Saturday, September 12, 12:23 p.m. — G train en route to Greenpoint Ave stop
I’m sitting on a train being laughed at by a group of teenagers. I’m wearing baggy, ripped jeans and a Cat In The Hat hat. They point and snigger, while I gamely try to join in the mocking good cheer by staring uncomfortably off into the distance and pretending I’m elsewhere, anywhere, besides here. Finally, we hit the Hoyt-Schermerhorn stop, and they hop up and file out. As the last kid passes by me, and the doors start to close, I hear him mutter, “Nice hat, asshole.”
And honestly, I couldn’t agree more.
I am here to cover 90sFest, the latest idea in packaged nostalgia and ironic kitsch, only now in handy festival form. It’s part of the Brooklyn Live At The Inlet concert series, produced in tandem with the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation and Open Space Alliance for North Brooklyn. It’s meant to be a celebration of all things 1990s pop-culture related, which means it sounds like a hacky enterprise in trading on memories of entertainment from 20 years ago. “Oh, God, that sounds ridiculous,” I remember thinking when I first saw the promotional materials for the event. So, naturally, I’ve been sent to cover it by The A.V. Club.
And, as is often the case in these kinds of situations, my co-workers have come up with a few suggestions for my tenure at 90sFest, in the interest of making the story better and my life worse. Most of it involves some set questions to ask people at the festival:
- What artist from that era do you wish was here?
- The artists who are playing today: marry, fuck, kill?
- If pressed, could you remember the lyrics to, and sing along with, “Two Princes” by the Spin Doctors?
These all seem like reasonable ideas. But they decided I should take the festival organizers at their word when they encouraged attendees to “wear their finest retro fashions,” be they snap bracelets or pump-up sneakers. I don’t exactly have many clothes left from those bygone days, but I do still have a pair of incredibly ripped jeans I usually wear around the apartment if I’m doing cleaning or repair work on weekends, so that seemed solid enough. Unfortunately, TV editor Erik Adams somehow owns one of those damn Cat In The Hat hats that were so horrifically pervasive at concerts in the ’90s, from Lollapalooza to every single Phish concert in history. Needless to say, everyone thinks this is just a great idea. Hence: Nice hat, asshole.
There are some ominous clouds on the horizon, and the forecast gives even odds for precipitation at some point today. As I left the apartment where I was staying this weekend, I said, “I hope the weather’s nice,” which was immediately followed by a menacing rumble of thunder. So this should go well. Also, I realized I had forgotten my usual notebook, so I stopped at Rite-Aid to buy a small one. In keeping with the theme of the day, I tried to make it one that I would’ve chosen back in the era we’re revisiting.
I hop off the train and head to 50 Kent Avenue, the number and name provided. After standing awkwardly outside some industrial buildings at that address, I realize 50 Kent is the name of a venue, not the address on Kent avenue. Happily, it’s only 12 blocks away, so I hike it on over.
The organizers of 90sFest have clearly taken that era’s slacker mentality to heart: They’ve whiffed on the 1 p.m. opening time, with a crowd of maybe 75 to 100 people standing in line outside the area, most of them of the over-30 persuasion. There are also five cops who look like they’re gonna be really bored today. There do seem to be some younger folks sprinkled throughout, though it’s unclear if they were brought here by their parents or not. The venue consists of a fenced-in concrete lot; there’s not a lot to see outside.
Finally, at 1:20, they start letting us in, so I dutifully trudge toward the media check-in, where I experience the most thorough pat-down and bag search I’ve ever encountered. Presumably, they’re working overtime to make sure no New Coke, iPods, or any other markers of competing decades make it through the doors. We’ve got an illusion to maintain, people. Everyone’s phone is naturally exempt from these rules. Still, I get the normal small thrill of anticipation when my wristband is secured in place. It’s an outdoor festival—this could be fun! I turn around, walk in, and am immediately greeted by the goddamn Rugrats.
It’s clear this is going to be a vision of the ’90s filtered entirely through the hazy sheen of random signifiers, possibly garnered from scrolling through a Wikipedia entry about popular entertainment of that time. As such, Nickelodeon is one of the major sponsors of this event, with these life-size baby icons, a booth where you can take a picture outfitted in various channel-related accoutrements, and a mini-stage where lucky winners will be chosen to get “slimed.” There are workers busily assembling a small contraption that will dump the Nick-brand green stuff onto people’s heads. None of them seem to be enjoying themselves, but then, their job today consists of pouring foul green slime from one bucket into a different one.
