By Rick Coates
The abundance of music festivals now taking place in Northern Michigan probably are better known than one of the largest and most successful in American history.
Last weekend marked the 40th anniversary of Goose Lake International Festival that originally took place between Jackson and Ann Arbor August 7- 9, 1970 and attracted more than 200,000 attendees.
While Woodstock received full fanfare from the media last year in honor of its 40th, little is being made about Goose Lake, despite the fact that Billboard calls it one of the most successful music festivals of all time.
I will take the blame for the lack of media coverage, said Tom Wright, one of the organizers and production manager for the festival. All this media from Rolling Stone Magazine to others showed up looking for backstage access and I wouldnt give it to them. I gave them free passes to get in an sit with everyone else, but they wanted backstage and I think they held it against us.
Wright, retired to the Bellaire area several years ago. He is one of rock and rolls best photographers who also made a name for himself managing such bands as The Who, James Gang and also managed the legendary Grande Ballroom in Detroit during its heyday as one of the top music venues in the country during the 60s (the Grande is the subject of a forthcoming documentary).
Wright along with Grande Ballroom owner DJ and school teacher Russ Gibb, also had put on the successful Detroit Rock and Roll Revival three months before Woodstock that attracted 30,000-plus to the Michigan State Fairgrounds. So in 1970 when Southfield businessman Richard Songer wanted to put on a large music festival, he turned to Wright and Gibb to run it.
This guy has purchased over 300 acres near Goose Lake and wanted to put on a bunch of events on his property including a major music festival, said Wright. The first event was going to be this three-day Goose Lake Festival.
While he didnt personally attend Woodstock, Wright had a lot friends who did, including his best friend Pete Townshend who played the festival that many have estimated had close to 500,000 people attend.
The problem they had was only about 50,000 paid to get in, said Wright. We had close to 100,000 buy tickets in advance for Goose Lake. Plus, their other problem was they were so far behind; in fact bands were playing seven hours after they were scheduled.
A TIGHT SHIP
Wright and Gibb were determined that not only was everyone going to pay to get in, but also that the bands were going to go on as scheduled.
Tom was the perfect production manager, he had proved that at the Grande and other events. He ran a tight ship, said Gibb. He was very ingenious as well and he did something no one thought could be done; he kept the festival on schedule.
Because of all the publicity Woodstock received, the Detroit papers questioned how Goose Lake would manage the large crowds and not follow into the same footsteps as Woodstock. When the schedule was released, Iggy Pop told the Detroit Free Press, I will play as long as I want to. no one tells the Stooges how long they can play.
But Wright had a plan to keep each performer to a 45-minute set.
I built a circular stage and we put curtains across the center of it, said Wright. So while one act was performing the other was setting up. When the 45 minutes was up we would start cranking on the stage and it would turn.
So as the stage turned a frustrated Iggy Pop dove into the crowd.
Ian MacLagan, who was a member of The Small Faces (Rod Stewart, Ron Wood, Ronnie Lane) back in those days recalls how much fun everyone had at Goose Lake.
We played on Friday night and supposedly had gigs in New York over the weekend, said MacLagan. Folklore has it that we cancelled the other gigs and hung out at Goose Lake. I dont recall, but I do know that we did hang out at Goose Lake all weekend. A big part of that was because we knew if Tom Wright was involved something big was going to happen.
Something big did happen in the tune of 200,000 plus.
I think the number was close to 300,000 and I do know this -- they all paid, said Wright.
So Goose Lake must have been a big payday for Wright and the others.
I cant speak for the others, I thought it was going to be for me, said Wright. I could have shown up a couple of days before and hired a minimal crew. But I arrived on site a month ahead of time and hired the best in the industry, so it wasnt the pay day for me that I thought, but it was a well-run festival. In fact when the last band walked off the stage we finished seven minutes ahead of schedule.
Goose Lake featured Joe Cocker, The Faces, James Gang, MC5, Jethro Tull, the Stooges, Mitch Ryder, Brownsville Station, Mountain, Chicago, Ten Years After and the Flying Burrito Brothers among others. It was billed as Michigans Woodstock.
As the festival neared, law enforcement and government leaders including then-Governor William Milliken vowed to shut the festival down. Concerns over large crowds and drugs had some fearing the worst.
Certainly the drugs were prevalent, said Wright. But law enforcement stayed away, fearing possible riots. We had few arrests over the weekend and few injuries. It wasnt perfect, but it was as close as possible.
Even Tom Wright was caught off guard when he was called about the 40th anniversary of Goose Lake.
It has been 40 years -- wow it seems like yesterday, said Wright. I have been called a handful of times over the past couple of years from some media about Goose Lake, but I kind of forgot about it.
Wrights only regret from Goose Lake?
Not keeping closer tabs on my camera. It was stolen. I had several rolls of pictures that I had taken, all gone now.
The facility at Goose Lake that Wright oversaw never hosted another event, nor did Wright. He and some of his production team got on a boat and headed to Europe.
The Goose Lake International Music Festival never received the recognition it deserved from the media and Woodstock and Monterey have gone down in the annals as rocks greatest music festival. But for the 200,000 plus who attended Goose Lake, they know differently.