Monday, August 17, 2009

The Not-a-Woodstock Festival...Bull Island, Illinois - 1972

The 40th anniversary of Woodstock reminded me of the large festival I went to on Labor Day weekend 1972.

To me it signified the end of the Woodstock Nation.


Advertised on the radio for weeks, the Erie Canal Soda Pop Festival at Bull Island, Illinois was supposed to be the next Woodstock. Several of us decided to go and loaded up.

Leaving from Murfressboro TN the day before the start of the music, we arrived late in the night. We were lucky to get there when we did and to get off of the interstate and park somewhere on a dirt road that led to the festival. Later we found out that hundreds, if not thousands, of cars were left on the side of the interstate and they got towed.

We slept until some time after daybreak and began a long walk to the festival's gate. We didn't have tickets but did have the cash to get in so we waited in line to pay our way. Almost to the gate, a group of folks began pushing on the flimsy fence and broke it down with someone yelling "It's a free festival." No one tried to stop anyone and we all politely walked through the downed fence and headed towards the stage which was still a long ways away.
The twenty dollars each not paid came in handy later on.

Well... what did we come upon first? Dope stands. That's right, makeshift stands set up in a row with signs saying what was for sale. It was mostly acid; blotter, sugar-cube, capsules and pills. We checked them all out, talking to the vendors and decided on the sugar-cube.
It turned out to be a good choice as it was reported to be some bad acid, even bleach sold by some sorry scum just to make a buck or to disrupt the situation and hurting some folks in the process.

We never saw one cop the whole time we were there. The dope stands were taken down later that day but there were plenty more drugs of every kind to be found. Downers and heroin seemed to be the drug of choice for quite a few.

We walked around the site taking in all of what was going on, met up with some friends and staked out a place a little to the right of the stage about maybe 150 feet back.

We had carried a few supplies in with us, some food and water, soap, towels and blankets. Everything was needed and more so.

Before nightfall we were beginning to see that all was not well with the promised entertainment. Bands we had never heard of attempted to play but the organization was not there and the sound system was never right until later on in the night. It was a mess that only got worse.

But we didn't care, we were in the midst of somewhere around 250,000 to 300,000 people and it began as a big party whether or not we had music. As it turned out, very few of the scheduled bands showed up and some that did would not play due to lack of being paid or just plain afraid of the crowd.

Overdoses were common. The PA announcer was continually yelling to not take this or that as it was bad and reminding people where the medical tent was. One guy was standing up spouting nonsense very loudly for a long time and began to get on people's nerves until a couple of guys physically carried him off. The crowd around clapped and yelled.

Later that night, a very well endowed topless lady with a leather satchel full of ounces of pot made her way through the crowd hawking her wares. She sold out.

At one point the crowd was fairly quiet and a guy stood up and at the top of his voice screamed "this is dope to the max." The crowd gave him an ovation.

It rained hard that night, shades of Woodstock, and that messed things up. Cheech and Chong played during it with everyone under plastic and blankets trying to stay dry.

I remember falling asleep sometime after that.

The next morning brought out the sun and everyone was walking around in pretty much a daze. What was unsettling was that many guys were going around begging for downers. Downers at a rock festival? We commented that this must be the end of the psychedelic era.

We were dirty from the mud and dust and since Bull Island was surrounded by water on three sides, we took a hike to wash up. Sure enough, many others had the same idea and why get your clothes wet, skinny dipping was the way to go.

We sat on the bank watching the nude bathers and getting up our nerve to do the same. At that moment there were probably a hundred or so in the water and we joined in. Glad we brought the soap. Then the helicopters began circling around very low with their cameras blazing. Naked hippies must have made their story for the nightly news a little more interesting.

Bands did play but who they were, I can only go by what others have written.

We left the next morning and I ended up driving the whole way back while the others slept.

I wouldn't do it again but I wouldn't take anything for the experience. It was what you might call 'a different kind of fun.'

If I were a conspiracy theorist, I would swear that the festival was a set-up, a sort of psyops to put an end to the ideal of the Woodstock nation. If it wasn't, then it was the biggest f**k up in the history of rock festival promotions.

A few more details...

The Erie Canal Soda Pop Festival, Bull Island

Erie Canal "Soda" Pop Festival

Rock festival ends in disillusionment
Additional Photos
Worst Rock Festival Ever? / 72 Erie Canal Soda Pop Festival


  1. I made it to the Ozark Gospel and Country Music fest in Sedalia, MO in 1974.

    It was a great time, damn near non-stop partying for 3+ days and all sorts of decent bands.

    And I got in free. The people I went with didn't have a car, but had tickets.
    I had a car, but not a ticket.

    But at the gate, they took my friends tickets and just waved me in.

    What a great time. Several hundred thousand and I didn't see any violence, just people having a good time.

  2. I was Fifteen years old when this happened. And I was right in the middle of the action, but I wasn't on the island! My father was the Sherriff of Posey County at the time, and we lived at the jail in Mt. Vernon. Our phones rang non stop 24 hours a day with parents trying to find their kids. It was really quite sad. I've read that there was "inadequate" police protection, but there was no way that the small county of Posey could have contained that crowd. I know my dad, and all his deputies, and the volunteers worked 24 hours a day for a week.

    My dad's buddy had a 6 seater plane, and we got to fly over it. What a mess. I've never seen anything like it, before or since!

    The saddest thing tho, was when they were cleaning up the mess (which took months) they found a newborn in a plastic bag.

    And I think you are correct, Bull Island was the end of the Woodstock era. I remember there was "talk" of doing another concert, but it never materialized.

    Thanks for the memories!

    1. Dinah
      You forgot to add the fifty six chevy, i think a dui was involved. I'm for sure my parents was burrning that phone line up! I know dad busted my ass good when I finally showed up. I was fifteen allso but in class of 74. Had a great time, would do again.

  3. Thanks for your input Dinah. I bet that the plane ride over Bull Island was an eye opener.

    It's hard to put into words what happened there and I'm glad to know that there are some who remember.

  4. After I left my story about my experience at Bull Island, I shared that I had just purchased a new Camera Minolta SLR which I still have. I found the negatives and had them put on a Cd. I thought there would be more,I have to say I wanted more, but there are some really good ones, especialy of the trucks being looted and the skinny dippers, and the people selling pot. It was so cool reflecting back I sure hope someone organizes a reunion, I could help....

    1. I was recently sharing my stories on attending the Bull Island rock festival. Had some laughs telling my wife too,she was not impressed. I was very near the back of the trucks when the liberation of the food began! Please post the photos! Would love to see them! I hitchhiked from Chicago and back from the day before till the last day of music.When leaving walked past the remnants of a cow that someone tried to cook without the help of a butcher, just knocked down and attempted to cook. But the good memories out number the cow story. Thanks, Jim (Tish)

  5. Hi,

    Myself & 9 others I grew up with went. It was great, we were 17, just out of High School, We had a muffler problem & the cops pulled over to check it out- at 3 am in Indianna- the cop said "are you going to that Rock Festival?" I said, "we were going to, but changed our minds" he said, "then what are you doing?" I said, "just driving around". He said , "its 3 am , you are in the middle of Indiana with Ohio plates & you are just driving around?" "Follow me"- he took us to a truck stop , said the y can help you with your car, have fun, be safe" It was great. Just the start of an adventure. We had fun, all the people I met from all over The USA were great. We should do it agian-there were 300,000 plus of us-where are you all at now?
    God Bless ya'll

  6. I was there. I just turned 15. My dad took me. He worked at a local TV station and was seen on the evening news, because of course, the camera man knew him. He was fired.

    I remember black oak arkansas best, oh, and ravi shankar... his music was appropriate, it was like an indian market place with signs up selling dope.

  7. left early just too much humanity, was almost killed by two rednecks who tried to runover he while my wife and i hitchhiked was picked up by state cops who took us to the main highway not my fav memorys had a mean weekend buzz though steve

  8. I have a whole lot of newspaper clippings from the local papers in that area about the rockfest!Lot's of pics.,etc. If someone wants them contact me at

  9. My husband played at the Soda Pop Festival in a band called Gladstone from Texas. He rode in a helicopter over the crowd because it was the only way in.

  10. I was there with six of us from St. Louis. It was a sight to behold. There were people in line getting tied off for their heroin injections. The injections were made with needleless air guns.

    I celebrated my birthday there. We were some of the few just drinking beer. The guy in the tent next to us OD'd on some kind of downers. While we was conscious he kept yelling out that he was looking for Reds or Yellows. We nicknamed him TOJO.

    We were also in the line to pay when the fence came down, and we just walked right in.