Outside of that, there’s a strange assemblage of other random festival-type setups. Among some picnic tables and inflatable chairs stand enormous, person-sized Connect Four games, and some 5-foot-high Jenga towers. Century 21 has laid out a beanbag toss back near the food trucks. A basketball toss game stands wanly back in the far court of the area. You know, ’90s stuff.
Because bathroom functions are a particular, OCD-sized concern to me, I quickly scope out the restroom arrangements. I can already tell that 90sFest has woefuly underplanned for its bathroom needs. It makes me antsy, anticipating the future line I know will be snaking throughout this lot. I guess people didn’t have to use the bathroom as much in the ’90s. There’s also an improbably large VIP section, which incidentally also contains the sole food cart selling lobster rolls. 90sFest knows lobster rolls are too good for us poors.
Steve Madden crap is everywhere, primarily in the form of the company’s oversize fold-out catalogs, which say “Catch you on the flip side” in giant letters across the back. Yikes. Was that a ’90s expression, Steve Madden? To be fair, it’s far from the only anachronistic reference I’ll encounter, but it might be the most glaringly overt. Marketing departments are usually more thorough.
The Bayside Tigers take the stage. For those of you wise enough to have never ventured out to the Saved By The ’90s event weekends at Webster Hall in Manhattan (or the other cities that hold the event), the Bayside Tigers are the resident house band, meaning they’re a cover band playing pop hits of that decade. They have the stridently effusive, plastered-on enthusiasm of Disneyworld dinner-theater performers. “What’s up, 90sFest!” they cry, as the guitarist launches into the opening riff of Lit’s “My Own Worst Enemy,” tearing through the track like a high-school pep squad. Without missing a beat, the singer barks “fuck” a few more times, and the band starts up a gentle, rolling cover of Hootie And The Blowfish’s “Only Wanna Be With You.” This schizophrenic music progression continues for the next half-hour. It’s like a Billboard chart threw up on stage. The two women working at the much-ignored Verizon sign-up booth look grimly determined to make it through this.
I buy a slice of pizza and grit my teeth as The Proclaimers’ “500 Miles” leads ineluctably into Third Eye Blind’s “Semi-Charmed Life.” The Tigers’ singer shouts out a bachelorette party in attendance at 90sFest, a group of ladies who are doubtless wondering what they were thinking, as visions of the penis hats and Tatum-aping Vegas strippers that could’ve been theirs float through their heads, and real life instead confronts them with a non-boy-band version of “I Want It That Way.”
I have never imbibed while on assignment before, but this is sorely testing my resolve.
I see people ironically (?) dressed in grunge wear, who seem like a good first interview. Lauren and Alison are 30 and 25, respectively, and Williamsburg residents, and bought tickets to this event within the first minute of hearing about it. Their answers of who they wish were playing come without hesitation: the Spice Girls and ’N Sync. Also, Alison manages a few bars of “Two Princes” before trailing off. Before I can ask them the Marry/Fuck/Kill question, I’m distracted by the woman at the Sunny Delight booth, who has overheard my interview. “Spice Girls, absolutely,” she chimes in, while plying anyone in the vicinity with a free bottle of Sunny D. Again, not exactly anyone’s idea of a ’90s-only brand, but whatever; I’m learning that part of the landscape of this ’90s-throwback mentality is the assumption that everything belongs to it, at least a little bit.
There are some other booths, by Betches and Kettle Chips and SiriusXM, all of which also offer some form of swag or brand-promoting picture-taking technologies, which are eager for your patronage and presumed hashtags when you post your pics on social media. (I dutifully participate, and am rewarded with some timeless photos for my efforts, things I will no doubt proudly show the grandkids.) There’s also an “artists and merch” booth, which doesn’t have much in the way of artists who are performing, but does feature this shirt that I immediately purchase, since my top was the only part of me that wasn’t contributing to my humiliation.
