The Goose Lake International Music Festival, Michigan 1970

The Goose Lake International Music Festival, Michigan 1970
Authored By John Nicholson

The Goose Lake International Music Festival was held August 7-9, 1970 at Goose Lake Park, in Leoni, Michigan.

It was one of those strange festivals which seem to have slipped into obscurity despite drawing a huge number of people, estimated at 200,000.

Outside of Michigan maybe no-one has ever heard of Goose Lake, but it was A Big Deal.

The promoter was Richard Songer, a wealthy 35-year-old man who had been successful in the construction business. He set out with local DJ Russ Gibb, to produce a festival with great facilities and to avoid any of the issues that dogged so many events.

With a million dollar budget and 390 acres of lands to work with, it seemed like nothing could go wrong. That's usually when the trouble starts. This was a big venture and Songer was determined it would make big money, charging $15 for three day tickets, which might not sound like much today, but was on the high side for the day. Entry tokens in the style of poker chips were sold to avoid the counterfeiting of paper tickets. Neat. 

There was a revolving stage to speed up change of band's gear. They'd even thoughtfully provided a tent for groupies to service the bands in, which sounds almost like they were cows who had to be milked. How romantic. The fans had a free campsite and free firewood. There was food and showers and clean water and lots of toilets. It's like they had thought of everything. 

With a great line-up of bands including the newly-formed Faces, Jethro Tull, Chicago, Ten Years After, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Mountain, John Sebastian, the James Gang, The Flock and The Litter, it should have been no surprise that 200,000 actually saw the adverts for the festival and said, man let's go and get our buzz on - or something similarly groovy.

Add in the fact that there were also some notable local Michigan bands playing too, including Bob Seger, the MC5, The Stooges, Mitch Ryder and Brownsville Station, amongst others and it seemed like a recipe for success.

So what could go wrong? The answer? Nothing.

And maybe that's why Goose Lake hasn't gone down in rock 'n' roll history. It worked. The facilities were good, security was, by and large good (though bikers were reported to have raped someone) the revolving stage worked really efficiently, the bands loved it, people got naked and everyone went home happy (except the victim of the bikers) 160 people were arrested on drugs charges - a tiny number out of the 200,000. Drugs were sold openly and widely, so what those 160 were doing to get their asses busted, who knows? Police seemed to adopt a very laissez-faire policy.

However, once the air had stopped vibrating with the sound from Leslie West's Les Paul Jnr and everyone had gone back home to reality, Michigan governor William Milliken denounced the deplorable and open sale and use of drugs at the festival, and called for investigation and prosecution of the drug pushers who were present. Come on Billy boy, was anybody really bothered? No. People got high and went home. Is that so bad really? 

Michigan attorney general Frank J. Kelley said "I think we have seen the first and last rock concert of that size in Michigan". And he was right. Despite Songer's ambition for Goose Lake to become a permanent festival home, no further rock festivals took place there.

Richard Songer was even indicted for promoting the sale of drugs. Man, the dude just put a great show on, there's no reason to bust him for it. It's bitterly ironic that Goose Lake was so successful, so well run, and enjoyed by so many - testimonials all agree it was a great 3 days - and yet it was really hated by The Man, who could see no good in long hairs coming to their town to get it on and have a good time. They were queuing up to condemn the event and couldn't wait to outlaw it ever happening again. Which it didn't. I guess they weren't called straights for nothing.

Afterwards someone said, "The Organization Men of Goose Lake have resurrected the spirit of Woodstock without the discomforts" and that said it about right.

The site of the Goose Lake Festival is now the Greenwood Acres Family Campground. There is a little bit of grainy footage on Youtube from the festival. a flyover film of the festival shows just how big it really was. I'm a massive Mountain fan - and their performance of Mississippi Queen at Goose Lake is, marvellously preserved


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