  11. Me and a buddy had just been hitch-hiking back home from a 6 week road trip all over the south west and california and in nothern Oklahoma we got picked up by a guy in a volkswagon camper van who said he was heading to the Indiana festival. I don't remember having tickets. We must have gotten there early because somehow he parked his van right back beyond where the trucks got set ablaze the one night. I also mainly remember Black oak arkansas (first time I ever heard them and thought they were great) and Rabbi Shankar on the sittar. I remeber catching loafs of bread and cases of soda that were being heaved into the crowd by the looters. The prices were something to rebel against. A small paper cup of water was a buck or more. This ended the trip of my youth. A memory that seemed to be only mine. I don't know what all of a sudden stirred me to search for this event but thanks for posting this site. The friend I went with drugged out for years after our trip and doesn't remember any of it. We were seventeen and I had to go back and finish 12th grade after that summer. That was a chore. The guy who picked us up in his camper van was probably in hi thirdys. We stopped at a farm market before the concert and bought enough vegetables and stuff for a gigantic pot of stew that we lived off of for the entire three days. Thanks again.

  12. I always appreciate the comments and the additional little bits and pieces of this story. Thanks.

  13. Hey guys...I was there also....but wanted to tell you there is a facebook page that would love your comments.....just look up Erie Canal Soda Pop Festival on FB!!

  14. I rode down from Indy in a 71 chevy van with about 7 others.I was 16 and took a bunch of weed we picked in northern indiana.We got there early Fri.and were able to park close.No body to take our tickets so we walked back up the road and sold them for 10 bucks.<my older took our weed. sold it quick hitched a ride to the closest airport and flew back to indy.I still tell him what he missed,greedy bastard.I ate reds,blue tips, yellows and roher 714's for three days.One of the most unforgetable times of my life.I remember <Chuck Berry playing but have yet to see anything about him. plan on going to reunion this year. peace all

    1. Matt WHAT RE UNION- LET US KNOW GEEZ we have to do it again!

  15. One of the funniest things I personally witnessed at this event (WE drove up from Greensboro, NC.) was bunches of people were skinny dipping in the river having the time of their lives, when a huge water moccasin came weaving its way down theriver.. The people were almost calm about it, down right fucking zen, but a few seconds later a large turd comes floating by and everyone started splashing twoarsds shore like some one had yelled shark! (This was years before Caddyshack, btw.)

  16. A buddy and I hitched down from the Twin Cities, but not without incident. A Wisconsin State Trooper nailed us for hitchhiking on the interstate on-ramp. After paying the fines we made our way in a timely manner and were pleasantly surprised t(since we had no money at that point), to find absolutely no one collecting at the gate when we got there. As a matter of fact, to this day I don't even know where the gate was at. We just ambled in down a dirt road.

    About the entertainment, let me just say, there's nothing like waking up to the sounds of Amboy Dukes as the sun begins to rise in the East. It had to have been no later than 7:00 in the morning that particular day when the jams began.

    No, it didn't meet the standard of Woodstock, and yet all of the elements were there. The
    music, the partying and the sense of freedom...and no, never did see a cop the entire weekend. Oh, and one thing became clear....that because Woodstock was more or less a sppntaneous blowout of a party, the mold was broken the moment it ended. It won't be duplicated...ever.

    Thanks for the memories everybody.

  17. Ok, who was really there, i was there from start to finish. one of the best lessons in life. sex, drugs, and rock n roll. i wish everyone there if they do a 20yr reunion the best, and make it a time to enjoy your freedom and each other. i went there with a twelve man tent and needless to say, had the best of times. does anyone out there remember what happened the day after, when about 20 state patrol cars, with 2 state troopers in each, driving on site in single file and just sat there as the leftovers of the concert got the idea and moved on at a quicker rate, including myself. i would love to see the footage taken from the news helicopter that morning, the stage was on fire along with the trailers that were used for food, beverage and entertainment. i was at the heliport the night before they shut it down when a band got off the helicopter and announced to one of the promoters that some of the top bands were not coming due to the audience was getting restless by the second because of the lack of organization. i have so much to tell i thought about writing a book. does anyone remember. can anyone locate the news video taken from the chopper, i wonder.

    1. It would be great if you wrote up an extended narrative of your experiences at the festival. If you do I would be glad to post it here at this blog. Or send me a link if you post it somewhere else.

      I should do a youtube video of the photos to maybe get more feedback. What soundtrack to use is my question?


  18. Added a youtube video of the photos.

  19. There are too many cry babies about this festival. Those poor promoters had to move the venue at the last minute to avoid court injunctions or there would have been no party. They did their best and most of us did not even pay to get in. A lot of the bands could not get through the traffic and crowd to play but just compare it to this weekend and then revaluate. The music was great and there was a lot of it. It just all has to do with the expectations. And where else can you go to a party with over 200,000 people and swim naked with the girls in the river. That was some the most fun I ever had in my life. But there was one more to come; Sedalia in 2004 and that one came off smooth. But I don’t think the town of Sedalia Missouri was ever the same again. That one was right in town at the state fair grounds. To get naked with the girls there you had to go a couple of blocks down the street to the car wash in the middle of town, and that is a true story. LOL
    Those were some fun times.

  20. Here is a new article on the festival.

    I'm reposting it in case it disappears one day.

    Woodstock on the Wabash: The Bull Island rockfest, 40 years later
    What began as an ambitious event ended in chaos, lawsuits, hope to do it all again

    By Sean McDevitt
    Posted September 2, 2012 at 12:10 a.m.

    At that moment, the 20-something music entrepreneur could feel it slipping out of control. He and co-promoter Tom Duncan had burned through piles of cash, much of it generated by advance ticket sales. They were entangled in more legal proceedings than they could track.

    Meanwhile, thousands of long-haired youngsters, many of whom had learned of the event by word of mouth, were on their way to the Tri-State. Many were already in the area, setting up camp in places like Chandler, Poseyville and the Evansville riverfront.

    The biggest problem: Alexander and Duncan still didn't have a site. Their original plan for a Woodstock-style megafest at Chandler Raceway was blocked after encountering intense opposition.

    It was Aug. 31, 1972, a Thursday, and Alexander was meeting with Evansville Mayor Russell Lloyd. It was a race against time.

    "Mayor Lloyd called for a special meeting," Alexander recalls. "And he said, 'What are you going to do with this crowd?' And I said, 'Mayor, what are you going to do with it?' Tom and I had it planned at Chandler Raceway, but then the injunctions came. We couldn't stop the people from coming to town.

    "We weren't sleeping at night," Alexander continues. "We thought that everything was going to just go down the drain. But we'd spent over $700,000, so our position was that we had to do this festival some way. Come hell or high water, the people were going to have an event."

    In the end, the people did have an event. Originally called the Erie Canal Soda Pop Festival, it was later renamed the Labor Day Soda Pop Festival once legal action forced it away from Chandler.

    To those who were there, however, it will always be known as Bull Island.


    1. Meeting Roy Orbison

      Bob Alexander, born and raised in Virginia, had lived in places like California and North Carolina before a stint in the U.S. Army — stationed at Fort Campbell, Ky. — introduced him to Evansville.

      A chance encounter with the late rock legend Roy Orbison served as the catalyst for his entry into the world of music promotion. In 1964, Orbison was in the process of changing record labels, leaving Monument Records for MGM, and MGM's plans for the "Oh, Pretty Woman" singer called for him to make movies.

      At the time, Alexander happened to represent a playwright whose script, he thought, may be to Orbison's liking. After the script had made its way to Orbison, the two men met in Nashville, Tenn.

      "Orbison said, 'Bob, I don't like your script, but you seem to have a great knowledge of music. Have you ever thought of being a concert promoter?' I said, 'Well, give me some dates.' So he did."

      Orbison allowed Alexander to book several Midwest appearances, including one at the Evansville Coliseum in late 1964. After paying Orbison $2,000 for the Evansville date and enjoying a modest windfall for his efforts, Alexander had found a new career.

      "That show was a complete sellout, and it whetted my appetite for the concert business," Alexander recalls. "I was in it for well over 40 years."

      Alexander would bring dozens of acts to Evansville, including several of the Dick Clark's Caravan of Stars package tours, but his promotions, like the music business itself, had become increasingly ambitious by the early 1970s.

      One of them, in particular, set the stage for Bull Island.

    2. Bosse Field rockfest

      The Bosse Field Freedom Fest, a single-day event that took place on Sunday, July 2, 1972, drew, at least by some estimates, as many as 30,000 people and featured performances by Ike and Tina Turner, Edgar Winter, Dr. John, Howlin' Wolf and John Lee Hooker.

