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Arson, Rioting Mar the Close of Woodstock '99 Rock Festival

July 27, 1999|From Times Mirror Staff and Wire Reports

ROME, N.Y. — The smoke cleared Monday on the site of Woodstock '99 as authorities and cleanup crews dealt with the aftermath of the weekend festival's violent finale--widespread looting, arson and rioting that sent the event's peaceful ethos up in flames.

The Sunday night chaos saw hundreds of youths set a dozen bonfires, tear down at least two 50-foot light towers and torch a row of cargo containers, authorities and witnesses said. Propane gas tanks also reportedly were thrown into the flames by rioters.

At least six concert-goers were injured, one of them seriously when a man was caught beneath a toppled trailer, state Police Superintendent James McMahon said Monday. Seven people also were arrested on charges ranging from rioting to criminal mischief, he said.

After a brief flare-up of vandalism Saturday during rap-rock group Limp Bizkit's set, the three-day music festival that drew more than 225,000 people had progressed without major incident until late Sunday.

The crowd's mood heated up during the closing set by the Red Hot Chili Peppers after candles were passed out among the crowd by a peace advocacy organization. By the time the band played Jimi Hendrix's "Fire" shortly before the concert ended at 10 p.m., several hundred youths had set about a dozen fires with plywood, trash and chunks of a wooden mural that organizers had named the Peace Wall. They also set fire to a car.

Fire and police units did not respond immediately as officials seemed to be caught off guard. Promoter John Scher said the 1,250-person internal security force was not activated because it was not properly trained to handle a riot.

Most of the concert-goers viewed the melee with shock and dismay. "This is insane," said Rob Frank, of Waukesha, Wis. "I came here to hear the music and for a feeling of togetherness. It was everything I expected and then some--until now."

Many of those seen tossing wood onto the fires said they were taking revenge against the high costs for basic supplies such as food and water. Although free water was available, getting to it often required a lengthy walk.

"I blame [festival organizer] Michael Lang," said Don Waslelewski, 23, of Hudson, N.H. "He totally overpriced everything. He forgot what Woodstock is all about. . . .. It's 95 degrees outside and the guy is selling water for $5 a pop."

"It's a great shame that this happened because, in so many ways, it was so uplifting," Scher said. "It puts a permanent blemish on what happened here. I think the kids made a mistake. They did not intend for this to happen."

The festival had been peaceful overall, with fewer than 40 arrests, most of them for misdemeanors, and few if any serious injuries.

About 3,000 people required medical treatment over the course of three days, organizers said, the vast majority for heat exhaustion. There was one death, of natural causes: Stanley Scott, 44, of Hyannis, Mass., died of heart failure.

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