50 years ago, this outdoor music festival near Vancouver preceded Woodstock and terrified parents
Aldergrove Beach Rock Festival attracted thousands of hippies from across the Pacific Northwest
Fifty years ago, Torontonian Mike Brown was 21 and driving west for a year-long adventure with some pals.
Brown had long hair, wore purple glasses and buckskin tops with his jeans.
"The whole love thing was happening out there," Brown said over the phone from his home in Toronto.
After they arrived in Vancouver, the group of friends caught wind of the Aldergrove Beach Rock Festival in Langley, B.C., and decided to go.
"It was just like an explosion of experience and, you know, it's just groovy people, and people smoking and doing all kinds of drugs," said Brown, now 71.
The Aldergrove Beach Rock Festival took place over the May long weekend in 1969 and attracted about 30,000 people from across the Lower Mainland and the U.S. It cost $5 to attend.
Outdoor concerts were still a rarity at the time. Woodstock was months away and the prospect of so many young hippies gathered in one spot was an alarming idea for many.
But those who were at Aldergrove say the event was a resounding success and echoed the youthful movement of that era.
Neil Godin, one of the event's three main organizers, says his most potent memory of the festival was the look of pure joy on so many people's faces.
"[The festival] just seemed to be the right idea for its time," Godin said over the phone.
"And people certainly had a great wonderful time — everybody but me."
'There was a lot of fear'
Godin, 79, says he barely slept during the three days at the festival.
That's because one of his main tasks was managing its relationship with the RCMP, who were camped out nearby and constantly threatening to shut the event down.
"It was radical at the time," he said. "There was a lot of fear and it was reflected in the RCMP presence, for sure."
The event was many parents' worst nightmare, Godin recalls. Nudity, drugs and hippies were seen as threats to many. At the time, CBC News reported that about 30 people were arrested on narcotics-related charges and for intoxication.
Brown remembers facing a lot of prejudice as he and his pals travelled across the continent. As he drove through Calgary, he remembers police there would arrest hippies and cut off their hair.
But Godin says all the fear about the festival was for naught. There was music, face-painting and even an impromptu petting zoo. And the weather was nice enough for people to swim in the lake — naked, much to the concern of police.
According to many accounts at the time, the "Aldergroovy" festival was a smash hit. It set off a summer of outdoor festivals across Canada and the U.S. that summer.
For Brown, who later went to Woodstock, Aldergrove was part of the beginning of a "huge adventure."
"That was the greatest time of my life."