      The 12-hour show was a first for Evansville, marking the city's entry into the world of outdoor rockfests. For many residents who lived around Garvin Park, seeing the thousands upon thousands of long-haired young people who attended the event was also something new.

      As many as 7,000 of them, according to published reports, were staying in Garvin Park in the wee hours of Sunday morning, hours before the rockfest was set to begin. The park's swimming pool was in full use, and cars packed the Bosse Field parking lot and the park's circular drive.

      "Long-haired, bearded boys and girls wearing scanty clothes milled around the area," The Evansville Courier reported. "Some were just sitting on the ground talking; others were dripping wet after taking a swim in the park's small lake ... But the mood was peaceful and the youths were for the most part very quiet."

      As for the show, it wasn't without incident. Five people were arrested outside the ballpark in a scuffle with police, and the city immediately sued Alexander to recover the money it cost to clean Garvin Park and repair Bosse Field.

      But overall, the event was a hit, and a lucrative one for Alexander and his co-promoter, Duncan, an Evansville resident. Its success immediately got the two men thinking big.

      "I made the most money that I'd ever made in my life at that point by doing that event," Alexander recalls. "I don't remember exactly how much we made because it was so long ago, but I remember that I took my whole family down to Montego Bay, Jamaica, after it was over, and I had a real ball."

      Mayor Lloyd, however, wasn't quite as enthusiastic. The day following the event, he announced that Evansville would not permit another rock festival of such magnitude.

      Shortly after the Bosse Field Freedom Fest, Alexander crossed paths with the mayor, then in his first year in office. "He was asking me about the event," Alexander remembers, "and I said, 'Mayor, if you think that Bosse Field thing was something, just wait. We're going to really put on a big festival here.' And the mayor laughed and said, 'No, you're not!"

    3. The festival nobody wanted

      In early August 1972, just weeks removed from the Bosse Field triumph, Alexander and Duncan Productions announced plans for an event at Chandler Raceway Park. They said — in a fit of youthful hyperbole — it would be "bigger than Woodstock."

      Contracts were signed, helicopters were rented, and holes were being dug for some 500 portable toilets. More than 30 rock groups were booked, and tickets went on sale in several cities around the country.

      But officials were concerned about traffic, security and the water and sanitation needs for 50,000 to 60,000 fans expected to attend. Just eight days after its announcement, a restraining order was issued against the event.

      By the time an injunction hearing began six days later in Warrick Circuit Court, the promoters had sold 8,500 tickets at $20 each. The opposition to the Erie Canal Soda Pop Festival was just getting under way.

      "As I look back, probably the biggest mistake that I made as a young man was that I didn't know how to maneuver and work within the political system," Alexander says. "And even if I had at that time, we would have not been given the necessary permits."

      On Aug. 23, the Warrick County injunction was granted. That same day, Evansville officials, not wanting Alexander and Duncan's festival in their back yard, either, filed an injunction petition of their own.

      Officials in Posey County and Vanderburgh County also got into the act, taking legal steps to block the festival in their jurisdictions. Injunctions eventually were filed in Gibson and Pike counties, too.

      Warrick County didn't stop at simply barring the event. The court order there barred Alexander and Duncan from even promoting it or selling tickets. With sales climbing, it wasn't long before Alexander and Duncan were ordered to appear to face contempt charges.

      As the legal struggles mounted, something much bigger was taking shape below the surface. On-air personalities at WLS Radio in Chicago, a station with a signal powerful enough to reach listeners all the way down to New Orleans, took an increasing interest in what was now being called the Labor Day Soda Pop Festival.

      The station's ultimate influence, as it turned out, brought Alexander and Duncan Productions much more than the $2,800 full-page ad in Rolling Stone magazine they'd purchased.

      Recalls Alexander: "They were on WLS about every 15 minutes talking about the festival — for free! So they started spreading the word nationwide, and we knew people were coming because of all the phone calls we received. They just kept talking about it on the radio — 'Where's it going to be?'

      "So inadvertently," he continues, "all of the injunctions, and all of the negative press from the police and the state, that's what really drew the crowds. There was no Internet or websites or anything at that time. If it were today, we'd have drawn a million people."

    4. A storm gathers

      About a week before the festival was set to begin, the first rock fans arrived in the area. More than 100 took up residence at Chandler Raceway Park, most of them unaware the event was barred from the facility.

      Others soon arrived in Poseyville, where Gene Nix, president of the town board, opened the town park overnight to the new long-haired visitors. Hundreds more made their home on the Evansville riverfront.

      "They're part of the growing army of nomadic young people roaming the country," the Evansville Press reported. "Food and a place to stay are minor concerns."

      With uncertainty hanging in the air — and rumors flying about where the embattled festival may be held — Alexander and Duncan remained silent as they considered possible sites. As long as they held off, they reasoned, it was impossible for someone to go to court to stop them.

      Even in their silence, however, the legal onslaught against the rockfest continued.

      Four days before the scheduled start, and with rumors swirling that the promoters may shoot for a patch of land on the Wabash River known as Bull Island, a temporary restraining order was issued in Posey County. Hours later, a similar order was issued in White County, Ill.

      Bull Island, the promoters said at the time, was just one of "many decoys," but an increasing number of people knew they were bluffing.

    5. 'Bulldozers at work'

      Under normal circumstances, it would have been a curious choice for a festival site. Bull Island, which wasn't really an island at all, was a remote peninsula located in the Wabash River. Of its 1,100 acres, 920 were in Illinois, the rest in Indiana.

      While it was under the legal jurisdiction of Illinois, it was only accessible from Indiana. To get there, you had to travel along Interstate 64 or the since-decommissioned U.S. 460 near Griffin, Ind.

      "A Posey County official said he flew over the area known as 'Bull Island' last week in a State Police helicopter," the Evansville Courier reported on Aug. 29, 1972. "He reported he had seen bulldozers at work and apparent drilling for water with a sandpoint, a tool used in bottomland areas to tap water."

      The next day, police and prosecutors from Evansville, Mount Vernon, Ind., and Carmi, Ill., met with Indiana and Illinois state police in New Harmony, Ind., to discuss options for stopping the festival.

      Meanwhile, Alexander and Duncan went on television to make a public appeal for the event to go forward. Thousands were traveling to the area, they said, noting that as many as 500,000 could ultimately arrive. And if there were no festival, all hell could break lose.

      That's when Mayor Russell Lloyd summoned Alexander for what proved to be a fateful meeting on Aug. 31. Although Lloyd was unwilling to help make the event happen in Evansville or Vanderburgh County, he was nonetheless intent on finding a resolution.

      "He understood that all those people were here, and they were obviously going to have an event someplace," Alexander says. "And I said to him, 'You know, if you have any way of helping us…'

      "And you know, I really believe that some way, it was Mayor Russell Lloyd who got us to the judge over in Southern Illinois," Alexander continues. "Russell was a lawyer. I think that he may have been instrumental — I don't know it for sure. But I know that after that meeting, we were suddenly going before a judge over in Southern Illinois."

      Even as Alexander and Duncan were on the verge of a deal, their legal problems, which were handled by the late Evansville attorney John Clouse, continued unabated. On the same day Alexander met with Lloyd, the promoters were targeted in a $500,000 class-action lawsuit filed in Vanderburgh Superior Court that accused them of misrepresentation.

      But by Thursday night, a deal was finally in place that would allow the event to move forward. Bull Island, the promoters announced, would be the site of the Labor Day Soda Pop Festival of 1972.

      And on Friday morning, after the promoters appeared in White County Court to post a $200,000 bond, it became official — but not before Alexander and Duncan had to address one other detail.

      An Illinois law passed in 1971 prohibited gatherings of more than 5,000 people without obtaining a permit 60 days in advance. The violation would cost the promoters another $15,000 — $5,000 for each day of the three-day festival.

      Alexander was eager to get the required permit. He had an investor ready to sink another $50,000 into the venture, capital that was sorely needed. But he couldn't touch a dime of it until the paperwork was all in order.

      "The minute that I got that permit in my hand," Alexander recalls, "the investor transferred the 50 grand, and we were off."

    6. 'No place to put the cars'

      It didn't take long for word to spread that Bull Island would be the site of the rockfest. By Friday afternoon, all incoming routes were jam-packed with automobiles.

      Interstate 64 was at a standstill. Many festival-goers, carrying backpacks and sleeping bags, abandoned their cars on the side of the road and walked for miles to get where they were headed.

