Top News

P.E.I. man recalls magical experience of Woodstock 50 years ago

Glenn Roberts points to the Volkswagen van that he and three buddies used to get to Woodstock in 1969 to take in the mega concert that included Jimi Hendrix and The Who.
Glenn Roberts points to the Volkswagen van that he and three buddies used to get to Woodstock in 1969 to take in the mega concert that included Jimi Hendrix and The Who. - Jim Day
CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. —

Glenn Roberts can clearly recall his Woodstock experience.

Unlike his buddies and many thousands of other attendees of the iconic 1969 concert, Roberts was of a clear mind because he skipped out on the drug portion of all the sex, drugs and rock n’ roll.

“I mean some people were just totally out of it,’’ says Roberts, who was never one for consuming drugs or alcohol.

“It certainly is very vivid in my mind. I can close my eyes and be there.’’

Roberts, 71, of Stratford was a student at the University of New Brunswick 50 years ago when he learned the mega-concert was set to begin in a few months on Aug. 15, 1969. 

He decided immediately he was on board.

Roberts and three buddies hit the road in a Volkswagen van, making their way to a dairy farm in Bethel, New York for a magical music festival billed as “An Aquarian Experience: 3 Days of Peace and Music.’’

The foursome parked their van, which was furnished with a mattress, in a massive impromptu campground on the first day of the concert.

The gang was greeted by the sight of many people dancing in the rain and sliding in the mud.

The spectacle was awe-inspiring. It was even, at least initially, rather overwhelming.

“It’s hard to explain it,’’ says Roberts.

“You know, you have a little bit of trepidation about that many people (half a million or so) and everything and you think ‘well, you know, what if there’s a riot or something goes wrong?’’’

“Just getting to see some of those groups: Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Gracie Slick. Wow…it was awesome.’’

Instead, what Roberts experienced was a friendly, festive environment. 

Sure, there was plenty of drugs flowing through the grounds. Hash, LSD and amphetamines were readily available, recalls Roberts.

Still, Woodstock proved a peaceful celebration that would earn a hallowed place in pop culture history.

“No arrests, no violence, no fights – nothing,’’ says Roberts.

“Two babies were born.’’

There were also two deaths. One teenager died after being run over by a tractor. Another person died a drug-related death.

Roberts had shoulder-length hair at Woodstock, just as he did in his teenaged-band called Fallen Angels and just as he does today, albeit a fully grey head of lanky locks.

At Woodstock, he wore jeans and a blue denim shirt – or, at times, no shirt at all. He had a rain jacket too. A medallion, since passed along to his daughter Elysse, also hung around his neck from a raw hide chain with the inscription “Make Love Not War.’’

He made good on the popular sixties phrase.

Born in Scotland, Roberts came to Canada in 1952 and moved to the United States the following year. When he graduated from high school in 1966, even though he was a Canadian citizen, he was drafted to go fight in Vietnam.

“And I said ‘noooo, thank you,’’ he says.

“So, they said, ‘you either report for duty or get out of the country.’’’

He got out. 

He came across several draft dodgers at Woodstock.

“You cannot recreate it because that moment in time is gone. It was born out of a movement that started early 60s and just grew and grew. It was a flower that blossomed.’’

As for making love, that act was a well-documented activity in the dairy farmer’s field.

There were more than a few times Roberts would return to the Volkswagen van only to see it rocking.

“So, you just turn and walk away. That’s just the way it was. I didn’t want for female companionship.’’

To this day, though, he most vividly recalls the size of the crowd, which he calls mindboggling. The music, too, blew him away.

He estimates taking in 28 or 29 of the 32 acts, which included The Who, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Crosby Stills Nash and Young as well as Blood, Sweat and Tears.

“Just getting to see some of those groups: Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Gracie Slick,’’ he says.

“Wow…it was awesome.’’

Over the years, friends have been floored when Roberts tells them he was at Woodstock.

He even has documented proof.

He can be seen a few rows back from the stage in a photo of a massive crowd that is spread over two pages in a 2004 LIFE magazine commemorative edition marking the 35th anniversary of the concert. 

In another photo in the magazine, Roberts is also able to point out the Volkswagen van that doubled as a love shack.

Roberts, who has been writing an astronomy column for The Guardian called “Island skies’’ for more than 20 years, describes Woodstock as being, for him, a watershed event.

“It’s just like ‘wow.’ I look back and I think ‘I was there.’ A moment in history that epitomized the 60s culture.’’

Roberts has not been much of a concertgoer since Woodstock. 

He says the remarkable experience could never be bested.

Plans for a big Woostock 50 festival this year collapsed after a run of calamities. 

Roberts says any attempt to recreate what he and hundreds of thousands experienced in 1969 is futile.

“You couldn’t recapture the feeling, the ambience, the mood – that time in history when things were moving and changing,’’ he says.

“You cannot recreate it because that moment in time is gone. It was born out of a movement that started early 60s and just grew and grew. It was a flower that blossomed.’’

He pauses a moment before adding: “How are you going to top that? You’re not.’’

Twitter.com/GuardianJimDay


Recent Stories