The Red Hot Chili Peppers Finally Confront The Woodstock '99 Riot Rumor

What was supposed to be a three-day event where fans could enjoy music from their favorite bands turned into a chaotic and angry atmosphere. Woodstock '99 tried to emulate the original Woodstock music festival of 1969, but it became a riotous event that resulted in violence — far from the love and peace vibes associated with Woodstock '69. The festival, held on July 22 to 25, took place in Rome, New York, on a deserted Air Force base where between 250,000 to 400,000 fans attended (via The Post-Standard).

The first and second days of the festival were fairly normal, but by the third day, it was taking a turn for the worse. The heat was getting to the attendees, portable toilets were almost unusable, and garbage was everywhere. The Red Hot Chili Peppers were the closing act for the festival, and by that time, the crowd had already started a fire by lighting up trash and plywood, according to Loudwire. It was then that the band went onstage to play their rendition of Jimi Hendrix's song "Fire" while a literal fire was blazing. Rumors then started to emerge about the band inciting a riot by playing that specific song for the angry crowd.

Chad Smith recalls the incident

When looking at Woodstock '99 footage, it's easy to see why people would assume that the Red Hot Chili Peppers egged on the crowd by playing "Fire." However, as the band's drummer Chad Smith recalled, that's not what happened at all. In an interview with Yahoo Entertainment (via UCR), Smith said that a tribute to Jimi Hendrix was supposed to happen after their band played. However, Hendrix's sister approached the band herself and asked if they could perform one of Jimi Hendrix's songs before the tribute started, as she knew the Red Hot Chili Peppers sometimes did Hendrix covers. The band then decided to play "Fire," not knowing that the fire started by the crowd was spreading.

Smith said that from the band's vantage point up on stage, he couldn't see the severity of the fire. "I noticed, like, far away — and you've got to remember, the place was huge so it looked like a mile away — there was this kind of fire, or something smoking," he recalled. Before their set ended, Smith said they got word that the promoter wanted to go onstage to let people know that they were trying to put out the fire. And so the band stopped playing, and the promoter asked the crowd to let the firemen through. Despite the fire, however, Smith said they weren't told to stop playing, so they continued.

Sending the wrong message

It wasn't until the next day that the Red Hot Chili Peppers found out about the severity of the blaze and how they supposedly added fuel to the literal fire by playing "Fire." Chad Smith recalls being at the airport the following day where a TV was showing highlights of Woodstock '99, and he said to himself, "Oh my god. Oh s**t. We really looked like we were instigating — that we were the bad guys" (via Ultimate Classic Rock). In hindsight, Chad said that their choice of Jimi Hendrix song to cover was unfortunate, but goading the crowd was not their intention.

However, he said that they were just paying tribute to Jimi Hendrix as requested by his sister, and at that time, it was the only Hendrix song that they rehearsed quickly backstage as they had played it before. "So yeah, I guess the timing of it wasn't so great," said (via The Post-Standard).