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Music festival scrutinized after Woodstock '99

The fallout from the fires and riots of Woodstock '99 is settling throughout the concert world, and no one is more aware of the potentially smothering effects than the organizers of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in the California desert community of Indio.

The Oct. 9-10 show will feature Beck, Tool, Rage Against the Machine, Morrissey, and five dozen other acts. It will be the first major overnight festival in the United States since Woodstock, which means it will be under a microscope, one organizer says.

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"I think there will be a higher sensitivity and more scrutiny after what people saw on TV with Woodstock," says Moss Jacobs of Goldenvoice promoters. "When there's a high-profile incident it's naturally going to raise the attention level.... It's like air travel after a plane crash or a gun show after a shooting rampage."

The Coachella Festival is expected to draw a crowd up to 35,000 to the Empire Polo Club, which is less than one-sixth the size of the Woodstock audience. Organizers and Indio city officials say the festivals also will be light-years apart in their music, site conditions, and overall vibe. Still, the two shows are linked by timing.

Woodstock '99 likely will be remembered for the violence of its fiery finale, when riot police cleared the festival grounds in upstate New York as looters and arsonists attacked vendor trucks. Police are also investigating at least six rape allegations by female fans.

The ugliness prompted Woodstock co-promoter John Scher to say plans for a fourth Woodstock festival for 2004 will be shelved "if we can't figure out a way to deal with the things that went wrong."

The same issues may call into question the future of other large festivals that wrestle with logistical problems such as securing insurance coverage, cultivating community support, and tending to artist needs. Multiple-day festivals are popular in Europe but are rare in the US, where summer shows at amphitheaters dominate the concert venue landscape. More popular are single-day festivals, such as Lollapalooza, the Family Values Tour, and Lilith Fair.

Mr. Jacobs says the planners of the Coachella Valley Festival have placed a priority on "a high human comfort level." Among their tactics: extra toilets, more shade, benches and tables for eating, stepped-up cleaning and trash collection, and keeping the crowd capped well below capacity.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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