51 Years Ago Today (Aug. 17): The Who Takes the Stage at Woodstock Around Dawn for an Unforgettable Performance

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Rock Cellar Magazine

It was 51 years ago today, Aug. 17, that The Who took the stage at the original Woodstock Festival in 1969 for what amounted to a legendary performance.

Originally scheduled the previous night, Aug. 17, the band‘s set was delayed like so many at the seminal festival/cultural experience, and the Who ended up being the second-to-last performance of the day/night (before Jefferson Airplane). Portions of the band’s performance were featured in the 1979 documentary film The Kids Are Alright.

(Click here to purchase The Who The Kids Are Alright from the Rock Cellar Store)

The band’s social media pages celebrated the anniversary on Monday:

The finale of the Who’s rousing set, which focused heavily on the rock opera Tommy, came around sunrise — surely an amazing moment for anybody who was lucky enough to actually be there in person.

Anybody, that is, other than guitarist Pete Townshend — who hasn’t always shared a similar sentiment of the whole Woodstock “vibe.”

In Rock Cellar’s 2019 retrospective look back at Woodstock 1969, Townshend spoke candidly about his memory of the event:

The footage is brilliant. We were brilliant. It was all those drugged-up hippies that ended up looking like twats in the Simpsons.

Listen, Woodstock should have delivered what it promised. We did. The movie delivered too, I think. The sad part is that all I remember about Woodstock is meeting Richie Havens again and thinking, “This is a truly spiritual man.” Everyone else seemed like rabbits in the headlights. I don’t fuck with spirituality. I do it like it’s a personal war.

Woodstock could have been a beginning, not an end. There were nearly a million very good souls there, with the best intentions. What went wrong? I don’t know. Maybe nothing. I didn’t have a good time. It was just another gig to me.

A particularly tough one. But I have always carried this strong belief that while I am on stage the audience is doing the driving somehow. This has confused some fans when they meet me off stage — they expect to have the same control over me they enjoy while I perform. But on stage I am powerless over the process, and I think it’s about the best thing I do. I am unconditional about my desire to do my best on stage, and I know how good I am. So I am confident, and secure, easy, but also determined — and yet at the same time I am humble as a performer, I feel as though I have a duty.


  • Sara says:

    I remember when MTV aired this movie 31 years ago…getting multiple Whogasms watching Roger…right then and there I decided I wanted to meet him! He looked so beautiful with those gorgeous curls, fringes…a true rock god! And then 19 1/2 years later that dream came true!

  • Jakob Gerber says:

    I’m from upstate New York originally. I’m seventy five now. All my friends went, I didn’t. With all the hype, and fact there were only a few acts I loved ( Who-CSN-Hendrix ) , I didn’t want to be in a car for three or four hours ( turned into nine hours for my friends.
    When they returned to Rochester everyone said it was hell on earth.
    With that being said the WHO apparently blew the house down, all agreed, it was the Who-Hendrix that were the real deal. Townsend has always amazed me. He knows RHYTHM is everything. ( Shredders are a joke in my opinion ) . Pete is also the best showman imaginable hands down. Where he gets the energy both physically,and creatively boggles the mind. I was living in London summer – fall of 1978.
    I remember walking by a newsagent on that Sept. morning ,and seeing KEITH MOON DEAD !
    I was gobstruck. We were staying only a couple of blocks of where he lived-died at the time.
    The Who is everything that balls out creative rock is all about.
    Sad that Pete ,and Roger are the only ones with us. I never heard them live, mores the pity. We all think we’re immortal when young ( fifty or younger ) …

  • Henry Arato says:

    Always a good story and they are hands down the greatest band of all time. Guiness book of records for loud show? Check. First true rock opera? Check. The genius of a failed project in Lifehouse that became Who’s Next? Check. Another intellectual journey through looking inward in Quadrophenia? Check. Greatest song of all time in My Generation? Check. Best live act ever? Check…..H

  • Petd Salton says:

    Jakob, I saw them for the first time ever Summer of 2019. I am. 71 and listened to the Who when, I was in high school..They were like the Beatles and Stones then as far as popular.
    It was at Atlanta State Farm Arena. I was in the nose bleed rows up high. They were still unbelievable. I told my wife (she’s 15 years younger) it to me was like seeing one of the Worlds greatest bands.

    They played it seemed Iike every song in their catalog.

    They went to Houston next and Roger lost his voice after 8 songs and they had to quit I read.

    They were so dead-on in ATL
    And Daltrey hit every high note. Pete was playing great and windmills away on his guitar. A great night down Memory Lane. Can’t believe they can still perform like that.

    I Like you, skipped the Woodstock trip my friends took from Memphis. Sounded like a once in a lifetime experience when they got home. Kinda wished I’d gone after the stories, but, It sounded sorta brutal too.

    Pete Walton from Georgia

  • Marcus Alexander says:

    Well, I’d have to say that everything you say about Pete and the who, is dead on. It’s unbelievably sad if you never got to see them live. I’m 59 years old from Colorado and have seen the band 11 times in 4 states , and my buddy’s been to 9 more than me. If I’d had the chance,and knew about Woodstock, I’d of walked to the show.

  • Germ Jones says:

    We went to Woodstock on Wednesday and rented an apartment at the bungalow colony near the festival site. I like to go to concerts early and feel the growth. Paid off fer sure by Sunday morning we were fried so we just drove out and went home. We were greeted with the newspapers spread out on the table.

  • Iron Dan says:

    I saw them on the “Who’s Last” tour in Pittsburgh. Watched them prep for the tour on MTV. Pete was rehearsing in a giant egg to protect his hearing. They announced that his doctor had told him “No windmills!” to protect his bad shoulder. I was afraid he’d be playing the concert in the egg, but I was gonna see them live, dammit! There was no egg onstage, and Pete did a windmill that brought Three Rivers Stadium to its feet en mass. I still have the t-shirt and bandanna I bought at the concert. They’re worth money, but the memory is priceless. Long live rock, be it dead or alive!

  • Rick says:

    Saw 1st last tour December 1982 @ The Cotton Bowl Dallas Tx. Great show Pete had issue with sour chord during Won’t get fooled again. Sooo at the end of the song He smashed his guitar into a rack of equipment. Perfect touch to my one and only Who show

  • reyerbrandt says:

    Good article but it failed to mention the Abbie Hoffman vs Pete Townshend incident, where Hoffman disrupted the Who’s set by taking the stage and rallying the crowd about the injustice against John Sinclair. Some accounts say that Hoffman simply bumped into an angry Townshend, while others go as far as claiming Pete cracked him over the head with his guitar.

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