Robbie Robertson Remembers Bemusing Woodstock Set
The Band’s Robbie Robertson recalled his bemusement at playing Woodstock in 1969, looking at the crowd and thinking, “This is so not what they’re looking for.”
The full performance, which has never previously been released, will appear as part of The Band 50th-anniversary reissue on Nov. 15.
“When we went to play at Woodstock, we played on the last night,” Robertson told Billboard in a new interview. “It just got dark. Couldn't have been a better time to go on. More people than there had been at the whole festival. This was the highlight of the festival. The crowd out there, they wanted to get crazy. They want to rock. They were muddy and down and dirty.”
He recalled that the group "had hardly played any concerts as the Band, and we were going out in front of a half a million people to play music that we recorded on Music From Big Pink. We go out there and people are taking their shirts off, and arms in the air, and hooting and drinking and taking drugs, and we go out and start to play.”
Robertson said a “stillness” then fell over the crowd. “It was like we were singing hymns,” he said. “All of this madness and wildness and everything just settled down into this kind of Zen experience. And I thought, 'Oh my, this is so not what they're looking for. They want to do their rock 'n' roll thing.' And this music is not that.”
He noted that he and reissue producer Bob Clearmountain realized early on that, while it would be possible to reinvent the music on The Band, it would be wrong to do so.
“What we could do, we discovered, is we can take the original tapes, put it just like it was, but with today's technology, we can present it with less hum and hiss and things that you got from tape and everything back then, in a more pristine way," he explained. "You can hear more of the music, more of the air in it, and present it so you're inside of it more – that we could do.”