Goose Lake International Music Festival, 1970
The Goose Lake International Music Festival in 1970 took place a year after Woodstock with promoters striving to create a better-organized rock festival in Leoni Township. They succeeded in provided better accommodations for an estimated crowd of 200,000 people, but the festival was attacked for open drug use in the crowd. Music took center stage, though, and crowds were treated to dynamic performances by Faces, Chicago, Mountain, Bob Seger, MC5 and The Stooges, among many others. Tickets were $15 for the three-day festival.
It was peace and love.
It was sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll.
It was the summer of 1970.
And they all exploded in a field along the shores of Goose Lake in the middle of nowhere in eastern Jackson County. "We used a helicopter to get in and out," said now 84-year-old "Uncle" Russ Gibb, a popular Detroit disc jockey turned concert promoter who helped put on the Goose Lake International Music Festival. "It was a world of wonderment," said festival attendee Fred Greenspoon, a Detroit-area native now living outside Philadelphia. "No one in Michigan had seen anything like this." A 'place for the young people to go' The Goose Lake International Music Festival was the creation of Richard Songer, who in his mid-30s in 1970 bought about 350 acres of farmland to create Goose Lake Park, a "place for the young people to go." Songer had made his money in a Southfield construction business and set about planning what many were calling the country's first permanent outdoor rock festival arena, complete with strong fences, restrooms, showers, kitchens that other festivals in fields—including Woodstock—had lacked. Proposed to Leoni Township officials in March 1970, Songer's plan was being protested by the Goose Lake Property Owners Association by April.
It appeared, though, that the land's zoning allowed for a park and there were no other ordinances on the books to stop the festival. Still, lawsuits were filed in an attempt to halt what protestors said was a project that would pollute the area and bring in an "invasion of hippies or gypsies or whatever." While the courts fought it out, Songer moved ahead. He started clearing sites for parking, camping and an amphitheater he called the "Goose Nest." And he began constructing light and sound towers and a unique revolving stage that cut down on the lag time between acts because one band could set up backstage on half of it while another performed before the crowd on the other half. Those acts, being booked by Gibb and Tom Wright, his manager at Detroit's Grande Ballroom, included top rock performers Faces, with Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood of Rolling Stones fame; the James Gang with Joe Walsh; Jethro Tull; Chicago; 10 Years After; John Sebastian; and Mountain.
Most of the major Michigan acts of the time were booked, too, such as MC5, the Stooges, Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels, Savage Grace, the Up, SRC and Brownsville Station. In a last-ditch effort, Jackson County Prosecutor Bruce A. Barton went to Jackson County Circuit Court on Aug. 3 asking for an immediate restraining order to cancel the festival, which he said would be too big, too lewd and too crazy for law enforcement to handle. Judge John C. Dalton turned him down. All roads lead to Goose Lake Park Fearing that highways and roads into Goose Lake would be closed because of traffic—like they were outside of Woodstock—young people began arriving early before the park's scheduled Thursday, Aug. 6, opening. Ron Domilici of Tucson, Arizona, a 24-year-old Ford Motor Co. worker living outside of Ann Arbor then, was among them. "My friends and I came in a van with a pup tent and plenty of food," Domilici said. "I sat on the roof of the van for hours watching people come in.
It was a continuous line." Songer and crew had created a poker chip as a ticket to cut down on the counterfeiting of paper tickets other festivals had seen. The chips cost $15 for the three days and people who arrived without them or the money to buy them were offered the chance to work in the park for admittance. Songer also constructed a 12-foot cyclone fence topped by three strands of barbed wire and enlisted the White Panthers to help with security to prevent the fence-crashers who troubled other festivals. It didn't help much, as people paid guards less than the price of admission to let them in through holes cut into the fence. Songer later estimated only 45,000 paid to get in. The park had permanent restroom and shower facilities, free kitchens, medical clinics, food stores and vendors. Some of those vendors' wares included drugs—marijuana, mescaline and LSD—which were sold and used openly and casually. The weather was hot and dry, so the lake soon became a true bathing beach, with skinny-dippers aplenty.