Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

Roger Daltrey performs Tommy: Rehearsals at Bethel, NY, June 4, 2018

“Good morning, campers!”

We are in a hallowed rock place: You may not know that the famous Woodstock concert of 1969 was not held IN Woodstock but in the neighboring village of Bethel. Our venue is on the site of the original 1969 concert – not the exact spot but it’s the same property, just 1,000 feet away from that hillside.

An appropriate setting, as we’re here to rehearse the new Tommy tour – with an orchestra. We have Roger’s touring band, which includes the group of musicians you probably know – all of them have now done years with The Who now. We started working together about nine years ago, playing Tommy as a rock band with Roger.

Our anticipation is obvious; we know Tommy well enough, but this is a new setup – an unknown territory, even some new equipment. We’ve had to scale back the onstage volume, as the violin, cello, woodwinds, etc will be seated right next to the band musicians. The orchestral players would not be able to hear and play if we were at our full concert volume. But the trade-off is worth it, as it will be just as loud in front, with better sound quality and blend.

It’s been cold and somewhat wet here – the venue is outside, but with a roof. So far, we’ve just done our setup, and then Roger and the musicians run through the show making various adjustments. We have a few days of this (just the band) before we’re joined by our orchestra. We’ll do a couple of rehearsals with them and then the show this Friday night. Each city has its own orchestra, and we carry the band and our own conductor, Keith Levenson, and a special guest soloist, Katie Jacoby on violin.

I’m sure those attending will feel it when Roger breaks into ‘See Me, Feel Me’ as he did 49 years ago on this hill. There’s even a local crewman who was working the original 1969 stage sharing his stories and memories. I have spoken to Roger and Pete about the old Woodstock show and both of them are not as fond of it as one might assume. It was a difficult situation, and really rough to get through, despite some great music. Pete said they’d had to drop their cars about two miles away and walk in, carrying guitars in their cases and with his new baby, Emma in their arms. The water had been spiked with LSD (they were warned to avoid it) and they played almost eight hours later than was planned. They did well, as a typical ’69 Who Tommy-era show would be. The sun rising at the moment that ‘See Me, Feel Me’ happened is legendary, one of the magic memories of the whole weekend – for those who can remember!! You’ve no doubt seen the footage and heard some of the recording.

Speaking of recordings, in 2009 I was hired to mix the entire Woodstock show for release; every band, every song recorded. It didn’t come out, but excerpts were released as the Back to Yasgur’s Farm box set – and did quite well, the fourth (I think?) official Woodstock record to come out. (A few of the bands have since released their sets from that; Joe Cocker, Janis Joplin, Santana, Jefferson Airplane.) But having heard ALL the performances, I can tell you that The Who and Sly and the Family Stone matched each other for greatest acts of the festival. Personally, Roger loved Creedence Clearwater Revival that weekend – and their show is also exceptional – but none compared to The Who and Sly. Someday, this may come out, but there is a contrast to the odd experience the bands felt and the positive recordings of their shows.

Thinking about 2019, the magical 50th Anniversary of the original Woodstock, the world’s most-famous concert. Jimi is gone, Janis is gone, Joe Cocker – so many others as well; it was not a great era for artist survival. About two thirds of the acts who performed there have since died and many others are unavailable or unlikely to reform. So what’s left? There are The Who, Santana, Fogerty, Melanie, (some of) Jefferson Airplane, Joan Baez, Sha Na Na, Arlo Guthrie, Country Joe, a few more – so there could be some kind of Anniversary event – and The Who are the strongest candidates for headliner. No one has really mentioned or discussed this officially, but it’s a nice thought and something to hope for. That would certainly be a special circumstance for anyone to experience.

We hope to see you in the coming month-plus of shows; there’s a lot of great music to experience. We have the new version of an old classic (as Pete did last year with Quadrophenia) which the die-hard fans will love, and those younger/newer ones may be able to experience for the first time. Roger’s sounding so good, and everyone is working really hard to make it special.

It will be!