Woodstock 1969: High Times
ut by then, Townshend was grumpy about the late hour. Given the guitarist’s penchant for smashing his axes onstage, most people would know better than to get on his bad side during a performance, but that’s just what political activist Abbie Hoffman did. As a volunteer in one of the medical tents, Hoffman had been consuming large amounts of LSD to keep himself awake. Festival organizer Michael Lang suggested Hoffman take a break, chill out and enjoy the Who’s set from the side of the stage.
It turned out to be a bad idea. As the Who concluded “Pinball Wizard,” Hoffman, still under the drug’s effects, stalked across the stage, grabbed a microphone and began a political rant against the proceedings. Townshend cut him off, yelling, “Fuck off my fucking stage” and proceeded to hit Hoffman with his guitar, sending the dazed activist into the front pit as the audience cheered. “The next fucking person who walks across this stage is going to get fucking killed,” Townshend fumed moments later. It was one of the festival’s rare episodes of anger. But even that could not mar the Who’s performance, which provided one of Woodstock’s most definitive moments, as Roger Daltrey would later describe:
ROGER DALTREY The sun coming up to “See Me, Feel Me” was the top. I mean, that was an amazing experience. As soon as the words “See me” came out of my mouth, this huge, red August sun popped its head out of the horizon, over the crowd. And that’s a light show you can’t beat!
To me, the success and importance of Woodstock was that it was a triumph for humanity. The audience was the star of Woodstock. We were the catalyst that brought them there, but this was the first time that this young generation had got together in such numbers. American youngsters at that time were under incredible pressure from the Vietnam War, and it made people in power take notice. That was the importance for me at Woodstock.
Townshend has a different memory of the event, which isn’t surprising given the Hoffman incident and the lateness of the Who’s performance.
PETE TOWNSHEND Woodstock was horrible. It was only horrible because it went so wrong. It could have been extraordinary. I suppose with the carefully edited view that the public got through Michael Wadleigh’s film, it was a great event. But for those involved in it, it was a terrible shambles, full of the most naïve, childlike people.
What ultimately alienated the Who from our fans was the way Woodstock turned us into superstars in a clutch with Sly & the Family Stone, Ten Years After, Santana, et cetera. In some ways that was wonderful: we went from being a band with a predominantly male following to one where Roger seemed to be like a new kind of rock sun god. And we had a few women in the audience for a change.
But in other ways it was disarming, because the natural, easy connection between me, as the writer, and the audience was broken. “Baba O’Riley” [from the 1972 album Who’s Next] is about the absolute desolation of teenagers at Woodstock, where everybody was smacked out on acid and 20 people, or whatever, had brain damage. The contradiction was that it became a celebration: “Teenage wasteland, yes! We’re all wasted!”
Sunday, August 17
In terms of music styles, the final day’s lineup was the most varied of the festival. Artists like British singer Joe Cocker, guitarist Johnny Winter and Paul Butterfield each delivered his own distinct forms of blues rock. The Band, critically acclaimed for their work with Bob Dylan and their albums Music from Big Pink and The Band, performed their signature style of country rock. Crosby, Stills & Nash, riding high on the success of their self-titled debut released just three months before, played acoustic and electric sets, with new, but unbilled, member Neil Young sitting in on many of the songs.
Other acts on this day included jazz rock group Blood, Sweat and Tears, Fifties-style rock-and-roll revival group Sha Na Na and, the festival’s final performer, Jimi Hendrix. Billed as “the Jimi Hendrix Experience,” the lineup actually consisted of Hendrix backed by Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell, bassist Billy Cox and guitarist (and longtime Hendrix and Cox pal) Larry Lee, with additional performers rounding out the lineup.
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