Michigan’s Woodstock: The Goose Lake International Music Festival
While the Woodstock Music & Art Fair is considered the ultimate counter-culture weekend rock festival, many Michigan “boomers” look back to the Goose Lake International Music Festival as the go-to event of the era. Even today, if you mention the words “Goose Lake”, a smile will creep across the face of many vintage rockers.
It was three days of peace, love, and rock ‘n’ roll in a field along the shores of Goose Lake, in the middle of nowhere in Leoni Township, Jackson County, Michigan. I was 17-years-old, at the time, and armed with a Kodak camera. Surprisingly, the photos I shot survived the many moves I've made over the years.
So Who Came Up With The Idea Of The Goose Lake Festival?
The three-day event took place August 7th-9th, 1970, and was the brainchild of Richard Songer, a wealthy 35-year-old local businessman, who purchased 390 acres of land just outside of Jackson, Michigan. It was his desire, along with fellow promoters Russ Gibb and Tom Wright, to plan a better event than the problem-plagued Woodstock.
One gimmick was a large revolving turntable stage that allowed one band to perform, while the previous band would disassemble its gear and the next band would set up while the current band performed.
Three Days That Rocked Michigan
The actual festival began on August 7th, but foresighted festival attendees arrived a day early, on August 6th, to secure a good place in line. This proved to be a good choice. Little did they know that over 200,000 fellow festival goers would be converging on the scene, choking all the area roadways. Cars were left abandoned along I-94, all of the way to the concert site which was 3 miles away.
The gates opened Friday morning, August 7th, and paying attendees possessed a $15 token. As throngs of young attendees converged on the site, those without the plastic chip, or the money to purchase one, began to cut through the security fences that were stretched around the perimeter. Other than a young festival attendee climbing, and then falling, from a lighting tower, the event proved to be a laid-back weekend with pleasant temperatures.
Three Days of Peace & Love In A Jackson County Field
What Bands Played At Goose Lake?
The three-day setlist was impressive, featuring many of the top acts of the day:
- Teegarden & Van Winkle
- Mountain w/Leslie West
- Faces w/Rod Stewart
- Ten Years After
- John Drake
- The Third Power
- The Litter
- The New York Rock & Roll Ensemble
- Brownsville Station
- The Stooges w/Iggy Pop
- The Flying Burrito Brothers
- John Sebastian
- Savage Grace
- The Flock
- Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels
- The Bob Seger System
- James Gang w/Joe Walsh
- Jethro Tull
Vendors Galore Felt Capitalism Was Sort Of A Good Thing
The Festival Ends, The Real World Awaits
Looking back, I remember the final evening of the three-day affair. As the festival wound down to the sound of Jethro Tull, late Sunday evening, concertgoers were alerted of Jackson County Sheriff Deputies and Michigan State Troopers supposedly busting people for contraband outside of the gates.
Several of the informants lined the driveways to the exits, holding large bulging leaf bags, warning the exiting stoners to dispose of any contraband into their bags. However, once our vehicle left the safe confines of Goose Lake, a State Trooper, with a disgusted look on his face, motioned to speed up our car and not impede the flow of traffic. It was sort of a slap-in-your-face to the ulterior motives of some of the refugees of our briefly formed haven from politics and the Vietnam War.
Michigan Says No To Future Large-Scale Rock Festivals
Richard Songer had envisioned a permanent festival site, situated on the peaceful pasture amidst the woodlands, but the local outcry over the event dashed those dreams. Jackson County Prosecutor Bruce A. Barton filed an injunction making sure no such rock festival would ever again take place on the shores of Goose Lake. In an article written for MLive, Leanne Smith writes,
Barton filed another injunction prohibiting Songer from advertising, promoting or preparing any other public shows at the park. He said that the festival was a public nuisance and that Songer condoned the open sale and use of drugs. This ruling went in Barton’s favor. Songer appealed to the Michigan Court of Appeals but lost. The injunction became permanent in 1972, making the Goose Lake International Music Festival the only rock festival ever at the park.
The site is now Greenwood Acres Family Campground which caters to a more wholesome crowd.
It crosses my mind as to what could remain under the soil of that vanished counter-culture community which was littered with untold amounts of discarded sleeping bags, lost spare change, and dropped roach clips. If only I had the motivation and a metal detector.