I made some mistakes in my Woodstock ‘99 email yesterday. And I thought it’d be fun to go through line-by-line and see where I got the facts wrong.
I have two goals with this:
1. Set the record straight about Woodstock ‘99 (since I wrote the first email after only watching one out of three episodes).
2. Prove to you that making mistakes in your emails can be profitable.
Let’s dive in:
Blunder #1 — Folks rioting over $4 water
Here’s what I said yesterday:
“Determined to make a profit, the security guards letting people into the festival grounds made everyone throw out their food and water. Folks would later riot because a bottle of water was $4, or $7.11 in today’s dollars.”
But after watching the last two episodes, it turns out that water skyrocketed to around $11 ($19.56 in today’s dollar) — because 150,000+ more people showed up than planned. They ran out of everything. Vendors closed early — audience members would loot them later. The free water fountains were tainted with shit, yes, literal shit, because the porta potties became unusable after Day 1.
Blunder #2 — The most egregious mistake
This is what I said yesterday:
“But as for the most egregious thing Woodstock '99 did…
They didn’t know their audience.”
While I stand by them not knowing their audience as being their biggest blunder, it was far from their most egregious.
Korn rocked Woodstock on Friday night. There was a sea of 400,000+ people mosh pitting. There was 50,000+ simultaneous mosh pits happening during Korn.
Well, things turned up even more on Saturday with Limp Bizkit’s set. Woodstock actually had to pull the plug on Limp Bizkit early because people were tearing plywood from the venue and using it to surf around the crowd. Limp Bizkit himself even surfed around on the plywood during his set.
If Korn was lit, Limp Bizkit was insane.
Hindsight is 2020, of course, but you could smell the tension and boiling anger at Woodstock ‘99 from a county away.
As for the most egregious mistake?
The Red Hot Chili Peppers closed out Sunday. Despite the obvious rage-fuelled tension—at this point, several thousand people went home because Woodstock stank, a few more thousand people woke up with their face and mouth covered in ulcers from drinking contaminated water, and with no food, shelter, or sleep for 3 days, a perfect storm was a brewing—Woodstock’s co-founder decided to have a vigil during the Chili Peppers set.
Columbine happened a few months prior. And Woodstock’s co-founder wanted to honor the lives lost.
And so, he made a mistake that killed the Woodstock brand forever:
He handed out 100,000 candles for a vigil.
The whole festival, up to this point, took anything flammable from the audience members. Sunday night—after bathing in shit water, not having shade or food or water or sleep, and raging for 3 days straight—they handed out 100,000 candles.
Soon after, small fires emerged. Then bigger fires. Then bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger. The fire department told the Woodstock crew they were too scared to do their jobs and put out the fire.
Audience members were tearing down anything Woodstock related—from the art to the sound tower to the stage—and tossing it into a growing bonfire. At one point, the rioters lit 6 semi trucks on fire. When the fire mixed with the diesel, explosions shook the ground. It was like a bomb went off.
After the rioters destroyed the venue, they turned their eyes to the vendors. They looted ATMs, stormed through the vendors' shops, and created havoc.
Eventually, the state troopers came in. And Monday morning, it looked like a literal war zone.
My point from yesterday’s email still stands though:
You must know your audience.
But I have another point today:
Yes, knowing your audience is important. But they might’ve gotten away with Woodstock ‘99 if two things didn’t happen:
The first is obvious: They handed out 100,000 candles to an angry and upset and rage-filled audience.
The second isn’t as obvious, but it’s more important to your business:
The biggest failure of Woodstock ‘99, besides the stuff I already mentioned, was...
They provided a nightmarish user experience.
First, they had to throw out their food and water before entering. Then, water went from a few bucks to four bucks all the way up to 11 bucks. The vendors didn’t bring enough food for 400,000+ people, so the two vendors with food left by Sunday jacked up their prices to ungodly amounts.
The porta potties became unusable after Day 1. By Day 3, the audience broke the showers because the lines were so long. Little did they know that the water was contaminated with shit — which they’d later roll around in, unknowingly.
The security guards, called the “Peace Patrol,” were kids who Woodstock paid $500 to for the weekend. By Day 2, Woodstock goers knew there was no way to enforce any rules.
Something like 150,000-250,000 people left Sunday morning, before the riots broke out and the festival ended, because the entire area smelled putrid.
There was no shade at the venue, either. On Saturday, hundreds of people suffered heat strokes. Hundreds, mayhap thousands, were dehydrated on top of the heat stroke sufferers.
Oh, and there was trash everywhere. The subcontractors who were supposed to clean up the trash gave up after Day 1. There weren’t many trash cans to begin with, and each one overflowed. People had to throw their trash right next to them for the rest of the festival.
Turns out, mixing Willie Nelson with Limp Bizkit and Rage Against The Machine attracted an audience who were ready to, well, rage.
Not to mention, there were several sexual assaults (and at least four full-blown rapes) that happened too.
And there are many such examples of Woodstock creating a nightmarish user experience, which culminated in all-out riots.
Whew, lots of lessons to pick up from this email.
But there may not be one as profitable as booking a call here, and seeing if partnering on your email strategy makes sense.