"Once we saw the stage at Goose Lake, we were giddy,"
Brownsville Station's Lutz says. "The liberation of
having a big stage and being able to move around, that
was rock 'n' roll incarnate for us. Instead of
intimidation, it was liberation." However, it was a
different story for Dave Alexander, bassist with the
Stooges. According to Ron Asheton, the band was on a
macrobiotic diet at the time and Alexander had sworn off
drugs and alcohol.
"He showed up with his girlfriend and he was so
overwhelmed by all of it, he ended up drinking whiskey
and smoking hash after abstaining for months. He was
just so stoned and freaked out that when the stage
turned around and there were those hundreds of thousands
of people, he kinda froze like a deer in headlights.
Right off the bat, he forgot the songs. He was so out of
it he couldn't even play."
Iggy Pop fired him immediately after the show, and a
bittersweet evening then got even worse: While Asheton
and his bandmates were smoking pot in the trailer they
used as a dressing room, the police suddenly opened the
door and threatened to arrest the band for inciting a
riot. The police interpreted the lyric "No walls! No
walls!" from "Down In The Street" as a command to tear
down the barrier in front of the stage.
Barriers were on a lot of people's minds that weekend.
Unlike Woodstock, Songer and Gibb were determined that
their festival would have a paying audience, and along
with using specially stamped poker chips as entrance
tokens instead of easily forged paper tickets (priced at
$15 for the full three days), the festival grounds were
ringed with miles of 12-foot-high chain link fence to
keep gate crashers out. While some media at the time
reported that the fences were topped with barbed wire
and electrified, Wright says such stories were false.
"There was no barbed wire — it was chain link fence, and
it was put up as nice as you could make a chain link
fence," he says. "We had to do this, assuring the
farmers who bordered the property that our people
wouldn't spill over and mess up their property." Matheu
recalls: "I know other people have told me they felt
caged in, but to me, at 15, this was like the whole
world opened up for me. If the fences were there, it
felt more like they were keeping other elements out."
Along with tales of the barbed wire fences, David A.
Carson's book on the Michigan rock scene, Grit, Noise &
Revolution, also included tales of widespread use of
heroin, speed and other hard drugs at Goose Lake, and a
dark mood hovering over the event. However, most of the
people interviewed for this story didn't share such
memories, although no one argues that marijuana and
psychedelics were all but unavoidable.
"You kinda started wondering, it's so permissive and
open, and if people are being careful enough about what
they're doing," recalls Frank Bach, lead singer of the
Up. "It seems like it was encouraging so much use that
you hoped people weren't having bad trips or whatever.
People talked about how there was a whole row of tents —
here you could buy your speed; here you could buy this;
here you could by that. Here you could buy your
marijuana, and you could compare prices with the next
tent. And in a situation like that, you wondered: Which
one are the cops? Where are they photographing us?"
Though not everything was happy, most fans and musicians
recall a sunny attitude surrounding the weekend. Wright
recalls that Rod Stewart & the Faces enjoyed their
Friday night appearance so much that they cancelled a
show the next night in New York to stay at Goose Lake
and hang out. But Faces keyboardist Ian McLagan
cheerfully declares, "That's probably a lie … We didn't
have anywhere to go the next day, as far as I understand
it," but adds, "It was such fun that first night. Tom
Wright was involved, and Alvin Lee was going to play the
next night, so we hung around to see him. Unfortunately,
the Hell's Angels took over (the backstage area) the
second day." Ron Asheton also recalls a group of bikers
stripping and raping a woman within his view from the
stage while the Stooges were performing. But for most
fans, beyond dealing with the summer heat and sun (and
the odd person falling from a lighting tower), the
weekend was safe and peaceful. "I didn't witness any
violence," says Rosemont, who worked in the first aid
tent one evening. "Inevitably, there's going to be cuts,
bruises, that sort of thing. But there was nothing major
that I recall."
Convincing the locals who lived near Goose Lake that all
was benign was no easy task. Many Leoni county residents
interviewed by reporters prior to the festival spoke as
if a marauding army was on its way, and Jackson's daily
newspaper, the Citizen-Patriot, printed a "Rumor and
Fact" column during the festival in which reporters
tried to establish the veracity of gossip phoned into
their newsroom by worried citizens. The tales ranged
from hippies looting a supermarket to drug-addled rock
fans stealing a cow, then killing and eating it on the
spot. All the negative stories were determined to be
In the aftermath of the festival, most residents of the
community who spoke to the press said that the young
people who attended the festival were polite and well
mannered, but that didn't ease their suspicions. Mr. and
Mrs. Edgar Bowers told a Citizen-Patriot reporter, "They
were nice to us and we were nice to them," but Mr.
Bowers also insisted, "I don't think it could be any
worse. Dope, sex and nudity are offensive. It was a
nerve-wracking deal." His wife chimed in: "We had guns
for protection if they were needed. We're going to fight
[future festivals] to the last ditch."
As it happened, the Bowers and their neighbors soon had
plenty of help preventing Goose Lake II from taking
place. Police officers — convinced arresting drug
dealers in the park would cause a riot — waited outside
the gates on Sunday afternoon, and hundreds of fans
leaving the festival were arrested for possession. Many
patrons, taking the advice of master of ceremonies
Teagarden & Van Winkle, either burned or threw away
their stashes rather than risk seizure on the way home.
Governor William Milliken, who was running for
re-election at the time, seized the opportunity to show
he was tough on drugs. Returning to Michigan after
spending the eventful weekend at a governor's conference
in Missouri, Milliken declared he was "outraged" at the
sale of drugs at Goose Lake and proposed legislation
that would prevent similar events, adding "I do not
oppose rock festivals, but I do oppose and will fight
drug abuse such as took place at Goose Lake."
In quick succession, Jackson County legislators proposed
laws that would outlaw gatherings as large as the Goose
Lake festival; Michigan Representative Charles E.
Chamberlain sought to launch a federal congressional
inquiry into the event; Songer was indicted on charges
related to illegal activity on his property; and state
attorney general Frank Kelley threw his support behind
proposals that would hold promoters legally liable for
illegal activity at events they staged. While Songer had
planned to hold another music festival at Goose Lake on
Labor Day Weekend 1970, the controversy put an end to
any future concerts at the park. He renamed the facility
Wonderland Park and promoted it as a family-friendly
destination, but even an attempt to stage a snowmobile
race there was stopped by local officials. While Songer
was eventually exonerated, Goose Lake was destined to be
Goose Lake was in the headlines in Michigan through much
of July 1970, but it received little coverage elsewhere.
"The biggest mistake made at Goose Lake was my fault,"
Wright confesses. "And that was when the press showed up
backstage, we were not hospitable. We weren't rude or
anything, but we explained that the backstage area was
for the roadies, the guys with the bands, the bands and
the band's friends. We couldn't clog up the gears with
15 people who claimed to be from Rolling Stone. So we
gave them free passes to the whole event, and they could
get everywhere except backstage, which was the only
place they wanted to be. Consequently, we did not get
any coverage in the music press."
Despite it all, Goose Lake remains the biggest festival
of its kind ever held in the Midwest, and gave
Michigan's counterculture a chance to come together and
raise their voices on a grand scale, while having some
fun at the same time. As Mitch Ryder says, with no small
pride: "It was a clash of cultures, for sure. But that's
how change comes about. And I was involved in it.