      Carrie Jane Roper of Evansville, then a 20-year-old student at the University of Tennessee, was among them. Traveling to the rockfest with college friends from Knoxville, Tenn., she remembers the remarkable scene on I-64.

      "We arrived to this major backup to where there was no traffic getting through," recalls the 1970 Harrison High graduate, who now lives in Palm Harbor, Fla. "I remember that we were all stopped, and then some of the cars started overheating...

      "So with all these cars stopped on the interstate, lots of drug deals were going on," she continues. "There were people selling hash, LSD, anything. All these people were just having a big party out on the interstate."

      By nightfall on Friday, Sept. 1, as workers raced to get the remote location ready, some 50,000 people were already there. For miles along the routes leading to the site, people were sleeping in tents, sleeping bags, in cars or anywhere they could find.

      "The mass influx of festival-bound youths brought stares, pointed fingers and curious questions from nearly everyone," the Evansville Courier reported in its Sept. 2 edition. "The local grocery stores did a record trade, selling supplies to festival goers who stopped along the way."

      While some set up camp, others set up shop — literally. For many, even 40 years later, the name Bull Island remains synonymous with rampant drug use. Everything from marijuana, cocaine, heroin, LSD, mescaline and much more was openly and freely sold, most notoriously on a stretch of the festival site known as "Alice in Wonderland Avenue."

      Kevin Swank, today the visuals editor at the Evansville Courier & Press, was a 20-year-old sophomore at Indiana State University in 1972 and vividly remembers the scene.

      "As you walked into the festival, there was a fence with a gate," Swank recalls. "The gate was open, and on the outside of that fence there were all kinds of police. But once you walked through that gate, not 10 feet in, there were people with all kinds of drugs for sale.

      "Whatever you wanted, it was there. There were people sitting there with pipes, rolling papers, marijuana… If you wanted to shoot up heroin, it was there. They had all kinds of pills. It was spread out on the hoods of cars, it was laid out on blankets on the ground, it was everywhere."

      As for the music, it started Saturday, Sept. 2, the festival's first official day. The performances, which included an early set by the bluesman Albert King, began some three hours late. It was an ominous sign.

      Late Saturday afternoon, it was announced that Joe Cocker, one of the festival's most anticipated performers, would take the stage in the evening, but he never did, despite the fact that he already was on the ground in Evansville.

      Alexander and Duncan would later allege that Cocker's management, upon arriving at the site Saturday, surveyed the massive crowd — which by then had topped 200,000 people — and demanded another $30,000, which would have doubled the British singer's original agreed-upon price.

      The crowd reportedly chanted "Cocker!" for more than two hours. No announcement about his status was forthcoming, and by the next afternoon fans were still wondering when he'd perform.

    7. 'Stressed to the nines'

      Black Sabbath, which featured a young Ozzy Osbourne, also became embroiled in a dispute with the promoters. They, too, according to published reports at the time, demanded another $30,000 — and they, too, never took the stage.

      Forty years after the fact, Alexander acknowledges it wasn't as simple as the artists being greedy. "They were contracted to play for 50,000 to 60,000 people," he says, "and they showed up to find 200,000 at the site."

      As the headliners began to bail, the tension increased for Alexander, Duncan and Sid Clark, who'd been hired to produce the festival.

      "We were all stressed to the nines," Alexander recalls. "Thank God we were young. We did not have a clue how many lawsuits were going to follow. It just became an absolute nightmare, and all we ever set out to do was to have a great show and make a lot of money, or so we hoped."

      As the festival's first day progressed, the ultimate cost of the promoters' protracted legal battles became increasingly clear. Infrastructure and organization was at a minimum. Alexander and Duncan, instead of having weeks or even months to prepare the site, were essentially given a matter of hours to accommodate a crowd that was roughly twice the population of Evansville.

      The promoters desperately tried to keep selling tickets, but the overwhelming majority of attendees crashed the gate.

      Traffic on I-64 remained a mess, which made it hard to get food and drink supplies into the site. There was also a shortage of water. While there were reportedly 12 wells onsite, few were working. And the glaring lack of toilet facilities led festival-goers, many of whom spent the day cheerfully skinny-dipping in the Wabash River, to answer nature's call wherever and whenever.

      "It was a mess," recalls 80-year-old Sonny Brown, a retired Evansville Courier photographer who captured some of the event's most memorable images. "Personal hygiene was just non-existent because they didn't have any facilities out there. And for waste — human waste or whatever kind you had — they just had trenches out there."

      But despite its many difficulties, the festival, at least to that point, was still viewed as a qualified success by many who were there.

      "By 7 or 8 p.m. Saturday," the Courier reported, "the feeling of officials, law enforcement spokesmen and festival-goers alike was that the degree of organization had reached a level beyond any they ever thought would be achieved."

    8. 'Let the buyer beware'

      On Sunday, Sept. 3, as some 150 cars were being towed from I-64, food was increasingly scarce. People were getting hungry — and angry.

      Early that morning, the festival's lone food center, which was operated by Reis Catering Service, was looted by an estimated 2,000 people. Two catering trucks were torn up, and a reporter on the scene said looters took bread racks to use as grills and anything wooden for fires. Some festival-goers said the destruction was in response to the caterer's decision to keep raising prices.

      Later that evening, tensions escalated as the same trucks were set ablaze. Gas tanks exploded and tires burst as smoke blanketed much of the crowd. Two Sunbeam Bakery trailers plus a soft drink trailer and cab were destroyed in the chaos.

      "Witnesses said they saw a man enter one of the trailers and swish gasoline or possibly diesel fuel on the interior of the trailer," the Courier reported. "A trailer was then set to fire, and the flames steadily grew… The crowd cheered the fire on, clapping and shouting, 'higher, higher.'"

      The music, meanwhile, plodded along, but the stage was plagued by long periods of inactivity. Indian sitar master Ravi Shankar played first on Sunday, and he was followed by rockers Canned Heat and Black Oak Arkansas.

      Sunday also marked yet another lineup disappointment. The Faces, which featured Rod Stewart and were one of the biggest draws in all of rock n' roll at that time, failed to appear. It was a stinging blow to Alexander and Duncan, who had paid the band a whopping $100,000 in advance.

      "As I recall, their manager flew over the site in a helicopter and deemed that the site was not safe," Alexander says. "We started to negotiate immediately, and nothing was concluded. I actually went to New York and filed a lawsuit against them, and out of that came a makeup date."

      The Faces eventually made good on the date, taking the stage at Roberts Stadium in 1973.

      The crowd continued to grow and reached its peak on Sunday — somewhere between 200,000 and 250,000, depending on whose estimates you wanted to believe. No one really knew for sure.

      By 1 p.m., Alexander opened the festival gates and declared the event free, much like had happened at Woodstock in 1969. "It got too big, too fast," Alexander said at the time.

      While food and water were at a premium and music was sporadic, illegal drug use continued unfettered.

      "Capitalists never had it so good," the Courier reported. "If you couldn't buy it at Bull Island Sunday, it couldn't be bought. From dope to cigarettes, strobe candles, T-shirts, apple wine, cold beer, warm beer, the hawkers sold their wares to any taker.

      "The maxim, 'Let the buyer beware,' took on new meaning as reports of strychnine-laced LSD were announced to rock fans over the festival's public address system. Youths were advised to throw away the LSD they had bought. Some drug sellers were representing bleach as drugs."

      John Neidig, who retired from the Indiana State Police in 1994 after 30 years of service, was a 30-year-old trooper assigned to Bull Island in 1972.

      Dressed as a festival-goer, he spent most of his time roaming the grounds on a Honda motorcycle and gathering intelligence on drug users, which included taking photographs and writing down license plate numbers. The information, he said, was later disseminated to some 35 states.

      But actual drug-related arrests were almost non-existent. There was simply too much activity and too few troopers.

      "It was just everywhere," recalls Neidig, a 70-year-old resident of Wadesville, Ind. "Every place you turned, everywhere you went, every vehicle you visited, it was just all over the place. Anything from marijuana to heroin. It was a mess."


    9. 'No music is the big hassle'

      The festival wasn't supposed to end until midnight on Monday, Sept. 4, but the crowd began to leave en masse during the morning and afternoon hours. Among those who remained, the frustration level had risen considerably.

      If Alexander and Duncan were getting the benefit of the doubt on Saturday, it's safe to say the goodwill had eroded by Monday. For many, the festival was all about the music — and they went home unfulfilled.

      "I've been to about seven rock festivals," one young man told a reporter, "and this one is the most disorganized yet. Sure, there are problems with no toilets and no food, but no music is the big hassle."

