Photographer Mike Schreiber Explains What it was Like to Cover the Wildest Music Festival of All Time: Woodstock ’99

Keith Nelson Jr. Keith Nelson Jr. is a journalist who has covered hip-hop,…

“I remember thinking, ‘Why would anyone want to be here?’”

Mike Schreiber has photographed hundreds of live shows and artists over the last 20 plus years. For one weekend in late July 1999 at the former Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome, New York, Schreiber saw a music festival turn into a veritable warzone. Woodstock ‘99 was a hedonistic concrete wasteland seemingly sovereign of the rules of human decency where security guards were just happy to get free admission to see Korn and sexual assault ran rampant. 

“There was nothing but cement and heat pounding on you non-stop,” Schreiber, who shot the festival for Spin Magazine, said. “People were drinking, doing drugs, and there was a lack of water. [Vendors] were price-gouging the water. The whole thing was a recipe for [the festival goers] to potentially burn it down.”  

Born and raised in Long Island, New York, Schreiber delved into photography after working at a photo agency and being drawn by the vivid concert photos he’d see photographers bring. He eventually taught himself photography through trial, error, and research. Over the years his camera lenses and discernible eye would go on to take intimate photos of the human condition, from orphans in Nepal to people behind bars in Angola Prison

But he is best known for his photos of rappers that are part of hip-hop lore, etched in people’s minds as paramount visual memories of that time. The Unsigned Hype feature in The Source that helped launch Eminem’s career? That’s a Mike Schreiber photo. DMX backstage at Woodstock ‘99? That’s a Mike Schreiber photo. Voletta Wallace holding a photo of a young Christopher Wallace years after he was murdered? That’s a Mike Schreiber photo.

In July, for the 20 year anniversary of the festival, Schreiber published Woodstock ‘99, a 24-page book of mostly never before seen photos. The famed photographer sat down with Okayplayer at his apartment in New York City to discuss what debauchery really went down at Woodstock ‘99, DMX’s aggressive recording habits and much more by going behind the stories of some of his most iconic photographs.

As told to Keith Nelson Jr.

This must’ve been mid-day. It was hot. If you notice, everybody is sunburned. It was obviously mostly white people and just miserable. I don’t remember what day this was, but I do remember it was before the madness. It was almost like two separate festivals. There was during the day where it was Jewel, Alanis Morissette, The Roots, Sheryl Crow, Dave Matthews, Wyclef [Jean]. Everyone was peaceful.

At night, it was Rage Against The Machine, Korn, Limp Bizkit, and Metallica. It just turned into this fucking nightmare from hell. It was like the crowd changed. It was almost like everyone cleared out and made way for the roughnecks. You could tell by looking at the lineup it was going to be a shitshow. You can’t have that lineup and things not deteriorate.

This was during the Korn set. I remember the Korn set being scary because the energy was so dark. The only way to get out of the crowd was to crowd surf to the front. So, there were just bodies coming over. That was on purpose. They just wanted to leave. There were security guys getting kicked in the face. Then, you add in the music and it’s just madness. I remember it was angry, belligerent white dudes standing in the heat all day.

Woodstock 99

Woodstock 99Woodstock 99Woodstock 99

Keith Nelson Jr. is a journalist who has covered hip-hop, technology, and movies/TV for VIBE, Revolt, Digital Trends, Flaunt Magazine, and more. Follow him @JusAire

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