Our host, Pauly Shore, takes the stage. “You guys remember the Weasel? From the early ’90s?” he asks, referencing his stage nickname from days gone by. He attempts to jog people’s memories by other means. “I was in a movie called Encino Man…,” he offers, which draws some ragged cheers. “I was in Jury Duty, Son-In-Law-In-The-Army-Now.” At this point, he’s just stringing multiple movies together into a single film, because apparently even the star of those pictures has trouble distinguishing them. Honestly, he’s actually working the crowd pretty well, with plenty of self-deprecating humor about being asked to host a festival dedicated to the ’90s because “that’s when I used to be popular.” And the kids dig it—I see a group whose median age can’t be more than 18 whooping in approval. I try to imagine what it would have been like if I had seen a “’70sFest” advertised in the late ’90s when I was a teen; it’s doubtful my reaction would’ve been this appreciative. “Selling out” was still a concept back then, for better and for worse.
Tonic takes the stage. The first song the group plays isn’t its hit, which is why I’m not clear at first who it is. They sound “grungier” than that hit would indicate, by the way. I guess I was expecting something more in the sensitive singer-songwriter vein, but the guys actually play relatively muscular grunge-pop. They seem, like everyone else but me, to have a pretty good sense of humor about this whole thing. Perhaps I woke up on the wrong side of the generation gap this morning.
I interview another group of women nearby, all of whom proclaim themselves to be ’90s kids. They make pitches for No Doubt to be here, along with a couple more ’N Sync endorsements. One of them would marry Smash Mouth, fuck Coolio, and kill The Bayside Tigers. I ask if any of them could perform “Two Princes.” “Absolutely,” says a very nice woman named Carina. “I loved that band.” I ask her the name of the album that track was off of. “Oh, I have no idea.”
I stop by the SiriusXM booth and get my free 30-day trial card, attached to a lanyard that goes around my neck. Between this and my Nickelodeon crap, I’m starting to resemble something the ’90s threw up on as well. Also, I’m beginning to understand why potential interviewees seem wary when I approach them. I’m a lone weirdo, walking around this concrete lot all by myself, wearing a Cat In The Hat hat and covered in knick-knacks advertising children’s television. I’m like a poster child for someone your kid shouldn’t get into a van with.
There are retro T-shirts all over the place. In the span of walking past a merely 20 people, I see, for example, a Kelly Kapowski image, the Spice Girls, three completely different images referencing The Sandlot’s “You’re killin’ me, Smalls!”, D.A.R.E., Where’s Waldo?, and more. A creepy bearded guy, possibly the only person here whose wardrobe and demeanor screams “dealbreaker” more than my own, wanders toward me, muttering and sizing me up. I smile politely when he raises his hand to wave as he walks by. “Good for you,” he says. “I knew somebody here would be wearing that hat!”
I stroll around the grounds, stopping by that basketball toss both in the far corner of the grounds. It turns out that the basketball game is somehow brought to you by Fuck Jerry, the notorious Instagram joke thief. Perhaps for every basket you sink, Fuck Jerry will then take credit for making it?
Some fratty bros are having an aggressive B-ball competition, featuring lots of shouting and chest-bumping. Leave it to dude-bros to make a big thing of a damn ball toss. They systematically ignore multiple other people who come by the game to participate, hogging the balls for games on end, until some of the girls who are with them try to delicately steer them back to reality. In exchange for tolerating these guys, the guy running the booth hands me a packet of Space Jam stickers. It’s like landing in a culture that was created entirely from people who were told to watch episodes of VH1’s I Love The ’90s and then make a society based on it.
Guess what song Tonic closes with. Oh, wait: It goes so well, they play one more. Oops.
Pauly’s back now, and weirdly, he’s already changed clothes, though it’s been less than an hour since his first appearance. He counts down to the first Nickelodeon “sliming” of the day. Some kids walk by me. “Pauly Shore is so cool,” one says. “I loved watching my parents’ DVD of Wayne’s World as a kid.” That’s it: I’m getting a beer.
Throughout the day, clips from ’90s films, TV, news broadcasts, music videos, and other sundry time capsules of the era play on the big screen alongside the stage. Between that and the nonstop, pummeling mashups of 1990s pop hits, it’s all becoming a swirling vortex of culture-specific iconography. It’s dizzying. The Fresh Prince theme starts playing, and literally the entire crowd stops whatever they’re doing to sing along. It’s like Buzzfeed has taken sentient form and is amassing an army.
Coolio emerges to perform, and for the first time, most of the people in attendance make their way toward the stage in curiosity. A lot of the crowd appears genuinely psyched to see him perform. Unfortunately, Coolio does very little actual music—he plays maybe four songs total, all of them his hits, naturally—and spends most of his time doing oddball crowd work. “If she’s too young to know who loves orange soda, then she’s too fuckin’ young,” he jokes to one guy he spots. Jeff Foxworthy, ladies and gentlemen. The sound booth is cutting his mic whenever it anticipates a swear coming, meaning we hear a lot of “motherf-” from Coolio. Respectfully, 90sFest sound booth: What the fuck.
