Wednesday, November 05, 2008

U. P. native recalls 'Goose Lake'

Iron Mountain native Joe Giannunzio,
using the professional name Gary Mitchell,
attended the Goose Lake International Pop
Festival in 1970 while working as a disc
jockey at radio station WGRD.


Looking for something to talk about on his WGRD radio program in Grand Rapids during the summer of 1970, Upper Peninsula native Joe Giannunzio approached the station's promotion department with a proposal.

Giannunzio, then working under the pseudonym Gary Mitchell, asked for and received permission to visit the Goose Lake International Pop Festival, scheduled for Aug. 7-9, at a specially-constructed site near Jackson.

So it was that Giannunzio, who was born in Iron Mountain, became one of an estimated 200,000 people who attended the event, described as Michigan's version of Woodstock.

Festival-goers were entertained with some great rock music, but alcohol and drug use were also prevalent, while some people expressed themselves with nudity. Despite the size of the crowd, there was no violence.

More than 38 years later, many spectators retain fond memories of Goose Lake, while deejay Giannunzio observed the proceedings from a reporter's unique perspective.

"I got in free and they let me go where ever I wanted, even backstage. I talked to a few of the artists, but most were concerned with the show. I saw a lot of the groups perform within 20 feet.

"The ones I remember the most were Rod Stewart, Chicago and John Sebastian. I think Chicago stole the show with their loud horn section," Giannunzio recalled.

"One thing that did feel odd and a little military was the tall barbed wire fence that surrounded the place. Many holes were cut in places so I'm sure a lot of folks didn't pay.

"What surprised me (guess I was still a U. P. country bumpkin) was the amount of girls and guys walking around nude. I kept my clothes on, but had a number of conversations with people who were totally naked. I strolled down to Goose Lake and saw many young people swimming, with no clothes on. I was tempted to go in myself, but I was there to get the story, so I didn't," Giannunzio said.

"I didn't notice anyone drugged out, but I'm sure there were some.

"A fun time seemed to be had by all and I never witnessed any altercations with police," Gianunnzio told me.

Since I first published a piece on Goose Lake on July 26, 2007, detailing the planning of the event, the entertainment, and subsequent political ramifications, more than 20 people have contacted me with their personal experiences at the festival.

Folks who shared their Goose Lake memories hailed from Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana and Colorado.

"This concert was better than Woodstock in many ways. I hitchhiked up from Chicago with my friend Marlene and lost her within an hour," said a blog reader named Cranzie. Cranzie met a Vietnam War vet who spent the day helping him look for her.

Indiana resident Mitch recalled his experience. "We left Evansville, three guys on a mission of discovery, and wow did we find it at Goose Lake. We brought nothing. For food I visited the Hare Krishna tent twice a day to listen to their message in exchange for a cup of peanuts and raisins."

Festival participant Peter Hanson hitched to southern Michigan from Boulder, Colorado. Hanson said he was "flat broke, but able to get through the razor wire in the back of an empty dump truck with a dozen others. The weekend left him "starved but spiritually sated."

Blog reader Muffy said, "They had a bus bringing people in for free if they were willing to work. My ex and I got on the bus and jumped out and took off into the crowd. Shame on us looking back on it, but we did it." After sleeping in a makeshift tent across the road from the festival grounds, the pair returned to the concert site through a hole in the fence. "The next day we went for that same hole in the fence and it was guarded by some motorcycle gang charging people to get in. We had no money, but they let us in anyway in exchange for a warm bottle of Sprite.

"That last day, people were taking showers and walking out through that whole crowd naked as jaybirds. I was flippin' out. It was so hot, I was tempted to do it myself, but knew too many people there from our hometown.

"I remember one guy walking through the people, wearing only tennis shoes, holding a small bag in one hand and a sign in the other hand that said 'Acid $1.'"

"We took peanut butter and jelly with us and that's what we ate all weekend," she recalled.

"Goose Lake rocked big time. It was something I'll never forget. I believe it was as big as Woodstock, just a change in band names is all. I'd go back if I could," Muffy concluded.

A Rockford, Illinois, resident remembered a "superslide that was always busy" and an entrepreneur with a "refrigerated truck full of Boone's Farm wine that he sold for $1 a bottle." Another thirsty participant recalled buying "watermelon to keep from fainting," while a 15-year-old spectator called Goose Lake "one of the highlights of my youth."

One person remembered having a great time camping with the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club.

A group of college sophomores, including Dale, Bill and Jim, enjoyed performances by Mountain, Joe Cocker, Ten Years After, Alice Cooper and James Gang.

Four recent high school graduates from Chagrin, Ohio, traveled to the festival site in a station wagon ."We carried in several cases of beer and found a spot close to the stage. I remember Iggy Pop of the Stooges jumping over the wall into the crowd," one of them recalled.

A Galesburg, Illinois, resident remembered going to Goose Lake with his buddy and their girl friends after hearing about the festival from a dee jay, possibly on WLS.

Blog reader Joan recollected, "everyone had a great time and listened to the best music. I hate that people dismiss this incredible event."

Dave, in Angola, Indiana, remembered driving up in a station wagon belonging to his best friend's parents and watching Ten Years After perform.

Another anonymous blog reader, just 13 at the time, recalled catching a ride to Goose Lake with a couple of "motor cycle gang guys in a black 1955 Plymouth who drank Boone's Farm all the way there."

"I was there at Goose Lake with a friend for one day of the madness," said a blog reader known as wildfirex15. "We were able to sneak in after another of our friends who worked putting the fence up around the place told us where we could get in. The first thing we saw was a couple of sheriff's officers and we thought we were in trouble but they did not seem to care about unpaid admissions. We were back aways from the speakers but I still remember the music being so loud. Great bands playing great music gave us great memories of our teenage years."

When the three-day festival ended there were a number arrests for drug possession, but most of the 200,000 participants went home happy, although Goose Lake was widely criticized by conservatives.

On Monday, Aug. 10, 1970 Giannunzio, the U. P. native and radio personality, was back on the air in Grand Rapids, telling listeners about his Goose Lake weekend. On Aug. 12, Giannunzio was pictured at Goose Lake on the station's weekly top 30 survey, under his professional name, Gary Mitchell.

Retired from a lengthy career in radio, Giannunzio also cut two 45's as a young man under the name Joey Gee.

"I have talked about Goose Lake to many of my friends and I have never met anyone else who was there, or even heard of it. It was big, but didn't get much publicity at the time," Giannunzio, now a resident of Redmond, Washington, observed.

"I'm glad I was there and have a picture to prove it," he added.

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