The legend of Woodstock continues to bewitch music aficionados nearly a half-century after that fateful August 1969 weekend, even if its “peace and love” reputation has come under some scrutiny in the years that followed. But if you’re still suffering from a case of FOMO because you never got to drop a tab of acid and see Jimi Hendrix, Santana, and Creedence Clearwater Revival perform on a mud-soaked stage for hours on end, perhaps the Who’s Roger Daltrey might change your mind — because despite performing a headlining set at the festival with one of the most popular bands in the world, he still had a pretty shitty time.
According to Daltrey’s new memoir, Thanks a Lot Mr. Kibblewhite, Woodstock may have been an undeniably seminal 20th-century event, but it wasn’t much fun for the bands that participated. Mostly, it just involved a perpetual state of waiting, which didn’t do much for Daltrey’s anxiety issues. “Three days of peace and love? Do me a favor. It was crazy even before we arrived. Pete [Townshend] spent several hours in the traffic jams. Other artists didn’t make it at all. The whole place was chaos,” Daltrey writes. “The destination we arrived at was a little different … the musicians had the rooms and the roadies and technicians slept in the corridors. Everyone all just hanging around and waiting their turn to go to the site. And we waited and waited and waited.”
At around 7 p.m., the Who was finally beckoned to drive to the backstage area, only to sit on their asses for ten more hours. “You hope things will be running like clockwork but at festivals in those days, particularly inaugural festivals, they never were and they certainly weren’t at Woodstock,” Daltrey continues. “We were due on in the evening but by four the next morning we were still hanging around backstage in a muddy field waiting. And waiting some more.” It was even harder on Who drummer Keith Moon — Daltrey said he always suffered from “terrible” nerves before performances, which, per Daltrey, always worsened the drinking habit that wound up killing him. An audience of half a million didn’t exactly help.
Even worse for Daltrey — who, while a dabbler in alcohol, abstained from drugs throughout his time in the band — there was no food backstage, and everything was laced with LSD. “Even the ice cubes had been done. Fortunately, I’d brought in my own bottle of Southern Comfort so I was fine right up until the moment I decided to have a cup of tea,” he wrote. “That’s how they got me. A nice cup of hallucinogenic tea.” Troubled by constant power cuts, stage jumpers, and what might have been early symptoms of pneumonia on top of the psychoactive assault, Daltrey began to wish they hadn’t even agreed to the gig: “It was billed as an Aquarian exposition — three days of peace and music. But it was chaos.”
All’s well that ends well, though, and the band eventually took to the stage in defiance all of the arguments and hallucinations: They played Tommy in full, as well as a few other popular early hits, cementing their place in music history in the process. “Looking out unto the predawn gloom of Woodstock, making out the vague shape of half a million mud-caked people as the lights swept over them, I felt in my sleep-deprived, hallucinating state that this was my nightmare come true,” Daltrey concludes. “The monitors kept breaking. The sound was shit. We were all battling the elements and ourselves. Music and peace.”
But hey, at least he got a great story out of it — and a small measure of immortality.