He kicks off “Gangster’s Paradise” by miming escaping a drive-by, to the sound effect of a hail of bullets. Kind of a dicey move for an outdoor festival in Brooklyn, but once it becomes clear what song is starting, any awkwardness dissipates in a frenzy of ecstasy. Did you know white women love “Gangster’s Paradise”? Seriously, every college-age girl and retro-attired woman within my line of sight goes apeshit for this song. I had no idea there was such a gender divide over it. The men like it too, but nowhere near the scale of passion I see on display now.
And then that’s it. Coolio wanders into the crowd and just starts taking pictures. Did his contract only stipulate a half-hour performance, or maybe a four-song maximum setlist? I decide to take this opportunity to interview another crew of young dude-bros, only to abort at the last second, as I see one of them crush a beer can on his forehead while the others shriek like kamikaze fighters. There’s an image that’s not out of place in any decade, sadly.
I talk to two young women, one 25, the other 19, about the festival. They hold court for an extended period about the need for more booths, games, and inflatable furniture. They’ve never heard of the Spin Doctors, but start listing off a bevy of acts they wouldn’t mind seeing: Sum 41, Blink-182, Spice Girls, Christina Aguilera. Oh, and one of the girls expresses lots of excitement for seeing Soundgarden. “I love ‘Truly, Madly, Deeply,’” she enthuses.
I ask a woman in a Gin Blossoms T-shirt which ’90s act she most wishes were here. Without hesitating, she answers. “Sponge.”
Lisa Loeb is taking the stage, to a notably smaller but arguably more dedicated group of fans. Her devoted followers seem really devoted. Several people near the stage practically have aneurysms when she starts singing. Her catalog seems to include a lot of soundtrack contributions. Did you know she wrote a song for Twister? She did. When describing it, Loeb says, “This was written from the perspective of…” and I desperately want her to finish that sentence with, “…the tornado.” Loeb’s a good musician, but her solo set is a tough sell to a bunch of increasingly intoxicated yahoos demanding nostalgia at the speed of “Whoomp! There It Is.”
I see the line for the Porta-Potties stretching back almost 30 yards, and feel spitefully vindicated. I’d do more interviews, but it’s still early, and for some reason definitely having nothing to do with my attire, many folks are giving me a wide berth. Instead, I decide to do some people-watching of my own. There’s a dude dressed like Jim Carrey in The Mask, and someone costumed as a full-on astronaut, for reasons passing understanding.
Every woman here, plus me, is singing along to Lisa Loeb. One guess which song it is. No, not “Gangster’s Paradise.”
I talk with Andrea, a very nice woman in her late 30s who has trouble thinking of which artists she’d like to marry, fuck, or kill, but even more trouble thinking of any musicians she wishes were on the bill. She literally ends up Googling “’90s artists” to get some names, and comes up with Alanis Morrissette, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Nine Inch Nails. She also stresses that there was nothing ironic about the appeal of this festival, for her. “It’s great! Real, genuine fun,” she says, which is refreshing to hear. In fact, it makes me feel a little bad for spurning 90sFest’s advances. Who am I to resist the pull of a wayback machine like this?
Pauly Shore has changed outfits again—perhaps they’re paying him in clothing—and is once more connecting with the people. “You remember Bio-Dome?” I get in line for the bathroom, which at this point is longer than the length of the festival itself. I’m pretty sure the end of it is somewhere in the middle of Queens. The Manhattanites in line in front of me, besides all agreeing that Salt N Pepa is the most fuckable of today’s acts, unleash a barrage of names they want for next year. (This event has sold out, thereby guaranteeing it will be merely the first of many to come.) Eminem, R. Kelly, Missy Elliott, TLC, Everclear, The Cranberries, Sugar Ray—you name it, they want the group to come and perform. They also manage a full two lines or so of “Two Princes” before trailing off.
