Goose Lake Festival
Detroit's version of Woodstock: August 7-9, 1970
By Bob Gersztyn
This August 7 - 9, 2021 it will be the 51 year anniversary of the Goose Lake International Music Festival held in Jackson, Michigan. It is the biggest concert event to take place in Michigan to date. It was the peak of the hippie era and the festival was a celebration of the youth during the middle of the war in Vietnam with the draft and chaotic civil unrest.
Woodstock took place a year earlier and Goose Lake was "Woodstock 2.0." Richard Songer, the lead promoter of the festival, was a wealthy 35-year-old businessman who owned a construction company that did contract construction work for the state of Michigan. He purchased a tract of farmland in south central Michigan and converted it into a park for hippies with a lake, camping, and an amphitheater area with a permanent stage, along with a sturdy fence around the entire perimeter.
Since Songer didn't have any musical connections, he teamed up with Detroit DJ and concert promoter Russ Gibb. Gibb was a DJ on WKNR in Detroit, who was the main instigator of the "Paul is Dead" rumor as well as a key player in the Detroit rock scene. In the late 1960s he began operating the Grande Ballroom in Detroit after he was inspired by witnessing the enthusiastic crowd at Bill Graham's Fillmore West in San Francisco, California.
When Songer constructed the park, it was intended to be the "world's first permanent festival site." Tickets were only $15.00 for all 3 days and included free parking and camping along with restrooms and showers. There were concession stands selling food and beverages as well as independent entrepreneurs selling everything from grilled cheese sandwiches to a variety of drugs, including marijuana, LSD, mescaline, uppers, and downers.
I had already served my two years in the military and was working at the Birmingham, Michigan post office after I dropped out of college. When the Goose Lake Music Festival was advertised in the early summer I purchased tickets for myself and my girlfriend Kathy and put in for that weekend off. The year before I had missed Woodstock because I was standing up in a friend's wedding, but this year I was free to go. On Friday morning, August 7, 1971, I loaded up my 1964 Plymouth Belvedere with a tent, sleeping bags, portable stove, and canned food for three days, along with Kathy and two of her high school friends who came with us.
A couple of hours later when we arrived near the site, traffic was backed up as expected, but it moved quickly and we had to give them our poker chip tickets to get inside the gate. The camping spots were half filled by this time, but we found a place about a third of the way back. I set up the tent, which was only big enough for two people, so the others would sleep in the car. The show that first day was scheduled to begin around 1:00 PM so after we set up, we walked out into the amphitheater area and got as close to the stage as possible.
Everyone staked out their area by spreading a blanket or tarp, so Kathy and I ended up about fifteen rows back, just right of center stage. Teagarden and VanWinkle were the festival emcees. They were a Detroit-based folk rock duo comprised of keyboards and drums, originally from Oklahoma, and were also great entertainers. They were able to hold the crowd's attention during down time between acts. They had a revolving stage like they did at Woodstock, but this time it didn't break down, so everything went according to schedule.
Each day the show was divided into the afternoon and evening sets with the biggest headline artists performing in the evening set. After the afternoon show ended, which included four acts, there was a break for dinner until around 6:00 PM, when the evening set began and ended around midnight. During the break the first day, we walked around all the concession stands to see what they offered. I purchased one hit of blotter acid for $3.00 that I decided to take for the evening show.
I took the blotter acid when Kathy and I sat down on our blanket, and the first act of the night was Chicago, whose killer set included "I'm a Man" and "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" Terry Kath proved that he was an amazing guitarist. Acid usually took anywhere from 1-2 hours for you to reach the peak when you ingested it orally, so by the end of Chicago's set I was starting to feel the effects.
Mountain began their set as the sun was setting and I was starting to peak. Leslie West's guitar looked like it was the size of a violin cradled against his large body as he produced ungodly peals that produced colors as the notes danced in the ether. By the time that they were doing "Mississippi Queen," I was feeling the full effect of the LSD, and fortunately it wasn't a life-transforming dose. But then that was the chance that you took when you purchased it from someone you didn't know.
Ten Years After came on afterwards and Alvin Lee looked larger than life as the band rocked. I already saw the documentary about Woodstock a couple of times in the theater so I was familiar with them and sat there mesmerized the entire set. The last set of the night was by a newly reformed Small Faces (soon to be just known as the Faces) with the addition of Ron Wood on lead guitar and Rod Stewart on vocals. At one point when the crowd didn't respond loudly enough, Stewart asked if their lack of enthusiasm was because they hadn't performed at Woodstock. After that the band really kicked in gear, and by the end of their set the crowd response was thunderous. Stewart even showcased some of his songs from his solo album, Gasoline Alley.
