December 15th, 1999

RHCP at Woodstock 1999

by Stephanie Segal • in Music


I should begin by saying that this concert is, I expect, likely to be an experience I shall find difficult to truly relay with mere words, and for this I send the red hot chili peppers my most sincere and deepest heartfelt gratitude and love.

I haven’t seen the RHCP since Lollapalooza in ‘92. I did have tickets for Montreal somewhere around ‘94 or ‘95, but the show was cancelled (and after I’d slept out for tickets). When the offer to go to Woodstock ‘99 came, knowing who was on the bill, I was so there. I was to work behind the scenes in a manner I won’t mention here, but my off-time would involve an artist-all-access pass. You can imagine my excitement. Then again, maybe you can’t.

Ten minutes before the performance I arrived backstage. Someone had made the wonderful decision to play two songs by Brad before the RHCP came on. Turns out many many people had all-access passes and had arrived before me, securing sweet spots on flea’s side of the stage. No way I’d see shit from there, so I tried my luck with a spot I had nabbed near the rear of the stage the day before. No such luck. The security guard asked me if I was with the crew and I said, ‘No, but could I go under the curtain anyway?’ He said, ‘No, you shoulda said you were with the crew’. Damn my own honesty. The band was intro’d and Flea bounded out au naturel with new blue-green hair. Anthony, Chad and John followed and went into “Around the World”. The sound from the stage was loud and full but I was stuck pacing backstage and seeing nothing. Fuck this, I figure, I’m heading out into the crowd.

As I speedily begin my takeoff I pass the soundboard area and notice there are a few people there. I take some steps in that direction and hang out right next to the board. I shake it down, and when song ends I take a few steps up and am now fully sidestage on John’s side and behind the speaker bank, next to some photographers. This is awesome and where I stay for “Give it Away” (Flea loves mangoes and Iggy Pop) and scar tissue. John’s back ups are sweet as honey and his singing seems more like the tunes of his soul than of his voice alone. The band is ON, just pumping.

Someone asks me if I’m from Q Prime management and I say No (again with the blasted honesty). I fear my removal from my sweet spot. It’s in vain. I take a few steps over to the left, and suddenly, somehow, there is nothing between me and the edge of the stage, I am in line with the mic stands, it’s overwhelming. The sea of faces from there to the horizon…indescribable. Feeding directly off the love and energy generated by this band when they play together…euphoric. Dancing my ass off next to the Red Hot Chili Peppers as they funk up and rock out at Woodstock…heaven.

“Emit Remmus” and “Soul to Squeeze” led to an incredible “If You Have to Ask” that I circled a thousand times on my set list (”add a little lust to the funky ass flea bass” rang true; it was so fun to hear and look over at Flea, pounding away at his machine; he IS music when he’s playing). The band was tight and comfortable and it seemed as though they could have just as well been jamming away in a garage, the way they communicated with each other and with the level of ease with which the music flowed out of them.

The interchange with the indescribably vast crowd showed how its size didn’t phase the band for a minute. Flea protectively and humanely suggested to stop grabbing women’s bared breasts and Anthony mentioned that John Frusciante would pay the way through collegeany of any baby born at Woodstock. Anthony called for any flowing women to remove their tampons and throw them onstage as a new Woodstock ritual, making me think “Purple Stain”, but the band instead pulled out “Suck My Kiss”. By its end my legs are bathed in a sheen of sweat of which I think Kiedis would approve. I would have it no other way.

What followed was the first blessed magical treat of the set…John Frusciante singing a verse or two of Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer”, with eyes squeezed closed and an almost frail vulnerability as the band looked on, the looks on their faces those of truest friends, admiration, love…family. The band then threw into right on time with a “London Calling” (the clash) teaser intro and proceeded to rock, rap, funk, soul, and groove out the place with a song that was born to be played live. A gorgeous Californication poured through me and was followed by the next blessed moment of the set, my lovely man. I didn’t think it would have been possible to feel any luckier, until this. A song so personal, one I never thought I’d experience live and one of my absolute favorites from Blood Sugar. Elation. I may have been floating. I certainly was dancing. After a rolling easily Anthony turned to John to point out how he had misplaced some lyrics, then sang them out to him (the story of a woman on the morning of a war and I can’t tell you who to idolize), sounding soulful and beautiful. It reminded me how impressed I was on my first listen to Californication (a record I became instantly addicted to) with the evolution of Anthony’s singing into something still stronger, more emotive and moving.