Naughty By Nature kick things off with Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” which then segues into “We Will Rock You,” which becomes “ABC,” and so on. It’s a smart way to get a party started, by continuing the very trick the between-sets DJ Suga Ray has been doing. It continues throughout the group’s set, playing small clips of other acts’ songs, like a hip-hop mixtape mashup. There are approximately 7,000 people on stage with the artists, probably one for every song from which they play a short clip. Everyone loves this performance style. Really, it’s the smartest tactic they could have chosen for this crowd: Everyone here, it seems, just wants to hear something they recognize, source be damned. This is not a day for verisimilitude, it’s for an ADHD-addled procession of “Wait, I know this!” moments. Of course, that doesn’t prevent them from closing with “O.P.P.”
A drunk guy asks about my tattoos, then vomits two feet from me. This is the festival behavior we all know and loathe.
It has briefly started to rain, then quickly stopped, once or twice during the past hour, and those near-misses make everyone profoundly relieved each time. Pauly Shore thanks God for not letting it rain on us, thereby guaranteeing it will start pouring at some point during the evening. While waiting for Blind Melon to start, a college-age young woman asks me why I keep writing in my notebook. I explain why I’m there, and she mentions how much she wishes R. Kelly were performing. “I think he’s been a little busy in recent years trying to stay out of jail for peeing on an underage girl,” I offer. She shrugs. “Eh, that happens.”
Blind Melon is pretty good! I’m a proud possessor of its second album, Soup (a.k.a. not the one with the hit on it), and I’ve always maintained it’s a solid record, jam-band vibe and all. It is a little odd seeing the musicians now, given they’ve chosen the method of replacing their dead lead singer Shannon Hoon with a guy who sounds almost exactly like him, lending the proceedings a tenor not dissimilar what I imagine contemporary INXS concerts are like. Also, I meet a very nice Manhattanite-by-way-of-Australia, Andrew, who reminds me again of the genuine, unironic pleasures of this festival. “I love Blind Melon, and here they are,” he offers. “I imagine that’s how it is for a lot of these people—they really truly love one of these artists.” He’s surely right—it’s too easy to miss the talented-performer trees in the crass and unappealing forest of the 90sFest moniker.
Maybe it’s the second beer talking, but Andrew and the others like him have given me a new appreciation for 90sFest. Everyone’s just here to have a good time, and if I’m going to be a grump about it, I should’ve stayed home. I stand near Andrew for the rest of Blind Melon’s performance, and everything starts looking up. I even open up and sing along with the entire rest of the crowd when “No Rain” is played. I start noticing just how much everyone is smiling, and I start smiling, too. A random kid high-fives me. Plus, it’s getting dark now, and it makes the whole event seem… cozier, somehow? Under the cover of night, everyone feels even more relaxed dancing like a goofball to these ’90s hits. Sure, it’s tougher for me to see what’s going on, but it eases the pressure of the day. There’s only a couple of hours left. Let’s just have some fun!
And then the dark clouds really roll in—both those in the sky, and the ones in the form of an act called Smash Mouth.
Pauly Shore is hammered. I watch him get slimed in the Nickelodeon booth, and he’s got the doll’s eyes of the truly drunk. The girl next to me tells me he passed her by, and was barely coherent. He returns to the stage, washed-off and changed, only to make an unfortunate gay joke, and practically bolt from the scene, promising Smash Mouth. After a few more minutes of tunes, the words “Give it up for Smash Mouth!” come from the stage.
Just in time for the downpour to begin in earnest.
It’s been spitting water on and off in a faint drizzle for a few minutes, enough that I pull out my umbrella, but now the heavens open, and God Himself lets His feelings on Smash Mouth be known. A torrential flow of water pounds 90sFest, sending those who can ducking for cover, and those drunk enough into a sort of packed huddle of resistance near the front of the stage. The stagehands envelop everything with a tarp. Those of us with umbrellas cling miserably to the handles, even as the wind soaks every part of us from the waist down. The stage is empty, with no indication when things might start up again. This is my life: standing in the pounding, ceaseless rain, shivering, because I am waiting for Smash Mouth to play. I seem to recall: This is chapter 22 of Kafka’s The Trial, isn’t it?
A little after 8 p.m., the rain finally lets up. I take a walk around the grounds, surveying the aftermath. I see a girl in a nice dress, wringing out a hat, and she is so irritated-looking that I involuntarily laugh. She glares at me. Sorry, soaking-wet person! You just looked like a cartoon grouch!
