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 Remembering Goose Lake (Part 1)

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PostSubject: Remembering Goose Lake (Part 1)   Remembering Goose Lake (Part 1) Icon_minitimeThu Jul 10, 2008 1:12 pm

Goose Lake memories (Metro Times Detroit)

Goose Lake memories
Why Michigan's most important rock fest remains an obscure
footnote in rock history

by Mark Deming

After a few decades of dormancy, the phenomenon of the
multi-day rock festival has returned to life in recent
years, with Bonnaroo and Coachella becoming annual media
events. Michigan is getting into the act with the
jam-band friendly Rothbury Festival, which kicks off
this Thursday, July 3, at the Double JJ Ranch, not far
from Muskegon.
Rothbury promoters are expecting as many as 40,000
people to show up, an impressive figure…at least until
you consider the last grand-scale rock festival that
took place in Michigan. In the summer of 1970, the Goose
Lake International Music Festival was held in Jackson,
Michigan, and attracted over 200,000 fans. Unlike
Woodstock, it didn't rain and most of those folks
actually paid to get in. Despite this, Goose Lake
remains an obscure footnote in Midwestern rock history,
the big show that hardly anyone outside Michigan has
heard about.

The Goose Lake festival was the brainchild of Richard
Songer, a Southfield native who'd made a fortune in
construction, building many of Michigan's highways,
ramps and bridges. He purchased 350 acres near Goose
Lake, just outside Jackson, and in 1970, Songer, then 35
years old, decided to transform the property into a
park. He told the press: "It's a dream of mine to put
together some place for the young people to go." With
that in mind, Songer planned to build a performance
venue on his property and stage a series of concerts,
starting with a three-day rock festival to take place
August 7 through 9.
A novice in concert promotion, Songer sought the help of
two men with practical experience, Russ Gibb and Tom
Wright. "Uncle Russ" was a DJ on WKNR-FM and owned and
booked the Grande Ballroom, Detroit's premiere rock
venue in the late '60s and early '70s, while Wright was
a photographer and sometime roadie who managed the
Grande. In May 1969, three months before Woodstock, Gibb
and Wright staged the Detroit Rock and Roll Revival, a
huge outdoor concert at the Michigan State Fairgrounds,
and with Songer footing the bills, they set out to go
the Revival one better at Goose Lake.
"We began by taking the rough outline that they had,"
remembers Wright, "which was a rectangle on a blackboard
where the stage was going to go, and then fine tuning it
to handle a high-energy music scenario." Wright's design
for Goose Lake was meant to be permanent, and Songer
spared no expense to see the job was done right, with
his construction crew at Gibb and Wright's beck and
call. "He brought in his crew of highway guys and they
built roads; they paved the parking; they built the
restroom setup; the kitchen facilities — it was like a
state park for millionaires. It was beautiful."
Gibb assembled a bill of top-shelf artists for the
three-day festival, including Joe Cocker, Rod Stewart &
the Faces, the James Gang, Jethro Tull, Mountain,
Chicago, Ten Years After and the Flying Burrito
Brothers. Most of the major acts on the Michigan scene
were on hand as well, among them the MC5, the Stooges,
Mitch Ryder & Detroit, Savage Grace, the Up, the Third
Power, SRC and Brownsville Station. The event was
heavily promoted throughout the Midwest and Ron Asheton
of the Stooges recalls it being billed as "Michigan's
Woodstock. It was a big deal and people were excited,"
the guitarist recalls. "It was that great 'Us Getting
Together' thing because it was very much 'Us Against the
Establishment.' It was a real dividing line between the
freak and the straight."
That dividing line threatened to shut down Goose Lake
before it even began. Many Leoni Township residents
living near the lake were already wary of Songer's plans
to build a park — and when he announced the upcoming
music festival, some formed the Goose Lake Area Property
Owners Association. They filed suit to keep the festival
from happening, claiming the event violated local zoning
regulations. However, Songer's legal team kept them at
bay, and on Thursday, August 6, thousands of fans began
drifting onto the festival grounds, while work crews put
the final touches on the facilities.
Dick Rosemont, who today runs one of East Lansing's best
record stores, Flat Black and Circular, was part of the
team working the festival, doing a little bit of
everything. "The first day, we helped people put up
tents — people who had borrowed them and had no idea of
what to do with them!" Rosemont says. "The clearest
thing I remember is being up on the lighting tower on
Sunday." According to press reports, a teenager named
Tom Neumaier climbed up onto one of the towers, and
while they were sturdy enough to hold his weight ("Those
towers were made of bridge steel," Wright recalls), he
either jumped or fell off. Rosemont then sat atop the
tower to discourage others from following Neumaier's
lead. Remarkably, Neumaier was unhurt outside of some
cracked ribs; as Mike Lutz of Brownsville Station jokes
today: "Someone fell off a light tower and walked away,
scot free! More power to marijuana!"
By Friday night, Goose Lake was in full swing, and it
soon became obvious that initial attendance estimates of
100,000 fans were wildly inadequate. Dave Bernath,
Rosemont's business partner at FBC, attended the
festival as a fan, setting up a tent at the back of the
performance amphitheater. "You woke up in the morning
and there was hundreds of thousands of people there,"
Bernath says. "At one point you knew where everything
was. Then everything changed. You saw 40 or 50,000 cars
parked all up and down the road. It was chaos — you
could never leave and get back. You were trapped, but it
was a good kind of trapped. It wasn't like hell; it was
like paradise."
Another fan attending the show was Robert Matheu, who
would later become a top rock photographer and publisher
of the current online incarnation of CREEM magazine.
Matheu, who was 15 years old at the time, hitchhiked to
Goose Lake with a friend. "We had read about Woodstock
in Rolling Stone and Life magazine, and to a 14- or
15-year-old kid, that looked like the ultimate event,"
Matheu says. "Look at all these bands and all the
freedom while you're out there in the woods! We found
some other people who were camping there and we just
crashed their campsite and made friends with them."
Matheu's new friends were kind enough to share some of
their drugs with him as well. Drugs, after all, were not
hard to find. Open drug sales were the order of the day,
and Rosemont recalls a mobile head shop set up in a
trailer truck, selling every conceivable sort of smoking
paraphernalia. Mitch Ryder — who began his interview by
confessing, "I remember very little [about Goose Lake];
I was tripping [on acid] for the entire time" — recalls,
"Nobody was straight. It wasn't cool to be straight.
There were straight people there, obviously, or it
couldn't have been pulled off. But not many."
With an audience that swelled to between 200,000 and
300,000 (depending on who was counting), it was up to
Wright and his stage crew to keep the audience occupied,
and he was determined to keep the show on schedule. Sets
were limited to a lean-and-mean 45 minutes, and Wright
designed an unusual revolving stage set up on a massive
turntable. While a band was playing on one side of the
stage, the next act would set up on the other side. Once
one set ended, stagehands would spin the massive
turntable, and moments later the next band would be
ready to go. "The phenomenal spinning stage, which I've
never seen anywhere before or since!" enthuses Bernath.
"The band would literally hit their last note, say
'thank you' and 'goodbye,' they spun around and the next
band started within a minute — in seconds! The first
band was still fading out when the other band came on!
That's the way it should be!"
Many of the Michigan acts playing Goose Lake found
themselves facing an audience that numbered in the six
figures for the first time, and some took to it more
easily than others.
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