“The Who at 50″ panelists, l-r: Rod Argent, Clem Burke, Holly George-Warren, Steven Van Zandt, Chuck Prophet, Colin Blunstone, Bob Santelli. / Photo by Peter Blackstock

Following up on his surprise appearance at the Austin Music Awards Wednesday night, Little Steven Van Zandt turned up on Thursday afternoon’s “The Who at 50″ SXSW panel at the Austin Convention Center, discussing the legendary British band with two members of the Zombies, two American musicians and two industry experts.

Moderator Bob Santelli, who heads up the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, and author Holly George-Warren helped provide direction and historical perspective around colorful commentary from Van Zandt, Zombies members Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone, Blondie drummer Clem Burke and rock singer-songwriter Chuck Prophet. Much of the early panel talk centered around Pete Townshend’s habit of destroying gear on stage, something that started early on, Van Zandt noted:

George-Warren filled in historical details on various subjects including the Who’s performance at Woodstock, and how an eleventh-hour agreement to pay the band on-site paved the way for the performance that became part of the 1969 festival’s lore. Argent, who played on the band’s “Who Are You” album, and Blunstone provided some good background about the 1960s British scene that gave birth to both the Who and the Zombies, though at times they steered the panel too far into discussions of their own band (which is playing a showcase tonight at Stubb’s).

Prophet, who plays tonight at the Continental Club, offered some thoughts about the Who’s classic rock-opera album “Tommy”…

…and also got in one of the best lines of the panel when he observed how so much of the Who’s power came from the way they played off of each other as bandmates. “I think we’re very lucky that Pete Townshend didn’t gro up in an era when he would have become a singer-songwriter,” Prophet said.

Burke noted that part of that band appeal was how Townshend, singer Roger Daltrey, bassist John Entwistle and drummer Keith Moon were all vivid personalities. “The Who were a band of equals, which you really didn’t get very much,” he said.

In closing, Santelli offered a hopeful thought for the future: “We’ll see you back here in 50 years for ‘The Who at 100.'”

Opening the panel, acoustic trio Black Violin played instrumental interpretations of Who material, a very nice touch that was much appreciated by the crowd of around 100: