after I committed to do it that it would be a corporate nightmare, with a Pepsi logo behind the Woodstock thing,” Nine Inch Nails front man Trent Reznor told MTV. “But from being here, I’ve got a pretty good vibe. And I’m pleased to see that it turned out to be so far a pretty positive thing for the fans that came here to see us.”
Security was tight at the start of Woodstock ’94. Nine miles of chain link fence surrounded the site in an effort to keep out 1969-like gatecrashers. Fans passed through metal detectors and were not allowed to bring in food and drink. Alcohol and drugs were forbidden. But as Friday turned to Saturday, the sheer number of people overwhelmed security and the rules were relaxed. By Sunday, it was anything goes. Thousands of latecomers entered the concert.
Those who attended found there was music for every taste. Classic rockers enjoyed Traffic, Aerosmith, Peter Gabriel and the Allman Brothers Band. Younger members of the crowd flocked to see contemporary bands like Green Day, Blues Traveler and Blind Melon. Rap, reggae, metal, gospel, New Orleans and world music acts also appeared on the festival's two huge stages.
In another connection, several 1969 returnees were on hand -- including Santana, Joe Cocker, Country Joe McDonald and Crosby, Stills and Nash, who were joined by John Sebastian of the Lovin' Spoonful. Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Levon Helm of The Band made a second stop, as well. Also appearing were Roger McGuinn of the Byrds; Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady of Jefferson Airplane; the Grateful Dead's Bob Weir; Rob Wasserman and Bruce Hornsby.
But the highlight of the festival was the performance by Bob Dylan, who’d turned down an invitation to appear 25 years before. Promoters actually planned to stage the 1969 concert on the Winston Farm site with the hope that Dylan, who lived nearby, would perform. Dylan memorably declined and when the owner of the land backed out, the concert was moved to Bethel, N.Y.
Dylan's introduction, on the final day of Woodstock ’94, reflected this shared history: “We waited 25 years to hear this. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Bob Dylan.” Backed by a four-piece band, Dylan opened with the newer 'Jokerman' then followed with ‘60s favorites like ‘All Along the Watchtower,’ ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ and ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.’ Appropriately, Dylan picked ‘Rainy Day Women #12 & 35’ for his encore.
On Saturday, alt-rock’s Blind Melon performed what’s been called a “manic, unhinged performance.” Singer Shannon Hoon, reportedly high on acid, took the stage wearing mascara, barrettes in his hair and a long white dress borrowed from his girlfriend. During the set, Hoon hurled the band’s conga drums into the crowd.
Hoon also encouraged the audience to say “God bless you” for the people who had died at the concert. (A year later, Hoon himself died of a cocaine overdose.) After Blind Melon's set, MTV asked guitarist Rogers Stevens if he felt good about their performance. “I don’t remember it,” said Stevens. “I was blocking it out the whole time, so it’s hard to say.”
By the third day, the area in front of the stage was a huge, muddy mosh pit. Fans in front showered punk rockers Green Day with clumps of mud and straw. Singer Billie Joe Armstrong got into the act, slamming down his microphone, and throwing pieces of turf back at the crowd. A near-riot ensued as audience members tried to storm the stage. Security guards quickly moved in. Because everyone was covered in mud, however, it was difficult to distinguish the musicians from the crowd.
“I got tackled by a security guard,” Green Day bassist Mike Dirnt told the Aquarian Weekly. “He actually sheared my teeth, and I blew like five teeth. Only one of them died. I fixed the rest of them, but he sheared up the back of my teeth. It was horrible. But the great thing about it is that I was able to get out of there, and I’d do it again tomorrow if I had to.”
A pre-show incident between Trent Reznor and Danny Lohner left Nine Inch Nails covered with mud for their entire performance. “On the way to the stage there was a little accident,” Reznor told MTV. “It turned into kind of a mud wrestling thing that escalated into a full-scale mud riot. I accidentally tripped Danny and pushed his face into the mud. And then he retaliated by body-slamming me.”
Though all was seemingly forgiven, don't look for Nine Inch Nails to make a return visit, should another Woodstock event be held. Asked if he would be back for, say, a 50th anniversary performance, Reznor replied, “If I am, someone shoot me on stage.”
See Bob Dylan and Other Rockers in the Top 100 Albums of the '60s