      Added a teenage girl: "People can do their dope back home, but they came here for the music, and there isn't any. None of the big groups that were supposed to be here have come. Most of the time, all you hear is silence."

      By the time the event neared its end, an estimated 20,000 to 50,000 people were still on Bull Island. As the festival began to drift into history, Alexander and Duncan, fearing reprisals from angry rock fans over a star-studded lineup that never materialized, left Bull Island.

      "We had a helicopter backstage, and we had them fly us back into Evansville," Alexander recalls. "And we started dealing with the problems — paying people off and that kind of thing. Immediately, there were lawsuits filed. It became just an absolute ongoing situation of dealing with that."

      Tuesday morning, with Bull Island covered with tons of trash and the stench growing increasingly worse, a few of the festival's final holdouts, aggrieved about the absence of big-name performers, burned the stage in symbolic retaliation.

      Out on the roads, the traffic congestion was gone. Police said hundreds of hitchhikers were out looking for a ride.

      It would be months before Bull Island was cleaned up. "This 900-acre 'island,' although not completely evacuated," one news report said, "looked like a sanitary landfill ... Piles of trash covered hundreds of acres, and the smell of campfires, burning garbage, marijuana and human waste permeated the area."

      Ervin Hagedorn, the property's owner, eventually had the land bulldozed and buried tons of trash. He sent Alexander and Duncan a bill for $20,000, which was never paid. The promoters were out of money.

      When all was said and done, Alexander said the festival had resulted in a loss of some $200,000.


    10. Epilogue

      While the lawsuits would continue for another nine years, Bull Island marked the end of the brief but eventful partnership between Bob Alexander and Tom Duncan.

      "Tom and I never did anything else after that," Alexander says, "but not for any reason other than we just had different goals and ambitions. We were two totally different types of guys who had a common vision, and we worked very well on two projects. That's all we ever did. But I look back on my relationship with Tom very fondly."

      Duncan, according to a newspaper report published in late May of 1973, had a change of heart when it came to rockfests, saying he believed they weren't "morally right."

      Attempts to contact Duncan, who is reportedly living in Arizona, were unsuccessful.

      Bob Alexander, now 68 years old, has lived in Southern California for the past 25 years. Formerly a successful television producer, he's the president and founder of the Motion Picture Hall of Fame in Palm Springs, Calif.

      What occurred at Bull Island, as it turned out, didn't stick to his feet. He stayed in the business for years afterward and continued to work on other high-profile productions, including the Electric Cowboy Festival, which took place in Columbia, Tenn., in 1983.

      When he looks back on Bull Island, he's saddened that two deaths occurred — one from a drug overdose and one from a Wabash River drowning. But he also sees successes.

      Not only did he and Duncan overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to bring the festival to fruition, they introduced many music fans to some then-unheralded acts that later became rock icons, including the Eagles, the Doobie Brothers and a 27-year-old Michigan native named Bob Seger.

      "Overall, there was a tremendous amount of frustration," Alexander says. "It had the possibility of being one of the greatest festivals ever in America because of the lineup we had booked. But I'm still very proud of the show that we had put together to present to the people. I was amazed at the crowd that we drew, and equally amazed that we were able to find a place at the last minute.

      "I think that the mere fact that we're talking about this 40 years later says something about it as a major cultural event that happened in Middle America," he says. "You know, I'd love to try it again, in the same location."

      Contact Sean McDevitt at

  21. Here's another one.

    Bull Island
    On Labor Day weekend, September 1972, two concert promoters put on a rock show in the spirit of Woodstock, but they were woefully unprepared for the overrun of more than 200,000 people. They came. They saw. They got stoned. Two people died. Its official name was the Erie Canal Soda Pop Festival, but for those who witnessed the mayhem, it is remembered simply as Bull Island.
    by Maureen Hayden and Jessica Levco / photos by Sonny Brown

    It’s not that photographer Sonny Brown had never seen a naked woman at the time he shot one standing near the banks of the Wabash River in the summer of 1972. It’s just that he’d never seen one looking so serene in the midst of the kind of chaos unfolding in front of his camera lens. It was Labor Day weekend of 1972, and he was standing in a sea of dope-smoking, music-loving, long-haired hippies gathered on a remote patch of farmland for an event touted as the Woodstock of the Midwest.

    Fifteen years as a photographer for the Evansville Courier had taught the former Marine to expect almost anything, and the news stories that preceded the event — filled with ominous warnings from police that “notorious violations of law” would be occurring — was a tip-off that he should pack extra rolls of film.

    Still, he wasn’t quite ready for the shock of full frontal nudity that came courtesy of the attractive young woman who dropped her robe to the ground as she was grooving to the music. It took a moment for Brown to compose himself before he stepped back, focused his camera lens, and snapped his subject clad only in her birthday suit and a sublime smile. It was one of a multitude of photographs he took that weekend that didn’t appear in the city’s morning newspaper — though tamer pictures, more acceptable to public viewing standards, did.

    Unlike the hundreds of photographic prints that he would either give away or throw away during a professional career that spanned 40 years, Brown kept the one of the naked lady — along with scores more like it from that long weekend — in a set of photo albums later loaned to curious friends and inquiring law enforcement officers. Though he didn’t fully appreciate it at the time, Brown knew the pictures were more than just titillating images laced with nudity, illegal drugs, and dirty hippies wrapped in American flags. He had a sense, that at a tumultuous time in American history, they offered a potent glimpse of a counterculture mini-nation birthed in peace and love — and taken down by hedonism and greed.


    1. Which may be why, when he offered to show them to Evansville Living, he worried about their impact all these years later. Pointing to a picture of a bare-breasted young woman frolicking in the water during the iconic event that would come to be known as “Bull Island,” Brown asked: “What if she’s somebody’s grandmother?”

      We don’t know whose ancestors appear in the pictures over these next few pages, though the co-writer of this story gave her father — Vanderburgh County Prosecutor Stan Levco — a blast from the past when she asked him about his role in what was officially known as the Erie Canal Soda Pop Festival. At the time, Levco was a 26-year-old law school graduate with bell-bottom jeans and long sideburns, studying for the Indiana bar exam. He’d read about the festival in Rolling Stone magazine earlier that summer, and his interest was piqued by the impressive lineup of more than 30 artists scheduled to perform, including Black Sabbath, Joe Cocker, the Allman Brothers, Fleetwood Mac, Bob Seger, Ravi Shankar, and the subversive comedy duo of Cheech and Chong. Levco, a connoisseur of the music of his time, had regretted missing out on Woodstock, the legendary 1969 music festival that drew some 500,000 fans to a rain-drenched dairy farm in rural New York. But he thought twice about going to the Soda Pop Festival — then scheduled to take place at a racetrack in Chandler, Ind. — after he received a job offer from the Posey County prosecutor’s office just weeks before. A good decision in retrospect; in an unexpected turn of events, Levco would end up prosecuting some of the disorderly festival patrons who turned the site at Bull Island into a scene of mayhem. As he says now, “A lot of kids who went were just looking for a good time, something fun to do … But a lot of bad things happened.”

      It surely couldn’t have started out that way when the two aspiring music promoters from Evansville, Tom Duncan and Bob Alexander, announced plans to hold a three-day music festival at a racetrack in Chandler. The duo was inspired by the stunning success of Woodstock, despite the fact that it was a logistical nightmare; after months of planning, the Woodstock promoters were forced to deal with a last-minute relocation crisis, dwindling money, an overflowing crowd, and the shut-down of a major highway. And that was before a torrential rainstorm hit.

    2. Duncan and Alexander would face an eerily similar set of crises four years later at their rock fest. But the events couldn’t have turned out more differently: If Woodstock welcomed in the era of rollicking outdoor rock festivals for the Baby Boom generation, Bull Island likely contributed significantly to its demise.

      That the Soda Pop Festival took place at all may have surprised a battery of local officials who tried to stop it. Just days before it was slated to begin, Warrick County officials were joined by the Indiana Attorney General in a courthouse hearing in Boonville where undercover state police officers showed secret videotapes from surveillance work they’d done earlier that summer at a rock fest in Fremont, Ind. Caught on film were half-naked hippies engaged in heavy drug use and what detectives described as other acts of “filth.” Duncan and Alexander had assured local officials that they’d hired plenty of private security — including teams of karate experts from Los Angeles and Chicago — for crowd control, but they were met with skepticism. So were their plans for waste management: 80-foot long trenches with “box seats” and no stalls — meaning, as the local newspaper reported, “that all persons using the facilities would be on view to each other.” Warrick County succeeded in shutting out the promoters, and officials in neighboring counties quickly followed suit.

