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Woodstock 99: A case for contingency insurance

Published on: 5 August 2021 by Michael Lamb

Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage is a recent documentary released by HBO chronicling what happened at that ill-fated concert July 22nd to 25th 1999. If it is anything, this documentary is a great example as to why contingency insurance is so valuable for event organizers.

From liability concerns, to entrusted property and even personal accident and injury problems, there was a lot going on at this concert. Consequently, Woodstock 1999 is a great example to use as a case study on why contingency insurance is so absolutely imperative for any and all event organizers.

What went wrong at Woodstock 99?

First things first; let's start at the very beginning. Woodstock 1999 was a second attempt to emulate the Woodstock Festival of 1969 (after Woodstock 1994). As with the previous two iterations, Woodstock 99 was also held Upstate New York. However, the location was substantially different from the previous two iterations.

Woodstock 99 was held on an abandoned military installation, formerly Griffiss Air Force Base, and unlike either Woodstock 69 or Woodstock 94 (which were held in open fields and on hill sides), this concert would be taking place on top of concrete. Griffiss Air Base was chosen primarily because it was, as a military location, enclosed. This would guarantee the organizers that there would be no gate-crashing, as there saw with the 69 and 94 editions, and they would therefore be able to extract maximum value from ticket sales.

The simple layout of the air force base, despite the fact that it had some of the amenities required by organizers, meant that attendees would be standing on top of black tarmac and expansive concrete hanger zones with almost no shading provided by trees or structures. Unfortunately for organizers, it was extremely hot that weekend – temperatures on all 3 days exceeded 38 degrees Celsius. The extreme heat was compounded by the organizer-enforced pricing that vendors were told to charge for staples like water and food. Bottles of water were being sold for US$4, with pizza going for US$ 12.

While the organizers did attempt to offer free water through fountains, the plumbing for these fountains burst, and caused flooding in the porta-potties, which lead to human waste being spread over the event grounds as “mud pits” developed.

On the last day of the festival attendees set fire to many of the structures erected by Woodstock organizers, and demolished at least one stage. Vendor equipment was destroyed, on-site ATMS were broken into and money stolen, multiple concert goers were injured, and at least 500 people were “actively” involved in the riot that followed the conclusion of the festival.

When looking at Woodstock 99 and asking the question “what went wrong?” its probably easier for us to ask the question “what went right?” and the answer to that is, unfortunately, very little. From poor planning on the part of the organizers, through to just basic oversight when choosing a venue, Woodstock 99 set itself up for failure from the outset.

Aftermath of Woodstock 99

Following the conclusion of Woodstock 99, and the removal of attendees by law enforcement, there was a big mess to clean up. From the entrusted property that Woodstock organizers were using, and which was consequently destroyed by attendees, through to the bodily injury and liability claims being brought by participants, the financial fallout of this festival was certainly more than the US$3.8 million it cost to produce.

As organizers of the event, the Woodstock Producers would have been responsible at law for everything happening under their watch. While Woodstock 99 had insurance provisions, t not all vendors and sponsors followed those provisions and consequently not all benefits were adequately covered. This, and the lax oversight provided by producers when organizing their festival, led to a situation where there may no longer be a Woodstock in the future.

Comprehensive contingency insurance is the best way for you to protect the future of your event and ensure its longevity over the coming decades. Without proper planning and risk management, organizers create environments where extremely dangerous things can, and do occur. Fortunately, Insurance Underwriters have seen almost anything there is to see when it comes to contingency risks, and have created and designed their policies with these risks in mind.

How could modern event insurance have helped Woodstock?

With regards to Woodstock 1999 a modern event insurance policy could have helped in relation to:

Equipment Damage Insurance

As you may guess from its name, this benefit on an event insurance policy covers you for damage or destruction to equipment being used which belongs to the organizer, or a third party, but for which the organizer is responsible over the duration of the event.

Many equipment damage insurance benefits do not exclude damage and/or destruction caused to equipment by event attendees or participants; as such, under a modern event insurance policy the Woodstock organizers would have been covered against this eventuality.

Facilities, Sets, and Furniture, Damage Insurance

For bigger events, like Woodstock 99, a stage is a fairly critical component. Remember, Woodstock 99 cost $3.8 million (at the time) to produce. A large portion of that will be the costs in building the stages needed for the festival.

Facilities, Sets, and Furniture damage insurance under an event insurance policy will provide cover against accidental damage, destruction, burglary, or theft of sets which belong to the organizer, for which the organizer is responsible, or which the organizer has put at the disposal of exhibitors. Damage to sets caused by event attendees is again, not specifically excluded from many of your contingency insurance options in Hong Kong, and consequently were the Woodstock organizers to have held a policy with this benefit they would have been covered for this scenario.

Public Liability Insurance

It is likely that, at minimum, the organizers of Woodstock 99 had public liability insurance as this would have been a condition of using Griffiss Airforce Base. Public Liability Insurance is also a mainstay of event insurance in Hong Kong, and most venues will require this form of coverage prior to allowing you to hold your event on their premises.

Public Liability Insurance generally covers bodily injury to any person, damage to property, and interference in a person’s using a right of way or being unlawfully detained. Liability is probably the most complicated aspect of the coverage offered under a contingency insurance policy, to the extent that there is too much to cover here.

Simply put, no event should ever consider going forward without some form of public liability or 3rd party liability protection.

Event Contingency Insurance is a Necessity

Even if you’re not planning on producing the next Woodstock, Woodstock 99 is a great example of the fact that even the purest intentions can go wrong. A festival which was ostensibly about Peace, Love, Unity, and Respect, but which unfortunately devolved into a literal riot, shows that optimism isn’t enough. The producers and organizers of Woodstock 99 left themselves exposed on multiple fronts – with poor artist line ups, untrained security, and just bad organization – and created a situation which was both highly dangerous and caused a financial loss for everyone involved.

With more than 24 possible coverage options, and the ability to carve out specific exclusions and have those risks covered in return for a higher overall premium, Event insurance is actually one of the most robust and flexible insurance products available anywhere in the modern world. The experiences of festivals like Woodstock 99 have shown underwriters how to look at the risks involved in these events, and underwrite policies accordingly.

These policies are then able to inform organizers on how to go about producing a low-risk, high return event with the security of knowing that should anything go wrong (as it often does) then their insurance coverage is there to support them.

If you have any questions about Event Insurance, or would like to receive a free quote for insuring your next event, please Contact Us and speak to an expert Hong Kong Insurance broker today.



Author: Michael Lamb

Michael Lamb is an insurance industry professional with many years of experience within the Hong Kong Insurance market. Focusing on APAC coverage issues, Michael is able to provide extensive analysis and insight to a range of pressing topics. Previously, Michael provided insurance broker Globalsurance.com with their most highly valued articles and was a key influence in the development of all the content on Pacificprime.com, Michael has a passion for insurance matched by few others in the region.

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