Ontario woman returning to Woodstock, with son, to mark 50th anniversary
Published Thursday, August 15, 2019 10:28PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, August 16, 2019 5:57PM EDT
Billed as “Three Days of Peace and Music,” the Woodstock festival in upstate New York attracted nearly half a million people including Toronto teen Maureen Docherty.
She had just turned 18 in August 1969 when she made the trip from Canada’s largest city to the event in Bethel, N.Y.
Now, she hopes to return to the town with her son this weekend for the festival’s 50th anniversary.
In 1969, conditions at Woodstock were far removed from the comforts of a modern music festival. Parts of the venue were a muddy mess and Docherty was unable to find food.
"It was like being in a refugee camp or something but once the music started to play the whole atmosphere changed,” Docherty told CTV News.
“Back then we had a sense we were invincible and we could just go and do anything ... it felt like a safer time.”
Woodstock, named after the town nearby, took place on farmland between August 15 and 18 that year and saw an estimated 400,000 people attend to hear some of the biggest names in rock history.
The original event became a defining moment in ‘60s counter-culture and saw some of the biggest performers of the 20th century take to the stage, including Jimi Hendrix, Santana, Joan Baez and Janis Joplin.
“It really sort of defined the generation,” Docherty said.
“A lot of turbulence, turmoil in the world but when you were there you just felt like one enormous family.
“It was the feeling of this camaraderie. It was a peaceful time certainly, we could use a little bit of that now.”
Self-professed hippie Docherty admitted she was one of the few “straight” people there that did not take drugs.
“Because we didn’t do drugs it kind of enhanced the whole experience because you remember it all,” she said.
“To be there and to know what effect that concert had…it really defined a generation because so much was happening at the time.”
Canadian rocker Neil Young joined supergroup Crosby, Stills and Nash on stage in the early hours of August 18, 1969.
"For a minute we were hopeful, for a minute we were not facing the Vietnam War,” said bandmate and singer David Crosby. “For a minute we were decent human beings."
After achieving near-mythical status as a symbol of the hippie movement, the festival was revived to mixed success in 1994 and 1999.
This year’s planned 50th anniversary concert was cancelled last month.
The three-day festival was originally scheduled for August 16-18, but a series of setbacks including permit denials and the loss of a financial partner and a production company saw the troubled event axed.
“I don’t think people at the time realized what a historic event the concert was going to turn out to be,” Docherty said.
“It definitely felt very different, very special from any other concert I had been to, just the whole atmosphere of the place.
“So when they came out and announced that the New York state freeway was closed, that we’re looking out for each other now, everybody took on that sense of… that this was something very different, very special.”
Docherty returned to Woodstock for a 40th reunion with her youngest son in 2009.
“They call it the sacred ground of rock and roll. Just to realize how much time has gone by and here you are standing in the same spot again,” she said of the emotional journey.
“I’m sure going back again this weekend will have the same sort of effect on me.”