The festival kicked off on Friday August 12, 1994, celebrating 25-years since the legendary Woodstock Festival back in 1969. Unlike its hippy predecessor, Woodstock 94’s lineup showcased huge metal and alt-rock performances from bands like Metallica, Nine Inch Nails, Green Day, Primus and more. A lack of adequate security personnel and infrastructure also meant that a huge number of punters – some 550,000 fans – were able to sneak copious amounts of beer and other substances into the festival, ensuring that it was one of the rowdiest festivals of its era.
For their first performance with new guitarist Dave Navarro, Red Hot Chili Peppers appeared on stage in light bulb costumes, and returned for their encore wearing tributes to Jimi Hendrix’s own Woodstock ’69 garb.
Despite the music world’s collective joy at the prospect of Woodstock’s original peace loving optimism returning to festival culture, some were skeptical of the revisited festival/ Arguments ensued over whether these acts were tainting the legacy of the original Woodstock, particularly due to the accompanying commercialization of the festival, however Metallica’s Lars Ulrich had a different opinion.
“What was going on [for the original Woodstock] was the best contemporary bands for 1969,” Ulrich told MTV before the group’s performance. “Now, we have the best contemporary bands for 1994. Music has evolved and society has evolved. Anyone expecting this to be a reprise of what went on 25 years ago should have their head examined.”
Woodstock ’94 also cooked up some serious nostalgia, with several acts from the original 1969 lineup, which included Santana, Country Joe McDonald and Crosby, Stills and Nash, Joe Cocker and more.
Easily one of the biggest highlight of the festival was the performance by Bob Dylan, who had famously turned down the invitation to perform at the original Woodstock concert 25 years earlier. Organisers had originally planned to run the 1969 festival at Winston Farm, close to where Dylan lived, hoping he’d be tempted to perform.
“We waited 25 years to hear this. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Bob Dylan.” The introduction for the long anticipated performance was followed by ‘Jokerman’ then followed with ‘60s favorites like ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ and ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.’ Appropriately, Dylan picked ‘Rainy Day Women #12 & 35’ for his encore – in retrospect however, his performance of ‘All Along The Watchtower’ sounds less than pretty.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Woodstock without a little (or a lot) of mud. The rain caused the the area at the front of the stage to become a mud-slick mosh pit.
Nine Inch Nails drummer Chris Vrenna recalls the moment keyboardist James Woolley broke the tension before their set by flicking a handful of mud at him: “It was like the beginning of a food fight, one thing led to another, and the next thing we knew, everyone was covered from head to toe and we were all laughing for the first time of the day.”
Nine Inch Nails definitely weren’t the only victims of the mud riot. By the third day of the festival the area in front of the stage was a giant, muddy mosh pit – which, as you can imagine, turned into an absolute shit show when Primus took to the stage to perform their thumping track ‘My Name Is Mud.’ Although it’s unfortunately cut out of the video below, the band were pelted with mud by the crowd when they launched into the song, with Claypool stopping the band after a minute and exclaiming “Well I opened a big-ass can of worms with that one, didn’t I? The song is called ‘My Name Is Mud’, but keep the mud to yourselves you son-of-a-bitch!”
Mud covered fans piled in to see Green Day, whose performance came just months after the release of Dookie, which would later become a staple in any punk-rocker’s CD case (or Spotify playlist, because in 2019 that album is still a banger).
“What is this free fucking hippy love shit?,” frontman Billie Joe Armstrong asked, adding, “How are you doing, you rich motherfuckers?” By the end of Green Day’s set, fans were hurling handfuls of mud at the band, triggering a chaotic mud fight which resulted in a pant-less Billie Joe Armstrong, and a security guard accidentally knocking out some of bassist Mike Dirnt’s front teeth.
“I got tackled by a security guard,” Dirnt told the Aquarian Weekly. “He actually sheared my teeth, and I blew like five teeth. Only one of them died. I fixed the rest of them, but he sheared up the back of my teeth. It was horrible. But the great thing about it is that I was able to get out of there, and I’d do it again tomorrow if I had to.”
Footage of that performance ended up getting some major air time on MTV, and Dookie ended up hitting number four on the Billboard charts. Just this year, Green Day auctioned off a cache of memorabilia for Reverb which included some of their mud-stained drum skins from the festival.
While Woodstock ’94 was more than just metal and mud. The festival featured appearances from cult heroes such as Violent Femmes, Gil-Scott Heron, Sheryl Crow and The Alman Brothers, while Cypress Hill offered a fat dose of ’90s hip hop to hungry punters. Aerosmith, who were atendees at the original festival back in 1969, were gifted a special set following Metallica’s huge fireworks display at 3am on day two of the festival to a huge crowd response.
Electronic mastermind Aphex Twin played an immense rave of a set on the festival’s first night, which was apparently cut short after promoters pulled the plug on his performance after they discovered he’d signed his festival contract with a fake name. Classic Richard D. James.
If anything, however, Woodstock ’94 was the final hurrah for the legacy of the festival. It held true to the music-first ethos of the original festival, avoided the corporate sponsorship that has plagued the festival’s name since, and somehow, forged more than one legendary tale out of its muddy pits.
Revisit our eulogy to Woodstock 50 – the festival that died before it was even breathing – here.