      That left Duncan and Alexander, who’d already sold 20,000 advance tickets, scrambling to find a location. At the 11th hour, they found one: A 1,000-acre plot of land jutting out into the Wabash River, on a kind of legal no-man’s land just west of Griffin, Ind., known as Bull Island.
      Retired Indiana State Police Trooper Ed Lunkenheimer still remembers the mass of humanity streaming into Posey County on Interstate 64 on its way to Bull Island. He was part of a contingent of 100 state troopers brought into the area to deal with the traffic congestion and lawlessness that officials feared would unfold. Like his colleagues, he was in a somewhat strange situation, jurisdictionally speaking. The old riverbed along the Wabash is what marks the state line, but the river had shifted, and Indiana officials were certain that Bull Island fell into Illinois territory. “We made Illinois aware of that,” Lunkenheimer recalls, “but they said, ‘It’s yours.’”

      Lunkenheimer was assigned to traffic control along the interstate, near the Griffin exit. “That was impossible,” he says. “It was like an invasion. They were bound for Bull Island, come hell or high water.” By Friday night of the festival weekend, thousands of concertgoers had poured into the area — many simply crashing through the gates without stopping to the buy the $20 tickets — eager to set up camp and claim a spot near the stage. By Saturday, the crowd had swelled; estimates ran between 200,000 to 300,000 people. Cars were lined up on county roads for miles, and scores more were left abandoned on the side of the interstate. Having been frustrated by the long lines of traffic, people had simply left their cars behind and hiked the seven miles from the interstate to the festival site. “We’d never seen that mass of humanity in one spot,” Lunkenheimer says. “Ever.”

      Among the festival staff was Shirley Becker, an Evansville woman then in her 20s, who’d been recruited by a friend to work at the event. Becker, now a grandmother and a wife of a physician, recalls how festival promoters were so desperate for assistance they offered to send her and her friend to Bull Island by helicopter. Clad in her low-cut hiphugger jeans, a cropped top, and giant beaded earrings, Becker stood in the middle of a field by herself and hawked tickets.

    3. “We only collected money on the first day,” she recalls. “There was no hope of getting money after that. I think the promoters knew they lost control of the whole event. People were just giving me whatever they had to get in. I was pretty laid back about it. I remember one guy didn’t have any money, so he gave me a beer. I was delighted. I didn’t have any water, and I was so thirsty.” Becker remembers the crowd as happy — intoxicated on Boone’s Farm wine and abundant pot. “Everybody was really nice. I think that’s what I remember the most when I look back on it now,” she says. “People think of hippies as out-of-control people, but they were all just high and happy.”

      Later, after the weekend’s end, folks who lived in and around Griffin recalled most festival-goers as polite and well-behaved, though a little too comfortable, perhaps, in their own skin. Several reported seeing nude water-skiers zipping down the river.

      It wasn’t the nudity, or even the proliferation of illegal drugs — mescaline, LSD, marijuana, and heroin mostly — that made Lunkenheimer and other officers nervous as much as the swelling crowd gathering in a remote site that was desperately unprepared for the onslaught. Food, water, and bathrooms were in short supply. Showers were non-existent, which left the river for bathing. Duncan and Alexander later told reporter Terry English, working for what was then the city’s afternoon newspaper, The Evansville Press, that they had transported 300 wooden toilets to the scene the night before the festival began, but that the crowd had dismantled the privies to use as firewood. By Sunday morning, rumors were spreading through the crowd that the food trucks on site were raising their food prices (from 50 cents to a $1 for a hamburger). In response, a mob of an estimated 2,000 people stormed the food trucks, looted their contents, and set fire to them.

      Fueling the discontent was the list of no-show artists. The promoters had promised some of the biggest names in rock music, and some did appear. Ravi Shankar, the Indian guru whose music had influenced The Beatles, took the stage clad in robes to play his sitar; Black Oak Arkansas released a flock of doves at the end of their set; the “Motor City Madman,” Ted Nugent, took the stage with his band, the Amboy Dukes.

    4. But headliner Rod Stewart didn’t appear, nor did Black Sabbath, Joe Cocker, Fleetwood Mac, The Doors, or most of the advertised line-up. The promoters later said there were last-minute disputes over money. Late Monday, the third day of the festival, someone in the crowd torched the stage. As English later wrote, the promoters initially shrugged off responsibility, despite the fact that the promised security force of karate experts never showed, and blamed the crowd’s predisposition to anger for the damage that was done: “They had violence in their eyes when they got to the gate, not after they crossed it,” Duncan was quoted as saying. “I’ve never seen such a rough breed of people."

      There was consensus on one thing: There were a lot of drugs, being sold and shared. A section of the makeshift campground set up by festival-goers was dubbed “Alice in Wonderland Avenue.” There, almost anything could be found, including powdered bleach being sold as heroin. Not long after the festival ended, Duncan reported he was sued by a neighboring farmer seeking compensation for lost cattle due to “marijuana inhalation.”

      Given the stunningly unexpected size of the crowd, police had little choice but to stand back and observe, saving their arrest powers for the most flagrant violators. “We couldn’t really control all the drugs,” Lunkenheimer recalls. “We just hoped we didn’t have too many overdoses.”

      So, too, did the team of volunteer nurses and doctors who manned a medical tent onsite and treated a variety of injuries. They helicoptered out the more serious cases, including a pregnant teenager who went into labor in the middle of the night. There were two deaths: One was a 24-year-old man who drowned in the river. The other was a 20-year-old whose death was attributed to a heroin overdose. His friends, apparently unaware of the medical staff onsite, carried him seven miles to the interstate where state police tried in vain to help. Another overdose victim — a teenager also carried out of the festival site with no breath and no pulse — was saved by a state trooper who performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

    5. Late on the final day of the festival, there was a mass exodus from Bull Island, likened by observers to a flood of dirty and dazed war refugees. The throng of humanity — weary, stoned, hung-over — left behind acres and acres of garbage. Sonny Brown documented that as well. “All they left was a mess,” he says.

      The weekend ended in a legal and financial mess for the promoters; estimating they lost some $4 million in potential revenues, they were hit with a rash of lawsuits from angry investors and disgruntled vendors. The IRS went after them, alleging unpaid taxes. Months after Bull Island, Duncan told a local reporter that he’d left the music business, disheartened and broke. His partner continued on, attempting to organize other rock festivals around the Midwest, but he was met with opposition almost wherever he went, tainted by the bad news emanating from the festival. Both were tangled up in legal battles tied to Bull Island for years after.

      These days, if you Google “Bull Island” or “Soda Pop Festival,” you’ll find thousands of pages with references to the legendary event. Many are filled with anecdotal accounts from those who were there, waxing nostalgically about “chicks” and “freaks” and a weekend on the Wabash where sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll flourished. As one festival patron notes on a Bull Island blog: “Yep, all of us late hippies are now getting close to being ‘senior citizens.’”

    6. Name: Ray
      City: Mount Vernon, Ind.
      Bull Island Experience: I was 22 at the time. We parked our car near Griffith and walked many miles to the concert area carrying a case of Boone's Farm Apple wine, a tent, and a duffle bag full of food. We camped within sight of the Reis Catering truck that was later torched. We settled on a bank of dirt to watch the multitudes of people coming up the road. It was like an army of freaks. We felt empowered as a generation for a short while. We hoped this would be another peaceful Woodstock. Actually, a recording by White Duck has a song called Bull Island Boogie. Food was short, and I remember sitting by a early morning fire as a girl came up, and seeing me eating a box of pretzels, told me she would give me a bag of weed for a handful of pretzels. I gave her the whole box. Cheech and Chong came on stage early one morning screaming at everyone to get up. Matches, torches, lighters, flashlights, etc. lit up the crowd. Also the band, Black Oak Arkansas, dropped thousands of sun visors from helicopters with the band name on them. Helicopters were constantly overhead from police to television crews. Years later, a friend from Bull Island and I journeyed to Woodstock ‘99 in New York to relive the experience again with our sons. The bands were different, the kids were young, but one thing remained the same. They burned the stage at the end as anarchy prevailed.

      Name: John
      City: Grayville, Ill.
      Bull Island Experience: There were four or five of us that walked into Bull Island in 1972. There was a path to the stage, and our goal was to get to the stage. The path got smaller and smaller as we got closer to the stage to the point that there were people laying across the path. I lost a contact, and I stepped on someone, and he woke up ready to fight. My friend was a big strong athlete, and he just stepped in front of me. He told me to hold on to his belt loop and everything would be O.K. We went back several times after that and saw some pretty amazing things happening right in front of the police — all illegal. A woman wore nothing but a sign made out of a paper plate, hooked to a string hanging down around her pubic area, that said $5.00. A guy had his car parked near the police cars with his pot for sale, displayed on top of his car, with the different prices next to them. An announcement came over the P.A. system that said, “Don’t take the purple acid.” I guess it was some bad stuff.

