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The Erie Canal Soda Pop Festival, or as it's commonly known, the Bull Island Rock Festival, was supposed to be a rocking Labor Day weekend in 1972. But let me tell you, folks, it turned out to be more of a hilarious catastrophe than a rockin' good time.
First, let's talk about the planning. These two promoters, Tom Duncan and Bob Alexander, thought they were hotshots after a successful small festival in Evansville, Indiana. They had acts like Ike and Tina Turner, New Riders of the Purple Sage, and Edgar Winter. Riding high on their success, they thought, why not go bigger? So, they planned the Erie Canal "Soda" Pop Festival. It was originally supposed to be in Chandler, Indiana, but various court battles shut down those dreams faster than you can say "rock and roll."
In a stroke of genius, or perhaps madness, the promoters decided on a site near Griffin in Posey County, Indiana. Now, get this, the place was so out of whack that it was actually part of Illinois. Bull Island, they called it. The government in nearby Carmi, Illinois, was like, "Wait, how did this happen?" But they couldn't stop the concert because it fell outside their jurisdiction.
The promoters estimated a crowd of a 55,000. Well, they were in for a rude awakening. As the Labor Day weekend approached, hordes of people descended upon Bull Island like a plague of locusts. Traffic was backed up for a whopping 20 miles! Can you imagine the frustration? Indiana and Illinois police were as clueless as ever, with no coordination whatsoever. The only law enforcement present were three county deputy sheriffs from White County, Illinois. Yeah, good luck trying to police a crowd of 200,000 to 300,000 with that kind of manpower.
But hey, let's not forget about the lineup. The organizers promised big names like Black Sabbath, Joe Cocker, Allman Brothers, and Fleetwood Mac. But guess what? Most of them didn't show up! Instead, we were treated to a mishmash of bands that not many people had heard of. Talk about a letdown! At least Cheech & Chong were there to lighten the mood with their stoner humor.
The festival quickly spiraled into chaos. The crowd was hungry and thirsty, with food and water in short supply. There were only 6 toilets for the entire crowd. And when some vendors decided to overcharge for their goods, well, let's just say the crowd wasn't having it. They went all Leeroy Jenkins on those vendors, flipping over RVs, robbing them blind, and finally just burning them down.
Oh, but the fun doesn't stop there. On Sunday evening, some starving festival-goers happened upon a cow that was still on the island. Thinking they found a feast, they killed the poor bovine, but had no way to butcher or cook it, not that anyone knew how.
And let's not forget about the drugs. They were flowing freely like a makeshift pharmacy. Dealers set up shop in a "shopping district" and openly displayed their illegal goods. I guess you could say it was a one-stop shop for all your illegal needs. Who needs a music festival when you can get high, right?
To top it all off, three poor souls ended up drowning in the Wabash River. And as the festival came to an end, the crowd decided to celebrate in the only way they knew how – by burning the music stand to the ground. Who needs a farewell ceremony when you can torch something, am I right?
In the end, the promoters were left scratching their heads. They had sold 30,000 advance tickets, expecting a crowd of 55,000 tops. But what did they get? Over 200,000 people! Talk about being completely unprepared. I guess they learned the hard way that you should never underestimate the power of rock and roll.
And that, my friends, is the riotous catastrophe that was the Erie Canal Soda Pop Festival. A festival that promised so much but delivered so little. But hey, at least it gave us a good laugh and some unforgettable memories.
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