Fanning the Flames: The Top 10 Performances at Woodstock 99

This week marks the 13th anniversary of Woodstock 1999, the iconic festival's much-maligned third iteration that kinda dissolved into rape and looting towards the end. As 200,000-strong anarchic gatherings go, everything went off rather pleasantly for much of the festival, but the bonfires, looting and Fred Durst's goony mug quickly became the dominant images in the media. Conveniently pegged by some as the "Death of the '90s" or proof that music and culture had changed for the worse, the truth about Woodstock 99 is a little more complicated.

This was no spontaneous '60s "Happening" miraculously devoted to music and peace (and drugs). It was a three-day, corporate-funded Rock Concert designed to make very large sums of money. Ticket, food and water prices were considered obscene for the time, and portable toilets started filling up and overflowing on the first day. As it turned out, wallowing in their own filth was one of the few ways that concert-goers could beat the heat on the treeless airstrip that served as the festival ground.

That said, until the SWAT teams were called in at the end of the third day, Woodstock 99 looked like a pretty fun place to be. And there was some great music performed that's been mostly forgotten in the wake of the scary, sensational finale. That's why on this anniversary, Rocks Off will leave aside the violent, lawless image that clouds our collective memory of Woodstock 99 and try to focus on the top 10 performers who made Rome, NY, the place to be 13 years ago.

The fires have long since been put out. Let's show these consummate professionals a little peace, love and understanding, what do you say?

10. Korn

Woodstock 99 was something of a high water mark for Korn. The band was at the absolute height of its popularity at the time, riding high on the mainstream success of its 1998 album Follow the Leader. The sight of a rippling sea of 100,000 or so music fans pogoing along to "Blind" bummed out a hell of a lot of teenagers stuck at home across America, watching footage of the set on MTV. On several occasions, members of Korn have cited Woodstock as the most memorable show of their careers.

9. DMX

DMX was one of hip hop's strongest live performers of the '90s, and his set at Woodstock gave him an outsized stage to match his persona. X proved more than up to the challenge presented by the endless crowd, radiating energy as he stalked back and forth across the stage. His gruff rhymes kept the audience bouncing in what had to be a major career highlight for the rapper.

8. The Roots ft. Erykah Badu

Like nearly everybody not named Metallica that played Woodstock 99, the legendary Roots crew stepped their game up noticeably in front of the big crowd. Always a reliable live act, the Roots brought out a resplendent Erykah Badu for their set's highlight, "You Got Me." Today, it's a potent reminder that there were plenty of positive vibes floating around the festival, regardless of the ugliness at the end.

7. James Brown

The surprise opener for the massive three-day festival was none other than the Godfather of Soul himself, James Brown. As surprise performances go, they really don't get much better than that. The hardest-working man in show business got the concert started properly, by getting the incredible mass of people smiling and dancing right off the bat. We miss that guy.

6. Chemical Brothers

It wasn't all guitars and mike stands at Woodstock 99. There was also a massive rave tent, allowing concertgoers to participate in one of the continent's largest electronic music performances in history at the time. The Chemical Brothers were enthroned as one of knob-twiddling's biggest mainstream successes in '99, and their aggressive set served as an irresistible invitation for thousands of teens and young adults to cram themselves full of drugs and spin glow sticks all night.

Today, the footage is a cool reminder of a moment in time for a pop-rave culture that has evolved into something else entirely in the intervening years.

5. Beastie Boys

R.I.P. MCA! The Beasties were at the height of their live performance powers in 1999, fresh off their Hello, Nasty arena tour and the Tibetan Freedom Concerts that Adam Yauch helped to promote. "Sabotage" absolutely sizzled, the recording of which serves as a far more pleasant reminder of the festival than Adam Horovitz's denunciation of the widely rumored incidents of sexual assault during the concert months later at the MTV Video Music Awards show.

4. Insane Clown Posse

What do you mean, you forgot that ICP performed at Woodstock 99? The Clowns' stage show may have suffered a bit from a distinct drought of Faygo, but the novelty of ICP perverting the fest's corporate co-option of music and peace with cogent protest songs such as "Fuck the World" remained sweetly delicious. The very next year, ICP would begin working to recreate a little bit of the Woodstock magic with their very first Gathering of the Juggalos.

3. Jamiroquai

Jamiroquai never quite achieved the megawatt superstardom in the U.S. that they did across the pond, and part of the reason may be that their stellar Woodstock set was so thoroughly overshadowed by the gnarly "Break Stuff" vibe of the chaos to come. Which is a shame, not just because Jamiroquai put on a great show, but because dozens of other artists throughout the festival's schedule delivered great, positive music and showed fans the time of their lives.

2. Rage Against the Machine

In the event's aftermath, the media had a bit of a tough time with Rage Against the Machine's set at Woodstock 99. The band was a critical darling, the thinking man's nu-metal, but it was highly tempting to blame the carnage that capped the concert on Rage's anti-authoritarian rabble rousing.

The band had burned an American flag onstage, and the flames sure looked pretty. Luckily, Fred Durst became the all-too-willing lightning rod for criticism of the lineup's metal contingent, and Rage's excellent set is remembered fondly by comparison.

1. Red Hot Chili Peppers

If you remember anything about the Chili Peppers' set at Woodstock, it's probably that they were the band onstage when the fires started. That seems significant, considering the fact that bassist Flea performed totally nude. Then again, it takes a hell of a dong to outshine the fearsome majesty of gigantic bonfires, we guess.

Between the end of the Chilis' main set and encore, promoters came on stage and told the crowd that a fire truck would have to come in and extinguish an audio tower that had been sort of maybe accidentally set ablaze somehow. After that was put out, the band returned to the stage and lit into Jimi Hendrix's "Fire."

The band swore it was a pre-planned tribute, but coincidence or not, it was pretty fucking cool.

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Nathan Smith
Contact: Nathan Smith