Time for “Under the Bridge”. I was initially disappointed to hear the notes ring out, hoping instead for some “I Like Dirt” or “Get on Top”, but I understood the need for crowd pleasers at an event like this. Chad’s expression reflected a similar thought — not the most challenging tune for him.

But I looked out to the crowd and was awed. It was a sea of stars, more than a hundred thousand lighters lit, and it was gorgeous. One couldn’t look away. As the song ended I noticed the fires in the distance. There were five or six of them, with two of them looking rather menacing, and I felt fear for the kids out there, and (selfishly) worried that the whole thing would be shut down. After me and my friends, the band abruptly trotted offstage and a Woodstock guy came out and told the crowd to turn around and check out the fires, warning them that the fire station was being called in and that it was a serious situation. It was rain on the parade as the set was either over or going to be cut short. Sixteen songs is nothing to complain about; I just wanted it never to end.

Luckily the band came back and Anthony said how it looked like Apocalypse Now out there. Totally. They launched into “Sir Psycho Sexy” and the funk was out of control along with the fires in the distance, and it took hold of me and pulsed my body to the fat bass and drum action. A kid under this same spell who had come onstage during the fire announcement jumped the wires and speaker and ran over to Flea and rocked out with him for a few, until carried offstage grinning and throwing both hands into the international ‘rock on’ gesture. I loved it. It was wild and uninhibited and the kid is my hero.

And finally, the last gem of the set, the shiniest and most brilliant. Another shocker I never expected to hear live. Its cosmic absolute RIGHTNESS for that moment still is astounding. The band played a frantic, glorious “Fire” (Hendrix). The connection chain is so great here. A Jimi cover at Woodstock as Woodstock burns and it’s Fire. Words fail me. It was…it was…it was…electric. It made perfect sense and no sense and was completely insane. I was near out of control myself. After the last beat was played Chad stood at his kit and saluted the crowd with a raised drumstick, burning an image in my mind of a statue I would build, not to commemorate lives lost, but to commemorate life, at its greatest. Spirits were soaring.

And then it was over. It was among the top three experiences of my life and I have no idea what the other two could possibly be. It was incredulous and left me with my heart entirely full and fulfilled. Being right on the lip of the stage, dancing and hearing this healed version of the band…I recommend it highly if you can get it. For them there is celebration in order and they just PLAYED IT UP, tearing the roof off the mother that had no roof. True, this is a review written by someone who has since noticed that song nine off the last three Frusciante records was played, but I beg of you not to heed this bias. This is music with a natural power and force and understanding of the balance of life that must be reckoned with, live. It is so good it’s almost ridiculous. I can’t explain it but you can eat and feel the band’s bond of love, energy, openness, and sexuality. And the crowd just multiplies that by infinity. It is incredible. Oh my.

The hat of straw I wore that night is now fully deformed and crumpled. But it’s the hat I wore that night, and will remain in my possession forever. “Red hot”, they call themselves. In-fucking-deed.


JJJJmnz said:

…did you actually see tampons flying? this is over 12 years later but srsly, i’m curious…

September 19th, 2011 at 6:25 am

the author said:

thankfully NO, no tampons were hurled at the stage. at least not that i saw!!

December 7th, 2012 at 8:05 pm

A Short History of Women Throwing Their Tampons At You said:

[...] to one very enthusiastic Chili Peppers fan, no tampons actually flew that day, and the tradition died before it began since the festival never [...]

October 19th, 2015 at 8:47 am

Patrick said:

100% tampons flying. I was near the stage and myself and 3 friends can attest to DOZENS of them over our heads. We ducked down, but one caught my friend in the back of her head. It was insane.

November 24th, 2015 at 2:56 am

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