Peace Love and Making Money...

By Will Baker

Acrid smoke swirled in great billowing clouds above the burning wreckage of several large tractor -trailers. Here and there fights broke out, and angry young men, intoxicated by an orgy of violence swung clubs and broke bones, while in dark corners women were raped in the flickering light of the fires. Security police tried to make order out of chaos, but their efforts were futile. There were too few policemen to stop the pillaging, the burning, rapes and mayhem.

This scene was recently played out. But where you ask: Kosovo, or somewhere in Africa perhaps? Try upstate New York, at the Woodstock ’99 music festival. It was an amazing sight, But given the circumstances: how the event was promoted, the mind set of some of today’s young people, and the rules governing group dynamics, in hindsight I suppose the eruption of violence shouldn’t be all that surprising. What is surprising is that no one was killed.

But what was all the violence about? In my opinion, it was mostly the result of an ill-conceived scheme to make a lot of money. The Woodstock trademark is a powerful marketing tool. The vast majority of the folks that attended last week’s music festival were not even born when the original festival was held in the Summer of 1969, but by calling the event Woodstock ’99, the event’s promoters guaranteed themselves a huge turnout and profit potential. That is unless future litigation chips away at their net operating income. As a side note, it will be interesting to see if the "hold harmless" waivers incorporated into the ticket purchase transactions will hold up in court. I would love to hear the promoter’s attorneys make their argument: "Your honor, the plaintiffs purchased these tickets to attend this event at their own risk…" Risk of what, assault and rape. We aren’t talking about stolen backpacks here.

The event was heavily promoted with all the attendant bells and whistles that the promoters and their team of professional marketers could muster. And they were very effective. Almost two hundred and fifty thousand people attended the event, and the pay per view audience made that number seem puny. While I just couldn’t bring myself to haul my wife and little daughter to the event, I was a member of the "viewing audience." The artists that were chosen to perform at the event were weighted heavily towards rap, and hip-hop. The message that these groups convey is more often than not one of violence and hopelessness, with a misogynistic undercurrent. While I am an unfailing supporter of free speech, and have been known to speak against mandatory record labeling, one could use the events of last week to argue against me.

The promoters chose a weekend during the hottest part of the summer, during one of the hottest and driest summers on record. Even though a "rain tent" was erected where concert goers could go to get sprayed down, given the heat and humidity, I believe that some folks were literally crazy from the heat. And nothing goes down better on a hot day than a cold beer or cocktail, and from what I could see there was plenty to be had.

Recent events including the Littleton shooting have given us a window into the mindsets of some of today’s youth. When we look through this window we sometimes see alienation, despair and a "get it while you can" mentality. Much has been written by others and myself as to why this is so, therefore I will resist the impulse to beat that particular dead horse. But I will say this: we, collectively have raised these children, therefore I believe that the problem is very much one of our own making. I have also noted that the reaction of the general public to the rioting at Woodstock ’99 was not one of surprise. How could it be? After witnessing the tragic events at Littleton, what happened last week seems like small potatoes by comparison. We should be thankful that a gunman didn’t open fire, shouldn’t we?

There is strength in numbers. Fish school to confuse their predators, and some mammals form herds for the same reason. However other animals, lions and wolves for example, understand that a group effort can be beneficial for hunting. But human beings have taken this to a new level; it’s referred to as military science. But even folks unschooled in military science and history understand that not only is there strength in numbers for defense, but for offense as well. I believe that there was a point during last week’s music festival, when it dawned on the crowd that they so far outnumber the staff security and police, that with a unified effort they could basically do as they pleased. And they did. I have heard this type of mass realization referred to as a "group think." Based on the number of staff security and police, who were present at the event, it seems to me that they were woefully understaffed. A three-day music festival is not the same thing as say a Superbowl. These type of festivals amount to temporary cities. I would argue that there should have been much more staff security and police personnel present than were on hand. Of course that would have reduced the promoter’s profit margin, but with an event of this size it really should be considered a cost of doing business.

So I’ve told why I think it happened, but where do we go from here? Should large music festivals be outlawed? Should music promoting violence be banned? I am sure that many folks are saying yes on both counts. I am equally certain that some lawmaker somewhere, is at this very moment considering offering legislation to address these issues, as if that will help. But what can the average citizen do? We sometimes feel so helpless when confronted by such big issues. I would suggest that we all should look in the mirror and ask ourselves if we are as present in our children’s lives as we should be. I believe that the issues and concerns that we are grappling with relative to our children have a fairly obvious solution. It seems to me that if we care about our kids, and when I say "our" I mean collectively, we should devote enough of our time and energy to make a difference in their lives. But if it the solution is so obvious, why is there such a problem? Because it is very difficult, being present in a child’s life takes a lot of consistent, hard work. And seldom is there an opportunity for immediate gratification related to the effort. But the gratification will come, for instance when your child attends a music festival and does not rape, kill, pillage or burn.

But there is good news and I am optimistic. I am sure that the vast majority of the young people on hand at the recent festival behaved peacefully. I am also certain that logistical lessons have been learned, which can be applied to future events. And the fact that the nation is now talking about and trying to understand the dynamics of youth related issues is a very good thing. I have heard it said "there is no future in pessimism," and I believe this. So excuse me, I need to go look in the mirror, and then deal honestly and constructively with what I see.


 (Essay Collection)