It was billed as "three days of peace and music." And, overall, the Woodstock Music & Arts Fair in August 1969 was just that...except for the incident involving Abbie Hoffman and Pete Townsend on stage during the second day of the festival.
The Who, at almost the peak of their popularity and one of the more marquee acts at Woodstock, took the stage at 4:00 a.m. on Sunday morning, yet still Day Two given the schedule of the festival. Townsend, Roger Daltrey, Keith Moon and John Entwistle were about halfway through their set when noted activist Hoffman interrupted the proceedings.
Hoffman, who had been hanging out backstage, attempted a protest speech against the jailing of John Sinclair of the White Panther Party. Hoffman grabbed a microphone and began ranting at the injustice of Sinclair's incarceration. Townsend, who was adjusting his amp between songs, immediately took his Gibson guitar and rammed it into Hoffman's back, then shoved him backwards off to stage right.
While Daltrey, Moon and Entwistle were momentarily confused by the incident, Townsend immediately launched into the next song, "Do You Think Its Alright?" from the rock opera Tommy, and the band quickly followed suit. After the song, Townsend went over to Hoffman--sitting on the right side of the stage with his arms around his knees--talked briefly with him, and then gave him a smack on the head.
Asked later about the incident, The Who's lead guitarist said he actually agreed with Hoffman about the injustice of Sinclair's imprisonment. But, Townsend said he would have knocked Hoffman offstage regardless of the content of the message. For Townsend, Hoffman's outburst had violated the "sanctity of the stage," that is, the right of the band to perform without interruption.
Unfortunately, the incident took place during a camera change and thus is not captured on the Woodstock documentary. But, the audio version of the incident can be heard on The Who's box set, Thirty Years of Maximum R&B.
For what it's worth, Hoffman was later interviewed on camera for the Woodstock movie and claims it was a bad LSD trip which made him interrupt The Who. And Townsend, when asked about the band's performance at Woodstock, reportedly snorted "F---ing awful." Awful performance or not, the incident made for one of the more memorable moments at this music festival of 40 years ago.