Pauly Shore must have had some coffee and gotten slightly sobered up, because he’s exhorting the crowd to get fired up again, through some very unusual choices of stage banter. “Give it up for Kurt Cobain, ladies and gentlemen! He started this shit in the early ’90s.” I’m pretty sure that this is not, in fact, the shit that Kurt Cobain started. Unless “All Apologies” was actually about Williamsburg kids wearing Day-Glo outfits and dancing to “Uptown Funk” while a sign reads that this was all brought to you by Nickelodeon.
Smash Mouth takes the stage. What can I say? It’s terrible. Everything about it is terrible. This band is the worst. I hated these songs the first time around, and when I’m wearing jeans soaked to the quick, the music is somehow even worse. Like the sound waves have teamed up with the moisture in my pants, in some dastardly scheme to strip me of all mental and physical comfort. And the thing of it all is, this crowd cannot. Get. Enough.
People are leaping for joy. It’s like V-J Day in Times Square. I think I see someone swoon when “Walking On The Sun” starts up. This audience has found its perfect match. You want generic, lazy signifiers of ’90s pop culture? Smash Mouth has got you fucking covered, all. They even make it through three whole songs they wrote themselves before seguing into The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me,” followed immediately by their somehow even more candy-ass version of the already candy-coated song “I’m A Believer.” Great. I bet the talking donkey from Shrek would eat this up. (I will say, I like their drummer. He’s a heavy hitter with great showmanship. Start a side project, drummer from Smash Mouth. I’ll come see you.)
Everyone is engaged in a massive sing-along, for almost every cut. People start joining in for a tune I swear I’ve never heard before—then the refrain hits, and I realize I’ve somehow never known any part of the song “All Star,” except the godawful chorus. Did you know that guy is rapping during the verses? Holy hell, it’s atrocious. Every single fiber of me that was being an unfair grouch earlier in the day comes roaring back, only with the single-minded conviction that can only come from knowing you are absolutely, positively, 100 percent right to feel the way you do. Everyone else is loving this. Ah, to be young and dumb.
Pauly Shore is now wearing some insane suit that looks like it was painted by Jackson Pollock. He should be in a Color Me Badd video. (Speaking of ill-considered nostalgia choices.) He’s throwing out Jolly Ranchers while the DJ plays Ace Of Base. This may be the closest I’ve ever come to what an acid trip feels like. This seems to slowly be turning into your average dance party. The DJ long ago left behind the goal of sticking with ’90s music only. It’s probably more agreeable for the interested parties at this point, but it’s also less interesting.
Then, it happens. As if by divine intervention; as if we needed more of it after the Almighty did his best to prevent Smash Mouth from playing. The sound of a bass guitar sliding, accompanied by a flam-filled snare drum patter, fills the speakers, and all of the sudden, it’s happening. “Two Princes” by the Spin Doctors is playing. A roar of happy recognition erupts from the 90sFest crowd. Spontaneous dance moves come from all directions. I pull off my damned Cat In The Hat hat and stare, mouth agape. Not only is the DJ playing “Two Princes,” but he’s playing the part with the vocal-scat breakdown. And everyone around me, it turns out, knows all the words.
I could report more. I could tell you about Salt N Pepa’s superb closing set. About how they busted out a note-perfect performance, complete with nigh-continuous choreography, well-rehearsed and executed stage banter and song transitions. About how a gust of wind letting loose a deluge of water onto them from a flipped tent cover didn’t even faze them. I could tell you about how their live performance of “Whatta Man” had an aphrodisiac effect on the crowd around me the likes of which I’ve rarely seen in live music. How they invited all the women up on stage to dance with them, and it was a wonderfully inspiring and empowering moment.
But I won’t. I’ll leave you with the image of thousands of soaking wet fans, young and old, jumping up and down, doing their best impression of a top pop hit that featured an honest-to-God attempt at scatting. There’s no need for some sort of thinkpiece-style “what it all means” tag to this story, because it’s obvious that it doesn’t mean anything. Someone in a parks program hit upon the idea that “the ’90s” would be a good hook for an event, and they were right. It’s an opportunity to join together two of Americans’ favorite things: nostalgia and irony. (Three things, if you include overpriced refreshments.) It’s the reason pop culture is an unstoppable behemoth when it comes to recycling—Marx was right: History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. This was a goof, that’s all. You don’t need to read too deeply into it. You just need to be able to tell your co-workers: “Yes, I watched a bunch of drunk people sing the words to ‘Two Princes.’ Now take your damn hat back.”