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Kickapoo Creek Music Festival, Heyworth, Illinois 1970

September 01, 2015

Kickapoo Creek Music Festival, Heyworth, Illinois 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. Sounds cool, right?
The bands who played included BB King, Canned Heat, Country Joe and the Fish, Delaney and Bonnie, Butterfield Blues Band, Rick Nielsen and Fuse, New Colony 6, Dan Fogelberg, REO Speedwagon and the Amboy Dukes. Better still, it was called Kickapoo.

The festival, which took place on Memorial Day weekend in 1970, 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's 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.

Inspired by 1969's 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 and he decided to hold his own personal Woodstock. 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 baby movement, he was into the sweet, sweet green. 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.
As so often happened in the late 60s in America, 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 the Charles Manson family), awoke finding 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!
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. By then, the farmer had disappeared with his teenage secretary and two sleeping bags stuffed with cash and let's face it, you could get a lot of dollar bills intotwo sleeping bags.He was never heard from again. Leaving his hometown, his wife and child, the family farm and a one year jail sentencebehind him, hevamoosed. Now baby, that's rock 'n' roll!
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)"I saw sex orgies which I could not photograph" (where there some orgiesyou felt youcould 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?)"

In 2010 a movie was made about the weekend, a trailer for which you can see here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EmtYFFRS9fo
There's footage of Canned Heat's set on line but very little has been written about the musicthat was played.Kickapoo Music Creek Festivalwent down in rock n roll history as a debauched hairy gathering - and 45 years on, that doesn't really seem so bad, does it?
Related t-shirt BB King






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