By STEVE SEYMOUR
It should be mentioned along with Monterey and Woodstock as one of the great outdoor rock festivals, but it isn't.
In fact, the Goose Lake International Pop Festival, held near Jackson, Mich., on Aug. 7-9, 1970, may have drawn more spectators than Monterey, plus it didn't rain like Woodstock.
The influential line-up included Jethro Tull, Chicago, the Small Faces featuring Rod Stewart, Mountain, James Gang and the Flying Burrito Brothers, plus Ten Years After and John Sebastian, fresh from their Woodstock appearances the previous summer. Michigan's best acts, like Bob Seger, Mitch Ryder & Detroit, Teegarden & VanWinkle, Frost, the MC5, Brownsville Station, the Stooges, SRC and Savage Grace were also featured.
Festival-goers had a weekend of highlights and variety. Friday's program included the classical baroque rock of the New York Rock 'n' Roll Ensemble,
Sebastian's "Darling, Be Home Soon," and Ten Years After performing "Sweet Little Sixteen." Saturday saw the original Stooges performing "1970" during their last time on stage together, while Mountain jammed on "Mississippi Queen," a hit from a few months before. Sunday's stage featured a batch of Michigan bands, including Savage Grace performing a killer version of "All Along the Watchtower." Jethro Tull closed the show.
The weekend was over. The bands played. There was no violence. In the end, tens of thousands of rock music fans enjoyed themselves and only a tiny percentage were arrested on drug charges. Yet publicity at the time created a negative perception of Goose Lake in the public consciousness which continues to this day.
The event was conceived by concert promoter Russ Gibb and construction executive Richard Songer. While many people were trying to replicate the Woodstock phenomenon, Gibb already had experience promoting the Detroit Rock & Roll Revival, held on May, 30-31, 1969, three months before the fabled upstate New York festival.
The men spent months planning for the various contingencies involved in staging a major rock festival, including sanitation, health, security, traffic and parking. "We were concerned with the health and happiness of the crowd," Gibb told me in a recent telephone interview from his home in Dearborn.
Still, locals were opposed to the festival even before it happened. Jackson County Prosecutor Bruce Barton tried to obtain a court injunction declaring the festival to be a public nuisance, but failed.
Contemporary press estimates said as many as 200,000 young people were drawn to the Goose Lake event, held at a specially-built park on a 390-acre site owned by Songer.
One great stage was constructed in turntable fashion, which could be rotated in a few minutes, making the wait between acts a brief one. "People would get into mischief if there was too much time between sets," Gibb commented. There was also a huge tower for sound equipment. Gibb had a helicopter for transportation and ran the operation from a trailer on a hill overlooking the grounds.
"It was a major operation, like a little city," Gibb recalled. Goose Lake hired medical staff and security guards to accommodate the crowd.
Admission to Goose Lake was $15, although tens of thousands may have entered without tickets. Leaving may have been more difficult since the grounds were surrounded by razor-wire fencing.
Almost immediately, the festival was the subject of negative publicity regarding the use and sale of illegal drugs. Gibb said he was shocked when he saw headlines calling the event a "drug festival" or "pot party."
Gibb said Goose Lake representatives, including Attys. Bernard Fieger and Roger Craig, had conferred with state government officials to discuss law enforcement and other concerns. At that time, Michigan State Police Director Col. Fredrick Davids requested, and received, 60 passes to allow both uniformed officers and plainclothesmen to enter the grounds during the festival. Local authorities were reported to be reluctant to make drug arrests for fear of sparking a riot.
As the festival ended on Sunday, Aug. 9, 163 persons were arrested. That number represented less than one arrest for every 1,000 people who attended.
In the end, however, there were no violent crimes, no riots and no injuries related to drug usage.
Gibb sees media bias in the news coverage of the Goose Lake Music Festival. Although Billboard, the music trade magazine, praised the festival as "best run and organized," most were critical. "They lie by omission," Gibb observed. "For the news media the word hippie translated into drugs," he added.
Politicians were also quick to condemn. Gov. William Milliken pledged to help stop a festival planned for the next month while African-American State Sen. Basil Brown said drug laws would have been strictly enforced had the festival been attended by a largely black audience. In addition, State Sen. Lorraine Beebe called for a public hearing to discuss rock festivals, while the Jackson County prosecutor announced he would seek court action barring another rock festival at the Goose Lake facility.
While New York boasts the legendary Woodstock and California brags about Monterey, Goose Lake is rarely mentioned. Instead of being enshrined in the annals of rock 'n' roll history, the Michigan festival got a bad rap.