The Erie Canal Soda Pop Festival 1972: Possibly The Worst Music Gathering in History
AFTER The Monterey Pop Festival, Woodstock and Isle of Wight captured rock ‘n’ roll’s attention, everyone was soon trying to get in on the action by putting on their own festivals.
England got Bickershaw and Glastonbury started to stretch out, and America saw festivals popping up all over the place. One such show was the 1972 Erie Canal Soda Pop Festival.
However, this was one of the most disastrous get-togethers in rock. The Rolling Stone’s Altamont gig in 1969 was bad enough, but this shindig, held over three days on Bull Island in Indiana, was blighted from the off.
Promoters of the show thought they’d be getting around 50,000 music lovers on-site, but soon enough, they found themselves swamped with over 300,000 ready to lose their shit and get messy.
The scheduled line-up looked like it was going to be quite the party. Revellers were hoping to see the scheduled Joe Cocker, Black Sabbath, The Allman Brothers, Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles, Santana, Canned Heat, John Mayall, Cheech & Chong, The Amboy Dukes, Bob Seger, Ravi Shankar, Albert King, Gentle Giant, Slade, Nazareth, and many more.
However, most of the bands pulled out and soon enough, everything at the Erie Canal Soda Pop Festival descended into farce and anarchy.
The people behind the weekend were buoyed by the success of a party they’d thrown a few months prior, at Bosse Field in Evansville, Indiana where everyone got to go crazy for Edgar Winter, Ike and Tina Turner and Grateful Dead pals The New Riders of the Purple Sage.
A bigger show was planned for Chandler, Indiana, serving as something of a Tri-State Woodstock. The courts saw to it that this wouldn’t be happening, so the promoters decided on a site near Griffin in Posey County, Indiana. Or, as the locals called it, ‘Bull Island’. The courts said that no gig could go ahead in the county, but thanks to the changing course of the Wabash River, Bull Island is in part, in the State of Illinois.
The local Illinois officials in the tiny Carmi soon found themselves looking down the barrel of a shitstorm and they were powerless to stop the concert.
What with the weekend happening on Labor Day, everyone had the day off and thus, huge numbers swarmed to Illinois and seeing as you could only get to Bull Island by two roads, traffic was soon in a state of complete bedlam, backed up in advance of 20 miles. Not only that, the road leading in was only a week old, built for lorries carrying timber. And seeing as access was via Indiana, who weren’t aware of the show, police presence was non-existent.
The promoters had planned to drill thirty to forty wells and create around four hundred outdoor toilets. What punters ended up with were a few stagnant or dry wells and six privies.
There was no-one to control the crowds and the Indiana and Illinois police forces were dismal when communicating with each other.
What transpired was 300,000 hippies going gonzo in the face of three county deputy sheriffs from White County, Illinois. Soon enough, food and water were in a desperately short supply and, with great timing, torrential rain hit the party.
A truck delivering food to the festival was hijacked, looted and burned. The vendors that did have food to sell were overcharging (nothing new for a festival there), but with so little police, revellers just rolled the retailers RVs over and robbed them.
There was also a ‘shopping district’ set up, devoted entirely to drugs, where the dealers didn’t have to worry about being shy about their wares. Stalls sold strychnine-laced LSD, while some unscrupulous sorts sold bleach to hippies, telling them they were bona-fide recreational drugs.
The whole thing became a gigantic mess and thanks to a combination of bad weather, bad drugs, bad management and more, three concert goers drowned in the Wabash River.
When the festival finally ended, the last of the crowd burned down the music stand.
What’s hilarious is that, in 2011, there was an announcement that there was going to be a Soda Pop Revisited music festival held on the Labor Day weekend of 2012 to mark the 40th anniversary of the original. It was planned that The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Elton John and The Doobie Brothers (among others) would play. Guess what?
The festival never took place.