Incident at Kickapoo Creek, Heyworth, Illinois 1970

Incident at Kickapoo Creek, Heyworth, Illinois 1970
Authored By John Nicholson

Held on Dave Lewis' farm between Fri May 29, 1970 - Sun May 31, 1970, this was Illinois's hilariously-named version of Woodstock. It angered The Man, it frightened the local townsfolk and it had the local clergy declare it an embodiment of evil. Now if that doesn't sounds like a good way to spend a weekend, I don't know what does. 

The bands who played were Arrow Memphis, B.B. King, Backstreet, Bloomsbury People, Blue Challengers, Bluesweed, Bucktooth, Butterfield Blues Band, Canned Heat, Country Joe & The Fish, Dan Fogelberg, Delaney & Bonnie, Easy Street, Esquires, Feather Train, Finchley Boys, For Days and A Night, Fuse, Genesis, Gideon's Bible, Guild, Hot Set Up, New Colony 6, Nickle Bag, Night People, One Eyed Jacks, Phoenix, REO Speedwagon, Rick Nielsen, Seven Smith, Spare Chaynge, The Amboy Dukes, The Litter, Truth, Uncle Meat, Zebra.

The festival, which took place on Memorial Day weekend, featured music, nudity, the open sale of drugs and rainstorms that turned the farm into a muddy mess. Yay! Some authorities estimated attendance at nearly 60,000.

Views of the event vary hugely. "It was a mess, an absolute mess", says Paul Welch, then state attorney of McLean County. "They were a good bunch of kids", says Merle Shannon, then a Heyworth police officer and now mayor of the town, presumably while flashing a peace sign like the nun in the Woodstock movie.

Inspired by Woodstock, Dave Lewis, the son of a prominent Heyworth couple, envisioned a concert on his family farm just outside town and adjacent to Kickapoo Creek.

Lewis was a 42-year old gentleman farmer/bail bondsman (sounds like the start of movie, huh?) of a small mid-western town with a population of around a thousand. This was to be his own personal Woodstock.

But there was one slight difference; Woodstock was basically a free concert. Lewis learned from this. He was not into the freaky deaky free love and flowers movement, he was into the sweet, sweet greenback. Dude was a bread head.

So he set about planning a three day rock-n-roll festival on his 320-acre farm. He hired a local motorcycle gang called the Grim Reapers to police the grounds - now does that sound like a good idea to you? Lewis hired college freshman and future Major Dude, Eagles manager, Irving Azoff to manage the rock festival. He had fifteen bands in his stable available to play the festival at a reduced rate.

Obviously, the local State's Attorney served a court ordered injunction, outlawing the Heyworth Rock Festival the day before the widely advertised festival was to begin. Why didn't they ban it well in advance? They always waited too late because by the time it was finally served, thousands of hippies, freaks and longhairs had already gathered in the community.

Festival goers, many who didn't have much money, let alone a place to sleep, sought refuge. Residents of Heyworth, (whose idea of hippies was basically the Charles Manson family), awoke to find people, some naked, asleep on their front lawns, on their porches, in their cars and tool sheds. It's a lovely thought, isn't it? "Honey, there's naked people in the yard!" "Oh my God, I ain't never seen one like that before". 

When it was all over, there was a warrant for the promoter's arrest. The courts ordered Lewis to turn over the profits from the illegal event and seized his bank accounts. Seems harsh.

But by then, the farmer had disappeared. Dude had legged it. He was offski with his teenage secretary and two sleeping bags stuffed with $250,000 of sweet, sweet cash, and let's face it, you could get a lot of dollar bills into two sleeping bags. He just disappeared and was never heard of again. Beautiful. Back then, you could just disappear in America if you wanted to. It wasn't that hard. Now, it's almost impossible. We leave such a digital trail behind us everywhere we go. 

Leaving his hometown, his wife and child, the family farm and a one year jail sentence behind him, he vamoosed. I wonder if he planned it that way all along?

Rev. Eddy Cunningham commented on the Heyworth Rock Festival.
"I saw a naked lady wearing a raincoat, who wanted to trade her baby for a tank of gas (Did she really, Rev?)." "People were sliding down the Kickapoo with no clothes on, nude... like animals."(word to the wise, religious dude, humans ARE animals and it'd be weird if animals wore clothes)

"I saw sex orgies which I could not photograph" (where there some orgies you felt you could photograph? ) "This is 'high', you see... this is really 'cool'... These were young college students. They were some-body's baby. It was an absolute net of evil and wickedness.(sounds like he dug it heavily, doesn't it? Oh yeah, couldn't stop watching it go down, fingering his collar, dry-mouthed)"

There's footage of Canned Heat's set on line but very little has been written about the music that was played. Kickapoo Music Creek Festival went down in rock n roll history as a debauched hairy gathering - and 45 years on, that doesn't really seem so bad, does it? 

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