Billed as a millennium-defining celebration of peace, love, and great music, Woodstock ‘99 instead ended in chaos. As reexamined in Netflix’s Trainwreck: Woodstock ’99 docuseries, the three-day music festival in Rome, N.Y. degenerated into violence, rioting, and destruction, as more than a dozen fires broke out at the former Griffiss Air Force Base. Director Jamie Crawford interviewed eyewitnesses ranging from festival staffers, performers, and attendees to go behind the scenes of exactly how the events played out. Among them was original 1969 Woodstock co-creator and promoter Michael Lang, who also produced Woodstock ‘94 and Woodstock ‘99.
One of the first issues was the 90-degree heat that led several hundred people to be treated for heat exhaustion. One concertgoer, 24-year-old David DeRosia, collapsed at the festival and later died of heat stroke. In a 2001 lawsuit, Lang was named as a co-defendant; attorneys for DeRosia’s mother, Lorelei Johnson, alleged that promoters and doctors were negligent in not providing enough fresh water or adequate medical care for the more than 200,000 attendees. Meanwhile, Lang has long countered that they’d provided plenty of water and Gatorade to medical tents and had opened additional cool-down facilities. Ten years later, Johnson was still pursuing the lawsuit in a state Supreme Court.
That wasn’t the only lawsuit Lang and his co-promoters faced, though. Among the others was a personal injury suit filed in 2000 by a 20-year-old Virginia woman who claimed she was sexually assaulted and raped by three men. (Hers was one of several reported sexual assaults, including four instances of rape.) Lawyers in the case and others of similar nature claimed that Lang and his colleagues didn’t provide adequate security for the crowd size. However, Lang argued that organizers did their best to maintain public safety.
Despite the fallout, Lang attempted to revive Woodstock again in 2019 for a 50th-anniversary concert in Watkins Glen, N.Y., with Jay-Z, Miley Cyrus, the Killers, Chance the Rapper, Santana, and Imagine Dragons among the scheduled performers. In a 2019 interview with The New York Times, he described his desire to make social and environmental activism central to the experience as an homage to the festival’s 1960s roots. “It just seems like it’s a perfect time for a Woodstock kind of reminder,” Lang told the newspaper.
However, the planned August 2019 festival was canceled amid a legal battle with its financial backer, an arm of the Japanese advertising conglomerate Dentsu, per the Times. Lang and his fellow Woodstock 50 organizers sued Dentsu, seeking “tens of millions of dollars in compensatory and punitive damages.” After an arbitration panel ruled that Dentsu breached its contract, Lang and his co-plaintiffs won a settlement for an undisclosed amount, Billboard reported in January 2021.
After filming his Trainwreck: Woodstock ’99 interviews, Lang died in a Manhattan hospital in January 2022, with a family spokesperson attributing the cause to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He was 77.