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Everyone’s heard of Woodstock, the three day music festival held in Bethel, New York in 1969. Michigan’s own version of this was the Goose Lake International Music Festival, held August 7-9, 1970 near Jackson. Performers included Rod Stewart and Faces, Jethro Tull, Chicago, Ten Years After, Mountain, the Flying Burrito Brothers and prominent Michigan acts such as Bob Seeger, Mitch Ryder, the Stooges, and the MC5. Approximately two hundred thousand people attended.
Setting the Stage
It began with a man named Richard Songer. In 1970, Songer was thirty-five and the owner of Portland Construction Company, a successful business in Southfield, Michigan. He purchased 350 acres near Goose Lake, located outside Jackson.
Songer intended to turn his Goose Lake property into a permanent park and live music venue. He hired people to pave parking lots and build large concrete rest rooms. A permanent revolving stage was built. As a band performed on one side of the stage, another band would be behind them, preparing to go on. When the first band finished, the stage would turn, and the second band would immediately appear.
There Goes the Neighborhood
Songer encountered some resistance from the outset. As soon as his plans were announced, the Goose Lake Property Owners Association protested. The Association and the township filed lawsuits. A few days before the festival, Jackson County Prosecutor Bruce A. Barton asked for a restraining order to cancel it. A judge refused.
Police anticipated heavy drug use but feared being mobbed. On the last day of the festival, officers waited outside the chain link fence that surrounded the park, and many departing festival-goers were arrested. In a report filed the next day, Michigan State Police claimed over one hundred arrests for narcotics-related offenses (The number of arrests by local authorities was not then known.). Undercover officers inside the grounds reported instances of nudity and sexual activity, unsanitary rest area conditions, the selling of illegal drugs and the presence of motorcycle gangs.
Personal recollections often take different tones. In 2008, Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton told Detroit’s Metro Times that he saw a group of bikers raping a woman while he played on stage. On the other end of the spectrum, Rod Stewart and his band Faces reportedly had such a good time that they stayed for an extra day. Comments on open and heavy drug usage are common, but some also note that the festival was generally peaceful and nonviolent.
Many officials were outraged over conditions surrounding the festival. Michigan Governor William Milliken publicly called for the arrest and prosecution of illegal drug users. Attorney General Frank Kelley announced that he would seek an injunction against another festival at the site unless the crowd was kept below fifteen thousand. Jackson County Prosecutor Bruce A. Barton sought to have the park closed permanently. Ultimately, he got his way. The State of Michigan indicted Songer for promoting the sale of illegal drugs, and there would be no further festivals at the Goose Lake park.
In retrospect, the Goose Lake International Music Festival might be seen as the end of the era. The curtain had closed on the 1960s, just as it had on Goose Lake park and Richard Songer’s dreams.
State Police. Record Group 90-240. Criminal Investigations. “Goose Lake Rock Festival, 1970.” Box 42, Folder 1. Archives of Michigan. Lansing.
Grit, Noise and Revolution: The Birth of Detroit Rock n’ Roll by David A. Carson
“Goose Lake Memories” by Mark Deming. Metro Times, July 2, 2008
“This Day in Spotlight: The Forgotten Goose Lake Festival.” by Bryan Wawzenek. Gibson.com. August 7, 2010.