Woodstock's new band of plastic people

MERCHANDISING SALESMEN were accepting the Woodstock Platinum Card; a tractor-trailer doubled as a video arcade and there was a sports park. As Woodstock '99 opened yesterday it seemed far removed from the ultimate Sixties hippy event that it was honouring.

Thirty years after Yasgur's Farm played host to Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and a host of 1960s legends, you can get a flight and hotel package to Woodstock and even tout the Woodstock Mastercard.

But one welcome change at the new corporate Woodstock is the larger British presence than at the 1969 event.

Fatboy Slim, Elvis Costello, Jamiroquai, Bush and the Chemical Brothers are all on the bill. They were to have been joined by the guitarist Jeff Beck. But he had to pull out, ironically enough, just as he did in 1969. Then he did not take part because his band broke up a week before the festival. This time it was "scheduling problems" that prevented his appearance. About 100,000 people are expected at the former military airfield site at Griffiss Park in Rome, New York, over the weekend.

Traffic started building around the two main gates as early as Thursday. Organisers let concert-goers in to set up their tents.

The first Woodstock festival made an international star of Sheffield's Joe Cocker, and also featured British groups The Who and the Incredible String Band. But Hendrix dispensed with his British musicians, the Experience, for the occasion, preferring to debut the Band of Gypsies.

The 48 bands on the bill for the Woodstock commemoration event also features Alanis Morrissette, Sheryl Crow, Metallica, Rage Against The Machine, Wyclef Jean, Offspring and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. James Brown performed yesterday.

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