      Name: Becky
      City: Owensville, Ind.
      Bull Island Experience: I was only 15, and my mother wouldn’t let me go. But, she let me fly over in a crop duster to get the aerial view. Wow! It was huge and looked like a sea of people. I think that’s what turned me into a "flower child."

    7. Name: Ken
      City: Nashville
      Bull Island Experience: We spent the night rolling joints on the access road in my ‘65 Chevy pickup. Parked in the first row above the crowd, we drank Boone’s Farm and enjoyed the music until they set the vendor’s truck on fire.

      Name: Jim
      City: Owensboro, Ky.
      Bull Island Experience: I had a great time. I woke up one morning with a crick in my neck. I later learned I had used a Beanie Weenie can for a pillow. Those were the good ‘ole days. Too bad my girlfriend was at Purdue...

      Name: Butch
      City: Gilbert, Ariz.
      Bull Island Experience: I went with brother and friends from Washington, Ind. Man, was it a trip and a half! The four of us walked from the stage area to the river and drank a gallon of wine on the way. We bought what was supposed to be opium but was actually shoe polish. I feel that this was the last great cultural happening.

      Name: Mike Hunt
      City: Morehead, Ky.
      My Bull Island Experience: Got real high, watched the feds fly by. Luckily I didn’t die. Rock on!

      Name: Pam
      City: Carmi, Ill.
      My Bull Island Experience: It was the first time I had seen naked people taking a bath out in the dirty water. I was only 15 and couldn't imagine people got naked in public.

      Name: Barb
      City: Newburgh, Ind.
      Bull Island Experience: I was pregnant when I went to Bull Island. I went with my husband, brother-in-law and sister-in-law. We went just to see it. We stayed for a half a day and just walked around. I was the only one I saw who had a pregnant belly and was sober!

      Name: Karin
      City: Mt. Carmel, Ill.
      My Bull Island Experience: Wow! What an experience it was! At the age of 16, three of us hitchhiked to the infamous spot. We were like everyone else, just looking for a good time and good music. It was an unbelievable when we arrived. Of course we had miles to walk just from where our ride had to park his car to even be able to get to the stage area. There were bodies everywhere and everyone shared whatever they had. I can’t begin to explain the experience of so many people in such a small area, but it was definitely worth it. Thanks so much for letting me relive the memories of so long ago!

    8. Name: Curt
      City: Evansville
      My Bull Island Experience: A friend and I hitchhiked to Bull Island from Evansville the day before –– arriving late at night. We had actually bought tickets, they were red velvet and cost $20. We were 18 at the time. When were arrived, the concert-goers had already trampled the barbwire fence, and there was no one at the gate to give the tickets to. We brought canned food and a little camp stove. We woke to find that we had camped right in front of the stage to the left of Tower 2. Amazing sights and sounds when we looked back, it was nothing but a sea of humanity. We weren’t into drugs, or drinking or any other shenanigans. Just two long-haired guys on an adventure. We stayed till the end and lost 10 pounds, as we only ate a can or two of Vienna sausages the whole time. On our way out we gave away all of our food and everyone wanted to trade us for drugs. Hey, it was 1972. But we declined.

      Name: Cheryl
      City: Evansville
      My Bull Island Experience: It was an unforgettable time. I was 19, ready to get married the next month. We just bought a new 1972 Ford van. It pulled our camper. We parked next to the Wabash and could see all the naked people. At night we could see people shoot up with the lanterns we had placed outside the camper. We walked up to the stage and could hear the music. Just a river of young kids having the time of their life. No port-a-potties present so we used the field that had high grass. Saw a lot of drugs for sale. Didn’t see any fights, but back then it was "love & peace.” Saw a lot of young kids getting frisky under the blankets.

      Name: Tom
      City: Evansville
      Bull Island Experience: A good friend was working for the promoter, so I became an unpaid "go-fer" of sorts. It was mostly chaos – I’ sure the organizers had no idea how many people were going to show up or how to accommodate them. A lot of the bands flew into Evansville, but would not travel out to Bull Island because their safety and security could not be guaranteed. A couple of us drove a truck loaded with the equipment for the band "Canned Heat" over there. They wanted to play no matter what, as did a number of bands. I had a backstage pass, but spent most of my time wondering around the crowd –– it was definitely "anything goes" from nudity, drug use, drug dealing, you name it, but I never saw any fighting or violence.

      Name: Trudi
      City: Indiana
      My Bull Island Experience: I was 22 at the time and I remember the walk to the area where we were going to sit and watch. It was like a market. People had spread all the drug paraphernalia on blankets and tables. I am glad I went. The experience was something else. My kids were surprised when they found out that their father and I had been there. The thing that stuck out the most was when Black Oak Arkansas (at least I think it was them) was playing a man climbed one of the towers and stripped down naked and danced.

      Name: Melissa
      City: Evansville, Ind.
      My Bull Island Experience: My friends and I were home that weekend from college so we all decided not to tell our parents and go to the concert. We went for two days, it was great, the music, the people ...we ran out of food and needed to get home before our parents found out. About two months later one of my friends who went with us called and said that her dad’s VFW post was going to show home movies of all the dirty hippies at Bull Island. We were all afraid that we were going to be in the pictures. I guess we weren’t because I didn’t tell my parents about it till years after that.

      Name: Lydia
      City: Evansville
      Bull Island Experience: I wasn’t there but we had a river camp at the old dam in New Harmony. There is a guy there who has a camp and he said that people paid him to take them to Bull Island on his boat. I think he made quite a bit of money at the time. Wish I could have been there myself.

    9. Name: Peggy
      City: Evansville
      My Bull Island Experience: I was 24 and had met a state trooper the night before who told me if I came out to the concert he would see that I got in. We found the trooper and he flagged us through in my car. What a mistake. As we drove thru, people kept jumping on the car for a ride in. There were so many people, coolers, grills, sleeping bags, backpacks, etc., on the car that I couldn't see to drive. That didn’t stop people from just hanging on. Eventually there was so much weight on the car that it couldn't move. The hitchhikers on the car were so mad that when the car stopped, they threatened us. It’s a wonder we left with our lives. We actually did get to the stage and witnessed everything everybody else has described. It was an incredible experience that resembled an X-rated movie.

      Name: Kris
      City: Evansville
      My Bull Island Experience: I went to one of the greatest experiences of the 70’s against my parents advice. I crawled out a window and caught a ride as far as you could ride. Then we hitched rides the rest of the way. It was fantastic. People connecting to people and experiencing what we all did in the 70's. It was not just sex and drugs. It was great music, meeting hundreds of new friends, and just loving the experience. We skinny-dipped and watched people. There was little violence except when they ran out of food. It is an experience I would never trade for anything.

      Name: Bill
      City: Owensboro, Ky.
      My Bull Island Experience: I was recently divorced from my first wife and the straight life. I had been to Washington, D.C., to protest the war and to a few concerts where I got a taste of the hippie persuasion, but Bull Island was a total immersion baptism into the counterculture. I took a double-wide sleeping bag and two girls, who said they were cousins, to carry the cooler. The experience was exhilarating. I still have the newspapers about the festival. Sonny Brown's photos resurrected scenes from a faded memory and brought back to life some of the characters I'd forgotten, just like it was yesterday.

      Name: Karen
      City: Evansville
      My Bull Island Experience: First time I saw a naked man. I went with a couple friends & stayed over night thru the next day. Told my Dad I was staying over a friend's house. I was 16 at the time. Pretty wild time. Smoked a lot …You could get pretty much anything you wanted in the way of getting high. Couldn't see the stage from where we were but could hear the music. Wall-to-wall kids. No food except what we brought. I think that's why we left. Probably needed to get back home before Dad found out.

    10. Name: Terry
      City: Evansville
      My Bull Island Experience: I can vaguely remember Bull Island. We lived in Posey County but southwest of Griffin. I can recall the helicopters flying over our house, picking up the overdosed concert-goers. My parents, who were as green as grass, went down to check it out and to haul people back and forth to their vehicles. My mom said she could see people shooting up in front of headlights on cars and bikes, etc. It was quite an eye opener for them coming from the farm families they did!

