While the Woodstock Music & Art Fair is considered the ultimate counter-culture weekend rock festival, many Michigan “baby boomers” look back to the Goose Lake International Music Festival, which was held August 7th-9th, 1970, 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.

My experience with Goose Lake began on Thursday afternoon of August 6th, 1970. Armed with a cheap Kodak camera, I and a small band of friends, managed to convince our parents to allow us to attend the festival. We were 17-years-old and portrayed the festival, to our parents, as a simple weekend of camping and enjoying music with friends. Little did they know.

The three-day event was the brainchild of Richard Songer, a wealthy 35-year-old local business man, 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.

The actual festival began on August 7th, but we chose to arrive a day early in order to gain a good place in line. This proved to be one of the few good choices we made that weekend. Little did we know that over 200,000 other concert-goers were converging on the scene. Some estimates were closer to 300,0000

We found a pleasant pasture, directly across from the main gate, that Thursday afternoon, populated by a growing number of humble modes of transportation. By the end of the evening, the field contained thousands of vehicles with roving entrepreneurs hauling large trash bags containing “lids” of marijuana to the eager community.

The gates opened Friday morning, August 7th, with little problems. The crowd was well-mannered and for the most part, paying customers possessing a $15 three-day token. This was the case for the duration of the event. 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. Little did the crowd realize that I-94 and surrounding roadways had become clogged with abandoned vehicles and swarming with young rock devotees attempting to hike miles to the gates. The three-day festival was gridlocked and Goose Lake had become a temporary Utopia that was immune to local law enforcement.

The three-day setlist was impressive, featuring many of the top acts of the day:

Friday

  • Teegarden & Van Winkle
  • Mountain w/Leslie West
  • Faces w/Rod Stewart
  • Ten Years After
  • Chicago

Saturday

  • John Drake
  • The Third Power
  • The Litter
  • The New York Rock & Roll Ensemble
  • Brownsville Station
  • SRC
  • The Stooges w/Iggy Pop
  • MC5
  • The Flying Burrito Brothers
  • John Sebastian

Sunday

  • Savage Grace
  • The Flock
  • Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels
  • The Bob Seger System
  • James Gang w/Joe Walsh
  • Jethro Tull

As the last evening of the festival wound down to the sound of Jethro Tull, late Sunday evening, concert-goers were alerted of Sheriff Deputies and State Troopers supposedly busting people for contraband outside of the gates. A number of the informants held large, bulging leaf bags, offering to dispose of any contraband. 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 truthfulness of some of the refugees of our briefly formed haven from politics and the Vietnam War.

Richard Songer had envisioned a permanent festival site, on the peaceful pasture amidst the woodlands, but the local outcry over the event dashed those dreams. The site is now Greenwood Acres campground with permanent residents.

It crosses my mind as to what could remain under the soil of that vanished community that was littered with untold amounts of sleeping bags, lost clothing, and dropped roach clips.

If only I had the energy and a metal detector.