I Went to the First-Ever ’90s Fest’ and Lasted Exactly 90 Minutes
The '90s are back! Well, have been back for a couple years now, as any American who's visited an Urban Outfitters or possesses rudimentary observational skills can tell you. The era's inspired fashion, music, millions of Tumblr posts, and almost too many TV and movie reboots to count. As such, Nickelodeon soon plans to serve reheated childhood favorites on a new channel called The Splat, offering reruns of Rugrats, Rocko’s Modern Life and more classics guaranteed to
re-animate your dead childhood entertain. The Splat officially launched its promo campaign on Saturday (September 12) and, by no wild coincidence, Nickelodeon was a highly visible sponsor of the first-ever 90s Fest held in Brooklyn that same day.
The 90s Fest took place in a bleak fenced-in lot in north Brooklyn, brightened by patches of Astro-Turf and inflatable plastic chairs (so 90s! so awkward to sit on!). It boasted sets from Coolio, Lisa Loeb, Blind Melon (minus original singer Shannon Hoon, who died of an overdose in 1995), Smash Mouth and Salt-N-Pepa. The video trailer for the festival features Salt-N-Pepa's "Push It" from 1988, and the site's art includes a still from Britney's 2000 "Oops!...I Did It Again," so 90s Fest clearly aims to capture the '90s as a general concept and isn't super concerned with historical accuracy.
As someone in my mid-30s, I wanted to see the 90s Fest for myself. I remember those years very clearly, and find the ever-growing commodification of the era both surreal and highly selective in what it chooses to worship. But as A Tribe Called Quest's Q-Tip once rapped on 1991's "Excursions," things go in cycles, and fetishizing a previous decade is certainly nothing new: The 1980s were obsessed with the 1950s, while 1990s were all about the 1970s. 2015 fashion is obsessed with the '90s and the '70s at once, which is all the proof I need that technology has sped up our cycles and the universe is set to implode any day now.
I can't begrudge anyone for romanticizing days gone by — but I will say is that my own fascination with the '70s back in the '90s was wholly superficial, based on scattered impressions from music and static images and marketing (I thought I looked great in a crocheted granny vest; turns out nobody does). I had no firsthand recollections of that time. The nostalgia I witnessed on Saturday was much more closely tied to reviving memories, and suckling at the teat of childhood comforts. I've recently read a few think pieces that say we're all infantilized these days, and I'd largely dismissed them as "get off my stoop, kids!" alarmism. After this weekend, I'm thinking the critics are definitely onto something.
So how long did I last at 90s Fest? 90 minutes, appropriately enough. Here's the play-by-play.
2:36 PM: On my walk to the venue from the subway, I can't tell who's dressed in '90s drag for the festival, and who's just leaving brunch on a normal Saturday. That's not an attempt at some moldy Williamsburg hipster joke, it's a simple statement of fact. Waist-tied flannels and Nike "Just Do It!" crop tops are everywhere. Most actual '90s teens schlubbed around in white Keds and baggy Champion sweatshirts, but everybody's out here like they stepped out of a TLC video.
2:42: A guy wearing a Goosebumps t-shirt walks up to a group of friends in line. "Did you see the other guy in a Goosebumps t-shirt?" his friend asks. "Yeah, and I'm gonna beat his ass," he responds. Then they both make fun of their third friend for bringing a paper receipt of ticket purchase. "You're so '90s, you print out your f---cking tickets!" Big laughs all around.
2:51: Officially inside the festival now. The performance bill is an hour behind schedule; Tonic plays their 1997 hit "If You Could Only See" and I'm admittedly surprised by the crowd's enthusiasm level. When they leave the stage, host Pauly Shore comes out and asks people to come toward the stage to fill out the sparse crowd (hey, it was early). Then someone in a big dunk tank gets slimed — sorry, "Splatted," as Pauly says — and I wonder how you get Splat-slime out of your hair. It looks viscous.
3:15: DJ Suga Ray (no affiliation with Sugar Ray the band) revs up the flanneled, be-scrunchied crowd with a mix of throwbacks, including Shaggy's "It Wasn't Me" from late 2000 (another anachronism, -3 points). He plays the Clarissa Explains It All Theme, in all its "nah-nah-na-na-naa" glory, as a silent montage of '90s stuff like Des'ree's "You Gotta Be" video and the O.J. Simpson murder trial plays on a big video screen. "I miss these '90s TV shows!" a woman next to me shouts to her friend. Yes, lady, many people do, that's why this lot is filled to quarter-capacity already.
Hey, you know what shirt you should definitely never buy? This one. Not for the $32 it was retailing for, not for one dollar. The joke doesn't even make sense!
3:45: Coolio is performing. He is very hoarse, but committed to entertaining the crowd. He also brought an excellent saxophone player. Eventually Coolio delivers "Gangsta's Paradise," and the audience goes from noisily chatting over Bud Light Lime-a-Ritas to losing their goddamned minds. Everyone yell-raps along. So much yell-rapping.
4:01: "Pauly Shore, we need you out here man." The DJ, like myself, is wondering where the host went; I only saw him that one time. Is he trying to "Weasel" out of his obligations?
Tommy, Chuckie and Angelica of Rugrats fame are escorted from backstage to a promotional tent. Tonic's band members could stroll through the crowd unmolested, but the Rugrats mascots are MOBBED. As Tommy walks, it's soon clear that the person inside the costume has limited visibility and two festival staffers are helping him stay upright. The site of this enormous, drunk-looking baby just galumphing around gives me a deep belly laugh. It's the first bit of humor I've experienced all day that isn't tainted by irony or my own judgement, and it feels great.
4:12: I ask a couple if they're here to see a particular artist. The guy shrugs and says no, not really, while his girlfriend came to see Naughty By Nature. It turns out they're around my age, so I ask what they think of all of this. "Well, you know," she says, gesturing toward a group of twenty-somethings in fanny packs with a bro in a Clinton/Gore '92 shirt (for sale on site), "it's kind of a cartoon of what the '90s actually was, but it's fun. Mostly it just makes me glad that the '90s were over. I did a lot of stupid sh---t back then."
4:32: The dreary sky looks more foreboding by the minute. Perez Hilton has taken the stage to plug Full House! The Musical, in which he plays Danny Tanner, and to introduce Lisa Loeb. As Lisa starts playing her strummy folk I remember I can loudly sing along to her big hit at home if I want to. So no, I don't stay.
Stars and Their '90s Cartoon Character Look-alikes