      Name: Annetta
      City: Lewisburg, Ky.
      My Bull Island Experience: I only got to stay for half of it, but I never wanted to go home.

      Name: Scott
      City: Owensboro, Ky.
      My Bull Island Experience: From what I remember, it was excellent.

      Name: Peggy
      City: Franklin, Ky.
      My Bull Island Experience: Whoa. What a blast from the past.

      Name: Rick
      City: Grayville, Ill.
      My Bull Island Experience: I was going to school over in Evansville and I was working part-time for Double Cola. A catering company (at the festival) came in and hired several of us guys to help. I had to work in Evansville Saturday morning and was supposed to drive down after I got off work …On Sunday, the catering company raised all the prices to be “even” money, to make it easier to make change. Cokes were to sell for 50 cents a can or $3 a six pack, and cigarettes were a $1 a pack. (The normal price at this time was 20-25 cents for a Coke and 40-45 cents for cigarettes.) By afternoon the crowd was a sea of angry people; some were climbing over the fence and grabbing cases of Cokes and throwing them over to the crowd. This just kept getting worse. The catering people came by and asked us to stay at it till they could get the money out. They were putting the money in empty cigarette cartons and running it out of the area on a moped. Suddenly everything went wild and the crowd overran the place and we bailed out. The crowd destroyed the place.Some people said there were close to 500,000 people there. It was pretty wild. I saw all kinds of drugs and naked people.

      Name: John
      City: Grayville, Ill.
      My Bull Island Experience: A bunch of us walked in the first time and it took several hours to walk in and out. Then a friend showed me a shortcut and we road our dirt bikes in and out and it only took about 30 minutes or so. I went back with my friend three or four more times after that and we saw some pretty odd sights.

    11. Name: Kara
      City: Grayville, Ill.
      My Bull Island Experience: I was 8 or 9 …My dad and one of his friends took me in on a Jon boat. Dad had his hand over my eyes the whole time because of all the naked people. I don’t think he was expecting that!

      Name: Gary
      City: Mooresville, Ind.
      My Bull Island Experience: See my blog at

      Name: Mike
      City: Morehead, Ky.
      Bull Island Experience: Got real high. Watched the Feds fly by. Luckily I didn’t die. Rock on!

      Name: Karin
      City: Mt. Carmel, Ill.
      Bull Island Experience: Wow! What an experience it was! At the age of 16, three of us hitchhiked to the infamous spot. We were like everyone else, just looking for a good time and good music. It was an unbelievable when we arrived. Of course we had miles to walk just from where our ride had to park his car to even be able to get to the stge area. There were bodies everywhere and everyone shared whatever they had. I can't begin to explain the experience of so many people in such a small area, but it was definetly worth it. Thanks so much for letting me relive the memories of so long ago!


    Mount Vernon grad still hopes to revisit Bull Island festival

    By Roger McBain
    Posted September 2, 2012 at 12:38 a.m.

    As late as Thursday, the website for Soda Pop Revisited ticked with anticipation for what was to have been a 40th anniversary musical tribute to the original Labor Day Soda Pop Festival, the infamous 1972 rock music marathon remembered today simply as Bull Island.

    A countdown clock set into the glowing turquoise, orange and yellow sunburst background of clicked down the hours, minutes and seconds until "the wait ends" for a three-day anniversary festival set to begin Friday and run through today in the Vanderburgh County 4-H Grounds.

    More than 40 music acts, including some groups that played Bull Island in 1972, were going to play on three stages. Buses were going to shuttle in thousands of concertgoers from hotels in Evansville and along U.S. 41, while thousands more camped in cars and tents right on the fairgrounds.

    That's what was supposed to happen, says Matt Herrmann, the 31-year-old Evansville native who came up with the idea for the show.

    Herrmann was born almost a decade after the Bull Island festival, but "I'd always heard about it," he said last week in a call from Los Angeles, where he's lived since 2003. The 1999 Mount Vernon High School graduate moved to California right after finishing a degree from the Savannah College of Art and Design's Media and Performing Arts program.

    In addition to pursuing a career as an actor and singer, Herrmann works with a production company developing new musicals and plays, and he teaches and directs at the French Wood Festival of the Performing Arts, a musical theater camp that produces 72 full-length musicals each summer in Hancock, N.Y.

    1. Herrmann pitched the idea of a new festival to some Los Angeles documentary filmmakers who agreed to help stage a 40th anniversary Soda Pop Festival in Evansville. They scouted locations and settled on the Vanderburgh County 4-H Fairgrounds, which offered camping, easy proximity to lots of hotels and restaurants, and easy access on U.S. 41.

      They even contacted representatives for Black Oak Arkansas, the Eagles, Joe Cocker and other groups that were booked to play at Bull Island in 1972.

      "People were all very interested in doing it," Herrmann said. "It was just a matter of working out schedules."

      Working out the finances proved hardest, however, and shut down plans for the festival, at least for this year.

      It would have taken $1 million to $2 million to produce the festival, Herrmann said. He thought he had the money lined up, and organizers were confident enough to set up the website. "But there were problems with some of the investors," he said. "They couldn't get (the money) to us on time."

      Herrmann didn't want to scramble, "trying to rush it, to force it for this year," he said. "We decided to try to shoot for next year."

      Herrmann hopes reset the website clock to stage a 41st anniversary Soda Pop Festival at the fairgrounds in 2013.

      He still hopes to bring back some of the acts that played at Bull Island, but without the chaos that ensued because of that festival's hasty, last-minute planning.

      "We want to get all our ducks in a row," he said, so the show's organization "won't be like a repeat of the original."

      © 2012 Evansville Courier & Press.

  23. 40 Year Itch : The Erie Canal Soda Pop Festival

    Is this the rock fest that killed the Woodstock nation?

    The Erie Canal Soda Pop fest on Indiana's Bull Island certainly drew a huge crowd -- an estimated 200,00 hippies who came from all over the country Labor Day Weekend of 1972 to see Black Sabbath, Joe Cocker, Allman Brothers, John Mayall, Cheech and Chong, Canned Heat, Fleetwood Mac, Ballinjack, Amboy Dukes, Bob Seger, Bang, Ravi Shankar, Albert King, Brownsville Station, Mike Quatro, Gentle Giant, Black Oak Arkansas, The Eagles, The Chambers Brothers, Boones Farm, Slade, and Nazareth.

    That's not who showed up though.

    Black Sabbath was a no show. So were the Allman Brothers. Nobody saw Fleetwood Mac. When Joe Cocker saw the crowd he reportedly asked for more money and left when organizers turned him down.

    The traffic was a nightmare.

    So were the drugs. Somebody was selling bleach. Two people died. And it rained.

    One very entertaining blogger who claims to have been there writes:

    If I were a conspiracy theorist, I would swear that the festival was a set-up, a sort of psyops to put an end to the ideal of the Woodstock nation. If it wasn't, then it was the biggest f**k up in the history of rock festival promotions.

  24. I was there but none of you would have seen me. I was in my mom's belly and would appear about 2 weeks later. My mom was a nurse at St Mary's Hospital and my Dad had just been discharged from the Marines. Even though she was 9 months pregnant with me, they hired her to work the medical tent and my Dad was security for her and the other medical workers. Apparently both were needed badly from what I've been able to read about this. They paid them both $1000. in 20 dollar bills which they used to may for my birth. I don't think they were big fans of any of the bands that played there. After all my dad had Barry Manilow in his collection (I know, I know.. don't ask) and my mom passed away in 78 when I was six. But I never get tired of hearing my dad tell this story. Maybe it explains why I'm a huge fan of almost all those bands. (Too bad Zeppelin didn't play though, huh?)

    1. Great story! If I remember correctly, the medical tent had a lot of action. I know your parents were much appreciated by more than a few there.

      If your dad has any more good tales, please share.

  25. thanks for sharing.

  26. We are shooting a documentary on bull island we have interviewed several people including the bands that actually went to the festival. We are scheduled to interview jim "dandy" on the first of April. If anyone that went would like to be interviewed by us please contact me asap at we have been green lit for several film festivals. Thanks Matt

  27. I remember Cheech & Chong on stage when it started to rain and turned shitty. Finding cover under a pickup truck only to kick some people in the head as me and my brother tried to crawl under it. People o'd ing and being passed overhead to the front of the stage where the medical tent was at. Then the 5 plus miles walking back to the car, how we ever found it I'll never know. We had a tripped out dog follow us to the car. Opened the door he crawled in like he owned it and rode back to Chicago with us. A few days latter some head showed up at our house and claimed him. Someone read his tags and called it in. What a trip.
    Dave and Todd was there in 72