I Worked at Woodstock ‘99
Warning: the following essay contains excerpts from graphic accounts of sexual assault and other forms of violence.
“Sometimes, bad behavior is a contagion.” — Woodstock ’99 and the Rise of Toxic Masculinity, A. Petrusich, The New Yorker, 7/30/2021
Since I don’t remember her name, I’m going to call her Jessica. Chances are strong she was a Jessica, or a Jess, or a Jessi/ie/y. She was a few years into college, which would’ve placed her year of birth sometime between 1977 and 1979, peak Jessica years for white baby girl nomenclature. Jessica was slightly orange (fake-baked) and (bottle) blonde. Jessica was older than me. Jessica was weeping.
We were at Woodstock ’99, the music festival in Rome, New York mainly attended by middle- and upper-class white people in their twenties. I was a CPR-certified, First Aid-trained teenager from rural New Jersey, and I had signed on to volunteer for the crisis intervention team in exchange for festival admission, three meals a day, plenty of water, and an air mattress in former barracks at Griffiss Air Force Base.
Griffiss was a 3,552-acre complex that began operations in 1943 under the Air Combat Command and ceased active operations in the 1990s, a move that eliminated a staggering number of jobs. According to the then-mayor of Rome in director Garret Price’s new HBO Max documentary Woodstock ’99: Peace, Love, and Rage, Woodstock ’99 was welcomed by many nearby residents as a potential huge boost to the local economy.
Though I cannot be sure, it is quite possible that my own grandfather left Griffiss with his bombing squadron when he traveled to perform over 50 missions in the European theater of World War II. Today it is a Superfund site under the auspices of the Environmental Protection Agency.
In July of 1999, Jessica went to Griffiss AFB to see music and have a good time with her friends. But Jessica was not having a good time, and she could not find her friends, and it was my job to help her.
I had been prepared for this task. I was 18 and felt far more capable of fixing people’s emotional predicaments than I do now, at 40. That’s because when I was 18 I still believed such a thing was possible.