Kathy, a friend and Bob
After the show ended we went back to our tent and sat in the open air talking about the day and what time we would get up tomorrow. I ended up finally laying down in the tent around 1:00 AM and still felt the residual effects of the acid as I closed my eyes and saw mild visions of utopian splendor dancing in my mind, until I finally drifted off to sleep at some point.
Kathy's friend's made breakfast with eggs they brought, so we cooked scrambled eggs, and made French toast and had bacon with coffee. After breakfast Kathy and I took a walk and checked out the lake. We went swimming, and the beach wasn't sandy but just muddy, so it wasn't that enjoyable, but I had Kathy take a picture of me standing on the shore.
Bob at the shore
One of my favorite Detroit acts at the time was the SRC an anagram for Scot Richard Case, the lead singer, and they played Friday afternoon. I already saw them play a couple of times over the past year and even had their first two albums.
My favorite song by them was "The Angel Song," which they performed with Gary Quackenbush on lead guitar.
The evening session began with John Sebastian, who I just saw in May when he opened for the Doors in Detroit, where Jim Morrison incited the crowd to riot. Sebastian had been the leader of the Lovin' Spoonful, a pop group that had a few top 40 radio hits, before he began a solo career as an upbeat hippie folk musician. The Flying Burrito Brothers came on next with a psychedelic version of country music led by Gram Parsons.
Both the MC5 and the Stooges played on Saturday, and I had already seen them perform a few times, but by the time that they were playing the attendance had swelled to over 200,000, so they were pumped. It was a blowout performance with marijuana joints being passed around the entire time. When Iggy took the stage the crowd was on its feet going crazy.
It was a historic concert for the Stooges because it was the last time that they performed with everyone from the original band. Ironically a tape of the Stooges' entire set was discovered and released by Third Man Records" in August 2020 as The Stooges Live at Goose Lake: August 8, 1970 The recording was made by audio engineer Jim Cassily, who died in 2005, and the tape was discovered by his son.
This was the third time that I saw the Stooges perform, and I always found it astounding how they exemplified unrestrained youthful exuberance and disrespect of everything in a counterculture proclaiming peace and love. Iggy would sit on the edge of the stage and spit at the audience in contempt and then throw his half-naked body off the stage into the crowd expecting them to catch him, and they would. By the end of their set everyone was on their feet gyrating to the beat.
The MC5 were the most in-your-face rock & roll group to come out the Motor City and ultimately the entire USA. They exemplified the Detroit I-don't-take-any-shit attitude wrapped in a hippie black leather jacket package with a political agenda. John Sinclair, the band's manager, was on his way to prison at the time for nine and a half years after being convicted of possessing 2 joints of marijuana. I'd seen the band perform numerous times before and was completely familiar with Rob Tyner's antics and Brother Wayne Kramer's guitar duels with Fred 'Sonic' Smith. They played a high-energy set that included their classic "Kick Out the Jams."
Sunday was the final day, and we all had jobs that we had to report to the next day, so we decided to only stay for the afternoon set. Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels was one of the afternoon acts and they performed some of the most indelible songs of my memory at the time. I heard "Devil in a Blue Dress" countless times when I was in the army, from the barracks to the go go beer bars in town where the go go dancers enticed the soldiers.
Kathy and Bob
After the afternoon set was over, we returned to our campsite, took down the tent, cleaned our area up, and loaded everything in the car. We left sometime after 6:00 PM and got back to Detroit before dark. The next day when I went to work at the post office, I found out that the police had all the exit roads covered after the festival ended and there were 160 people arrested, mostly on drug charges.
Michigan governor William Milliken was appalled by what he heard and Richard Songer was indicted for allowing drug sales on his property, but he was acquitted the same year. However there was never another rock festival held on the site.
Today in 2021, the site is Greenwood Acres, an RV Park and family campground with a mile of frontage on Goose Lake.
Performances by Savage Grace, Ten Years After, The Stooges, Mountain and Russ Gibb interview.
Also see this excellent two-hour documentary about Goose Lake
Also see Bob Gersztyn's blog at https://jesusrockstheworld.wordpress.com/
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