This is part of a continuing series of then and now interviews by Woodstock Ventures intern Scarlet Disko.
Many of the original attendees of the 1969 Woodstock Music and Arts festival feel that the Woodstock experience was a snapshot and unique only to those who were there. To some, the event is frozen in time and somewhat static. It is important to know that the generation of Woodstock continues to thrive today even though it may appear differently from how it was in 1969. The love, the peace and the music are still present however reinterpreted for a new set of ears, minds and hearts.
At 19, Chris Neal was preparing to go to his first music festival, Woodstock 1999. He found out about the festival while at a friend’s party when it was announced in December 1998. After looking at the lineup, Chris and his friends knew that they had to be there. Chris grew up in Illinois and attended Southern Illinois University. He worked at his grandma’s ice cream shop and for an electrician friend. Woodstock 1999 fit perfectly with his break from school.
When asked if his decision to go to Woodstock ‘99 was connected to his desire to have gone to the original, Chris responds, “Yeah, totally. I was just out of high school and was getting into my hippie phase, which I am still in. I was also getting into the Grateful Dead and had gone to a few Phish shows.” The father of Chris’s roommate had just purchased an old veterinarian van to be used for his job as an electrician. The van was long with two seats in the front, one seat in the back, a big empty space, and no windows. Chris and four of his friends put a couch in the back and piled in for the ride to Woodstock.
Stopping in Cleveland for a night of rest, they arrived to Rome, NY, at the festival, on Thursday when gates open. What was supposed to be about a six-hour drive from Cleveland to Rome turned into a 14-hour crawl when the five friends met slow-moving traffic on the interstate, just like the original. They still managed to have fun and entertained themselves by playing Frisbee on the interstate while waiting for the traffic to move.
It was the first and biggest festival that Chris had ever gone to. His most favorite memory of the festival was not necessarily music related but rather simply being there and walking around with his friends through the ocean of people. It was a hot, humid July weekend and there were roughly 200,000 people at the Woodstock festival of 1999.
He enjoyed performances by Moe, Dave Matthews Band, Robby Krieger from the Doors playing with Creed, which was a strange mix up but fun to see, and many other obscure bands that he would probably never had seen if he had not gone to the festival. The music kept going past midnight, followed by an option to go to ‘party tents’ that stayed open till dawn. Music was back on around 10 AM, so there was very little time for rest.
The biggest memory that still stands out to Chris because of its negativity was at the end of the festival. Near the end of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ set, people began making bonfires/garbage fires that lead to rioting. The band had passed out candles for their final song that was a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s song, ‘Fire,’ which may have been a cause for the riots.
“Despite the negativity at the end, it was still a great experience. I still had a lot of great memories, was exposed to new music and had a great adventure with my friends,” Chris responded when asked about the memories he had of the festival. When the festival ended, Chris and his friends drove straight home since one of them had to work the next day. Chris slept a good 14 hours when he arrived home.
Woodstock ‘99 was the beginning of Chris’ many journeys across 49 states for many music festivals and concerts. Since Woodstock, he has attended about 80 Phish shows, 80 String Cheese Incident shows, a couple of Bonnaroo festivals, and numerous other music festivals. His love and passion for music continue to thrive.
Chris works as an instructional assistant to a middle school where he provides help where they need him. He has worked at Portland music venues in the past, doing whatever he needs to do to make ends meet. However, one thing is for sure, music will always remain a huge part of his life.