Fred Durst didn’t ruin Woodstock ’99. Greed did.
The driving narrative is that things went south immediately after Limp Bizkit launched into “Break Stuff.” Yes, the festival crowd turned into a human tsunami as soon as they heard this rap-metal hit, with its car crash riffs and lyrics about physically venting frustrations. And there was Durst, the band’s frontman in the retro hat, crowd-surfing aboard plywood that the audience had ripped from the structure of an installation. An emblematic image of a festival on the edge of the abyss.
It was Saturday though. July 24, 1999 to be exact. Like the new Netflix docuseries Trainwreck: Woodstock ’99 portrayed, the festival did not devolve into nightmarish fires and sub-human mayhem until its third night. On Sunday, during and after the closing set of the Red Hot Chili Peppers festival, that’s when the real bad shit happened. The scene became scary enough that MTV rushed its talent and crew from the festival site – a former Air Force base in Rome, New York – as if it were a war zone. And it had become a war zone. Riots, fires, looting, rapes, madness.
The Chili Peppers had their share of flack for Woodstock ’99. Particularly for playing their Jimi Hendrix Experience cover, “Fire”, after some fans had already started fires in the crowd, using spent candles for a vigil against gun violence, which was not a good idea in this context.
Rap-metal as a whole was branded, for the sound and aggro-to-the-max mood of the genre. And indeed, rap-metal was at the height of its commercial appeal and cultural influence. Limp Bizkit, Korn, Kid Rock and Rage Against the Machine were cornerstones of festival booking.
That said, Woodstock ’99 wasn’t all rap-metal. Other headliners included Alanis Morrissette and Wyclef Jean. Still, it was a much heavier accent than the zeitgeist hippie performers at the original 1969 Woodstock, like Santana and Janis Joplin.
But most of the blame for Woodstock ’99 fell on Limp Bizkit. Including by John Scher, who along with Michael Lang, the curly-haired co-founder of the original Woodstock, were the promoters of the festival. In the Rail accident doc, Scher says, “I didn’t consider how much of a jerk Fred Durst is. He was having fun. Fred could have calmed them down in a minute, but instead he stirred up the crowd.
The banter between Durst’s songs before “Break Stuff” encouraged fans to release their negative energy. But he also told them to be careful of each other.
By then, Woodstock ’99 attendees’ frustrations were boiling over after two days of high temperatures, price gouging (especially for water, which fans weren’t allowed to bring to the festival) and squalid conditions. (Porta Pottys overflowing, trash everywhere).
In 2022, festival-goers would take to social media to tear up a festival because of poor conditions. But in 1999, social media didn’t exist, so the Woodstock ’99 crowd tore the festival itself apart. Rail accident argues that while toxicity is in the crosshairs of today’s culture wars, in the late 90s it was being celebrated. It was the time of fight clubClinton/Lewinsky and Girls Gone Wild.
But really, as the Woodstock ’99 crowd intensified, what was Limp Bizkit supposed to do? Playing an acoustic cover of Youngbloods’ 1966 hit “Get Together”? As former Limp Bizkit manager Peter Katsis says in Rail accident“Pointing fingers at Fred is pretty much the last thing anyone should do. There’s really no way to control 300,000 people. The best thing he could do was put on the best show possible, and that is what he did.
The buzzed Rail accidentdirected by Jamie Crawford, is Woodstock ’99’s second major documentary, following Garret Price’s 2021 HBO film Woodstock 99: Peace, Love and Rage. The two docs share some of the same interviewees, including Lang, Korn frontman Jonathan Davis, and pop-folk singer Jewel. Rail accident also chats with the likes of Scher, Katsis, Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale, British DJ Fatboy Slim, former MTV VJ Ananda Lewis, several onlookers who were young at the time, and various Woodstock staff’ 99.
Durst is noticeably absent from both documentaries. But in a 2019 interview with VarietyDurst said: “It’s easy to point fingers and blame [us], but they hired us for what we do and everything we did is what we do. I turned my finger and pointed it at the people who had hired us. In this same Variety interview, Durst added, “We were out there having a great time. Hey, everyone was having a great time as far as we know. It’s the truth.”
Through interviews and reports, Rail accident makes the Woodstock ’99 case reduces corners on safety and providing a safe and reasonably comfortable setting. The video for Limp Bizkit’s upcoming single, “Re-Arranged”, depicts the band imprisoned and put on trial for their performance at Woodstock ’99. The verdict? Guilty.
There hasn’t been another Woodstock since 1999. It was the third edition of the festival, following a muddy, muddy Woodstock ’94 with alternative rockers like Nine Inch Nails, Blind Melon and the Cranberries. With Lang dying in 2022 at age 77 from cancer, another Woodstock seems unlikely.
Formed in the mid-90s in Jacksonville, Florida, Limp Bizkit’s first three albums went multi-platinum. The band’s sound draws inspiration from sources such as Rage Against the Machine, Pantera and sick permit. Limp Bizkit’s fortunes didn’t fade immediately after Woodstock ’99. The next full album Limp Bizkit released after the festival was that of the 2000s Chocolate starfish and hot dog flavored waterwhich sold at the speed of light, exceeding 8,000,000 copies.
Unfortunately, the band was embroiled in another gig controversy. During their 2001 set at Australia’s Big Day Out festival, a teenage spectator died amid another large wild crowd, suspicious security and accusations that Durst could have handled the situation better. Limp Bizkit’s next album, Results may vary, released in 2003 without guitarist Wes Borland in the band, saw sales plummet, although it still sold over a million units. Sales of Limp Bizkit’s next releases sold considerably less and the group went on hiatus. In 2011, they reunited for the well-received album golden cobra, and played on and off and released another album in the years that followed. A 2022 European tour has been postponed due to Durst’s unspecified health issues.
Limp Bizkit’s cutting edge work, like the irresistible “Nookie”, has aged better than haters of nu-metal could ever have imagined. Twenty-five years after their relentless debut LP, Three dollar bill y’all, the group enjoys a wave of nostalgia and interest. Maybe now, through the lens of Rail accident, Limp Bizkit will finally escape the shadow of the scapegoat of Woodstock ’99. As one of the scene’s security personnel says in the doc, “I don’t think you can blame Limp Bizkit for being Limp Bizkit. It’s like blaming a bear for being a bear.