The Erie Canal Soda Pop Festival was a rock festival held on the Labor Day weekend of 1972 near Griffin, Indiana on Bull Island, a strip of land in Illinois but, on the Indiana Side of the river. A crowd estimated at 200,000 to 300,000 attended the concert.
Several months before the Festival, promoters Tom Duncan and Bob Alexander held a very successful small festival at Bosse Field in Evansville, Indiana. That show included acts such as Ike and Tina Turner, New Riders of the Purple Sage, and Edgar Winter. Based upon that success, Duncan and Alexander planned a bigger festival.
The Erie Canal Soda Pop Festival was originally slated for Chandler, Indiana, a small town near Evansville, Indiana. However, various court battles stopped the festival from performance anywhere in Indiana. Shortly before the start of the concert, the promoters decided upon a site near Griffin in Posey County, Indiana referred to locally as "Bull Island".
Due to the changing course of the Wabash River, Bull Island is located east of the Wabash River but is part of the State of Illinois. Thus, Bull Island was out of the jurisdiction of the various Indiana courts. The local Illinois government in the small town of Carmi, Illinois, was surprised that the venue had suddenly ended up in its backyard, and was unable to stop the concert.
The promoters initially estimated a crowd of 55,000. As the Labor Day approached, it became obvious that a much larger crowd was coming to the festival. As Bull Island was accessible by only two roads, traffic was backed up for 20 miles (30 km) from the festival. Since Bull Island was technically part of Illinois but the only access was through Indiana, police protection and crowd control during the festival were non-existent. Coordination between the Indiana police and the Illinois police was woefully inadequate. The only police on the festival grounds were three county deputy sheriffs from White County, Illinois trying to police a crowd of 200,000 to 300,000.
The scheduled lineup included Black Sabbath, Joe Cocker, Allman Brothers, John Mayall, Cheech & 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, Nazareth, and Delbert & Glenn. However, only a few bands such as Flash Cadillac & The Continental Kids, Black Oak Arkansas, Cheech and Chong, Foghat, Albert King, Brownsville Station, Canned heat, Flash, Ravi Shankar, Rory Gallagher, Lee Micheals and Frosty, and Gentle Giant actually performed.
Over the three days, the festival drifted steadily into anarchy. Food and water were in short supply. A torrential rain soaked the festival. A truck bringing food into the festival was hijacked, looted and burned. When vendors overcharged for food and drinks, the folks turned over many of the RVs and robbed the vendors. Drugs were freely available in a makeshift "shopping district" where pushers proudly displayed their wares. Various bands cancelled. Three concert goers drowned in the Wabash River. As the festival ended, the remnants of the crowd burned the music stand.
The promoters explained later that they had sold 30,000 advance tickets for $20 and $25 each, and estimated a crowd of 55,000 would attend. They were therefore woefully unprepared when more than 200,000 people arrived.
Following the concert, the promoters were ensnared in multiple lawsuits by the owner of Bull Island, vendors, the Internal Revenue Service, the State of Illinois and the State of Indiana. The promoters were eventually found in contempt of court and fined several thousand dollars.