Have you heard of the Ozark Music Festival held in 1974 at Missouri State Fairgrounds in Sedalia, Missouri? Unless you're local to the area, probably not. Other, less well-attended festivals have had more prominence in rock culture and history but this three day gig attracted up to 350,000 people and is commonly agreed to being one of the most messed-up, drugged-out and downright debauched festivals in rock history.
It all started, as these things always do start, with what was basically a lie. A company called Musical Productions Inc. from Kansas City promoted the festival, and they assured officials from the Missouri Department of Agriculture (the state agency which oversaw the State Fair) and the Sedalia Chamber of Commerce that the three-day weekend event would be a blue-grass and 'pop rock' festival with no more than 50,000 tickets sold.
Ahem. As George Costanza once said, 'It's not a lie if you believe it when you say it.
Of course, there was no 'pop rock' and only a smear of bluegrass. This was rock n roll, baby and the line-up of bands was so magnificent that surely the promoters knew more than 50,000 would attend. Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Aerosmith, P.F.M, Peter Sinfield, Blue �yster Cult, Eagles, America, Marshall Tucker Band, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Boz Scaggs, Ted Nugent, David Bromberg, Leo Kottke, Cactus, The Earl Scruggs Revue, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Electric Flag, Bruce Springsteen (did not perform),Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band, Charlie Daniels Band, Joe Walsh and Barnstorm, The Souther-Hillman-Furay Band, The Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Jimmie Spheeris, Triphammer, Bill Quateman, Jefferson Starship, Fresh Start, Babe Ruth, Locomotiv GT, The Sweet, Shawn Phillips, REO Speedwagon, Spirit, Banco, Elvin Bishop.
There's almost no-one on that list you wouldn't want to see. Anyone dig Triphammer? Wolfman Jack flew in by helicopter to DJ the event and generally be wolf-like.
Even though the festival was not scheduled to start until Friday, July 19th, thousands had arrived by Thursday night and there was a steady line of cars, trucks, vans, hitchhikers winding towards Sedalia and the fairgrounds. While in line, festival-goers were advised that once inside the grounds, vehicles would not be allowed back outside until the festival was over; many left a vehicle outside the fence for beer runs
The massive traffic jam from the huge crowd effectively shut down Sedalia. Inside the fairgrounds, drug use was openly flaunted, and one fan died from an overdose. More than 800 people had to be treated for drug overdoses, many so critical they had to be transported to local hospitals. Scorching heat and limited water and food supplies compounded the problems for many fans. These were old problems that many good promoters had learned how to solve, but not so here.
There are some great photos online. do search them out. It looks hot. It looks dusty. It looks like a disaster zone but with a lot of skinny naked people.
Even though logistically the whole event was a disaster, the music was widely hailed as being superb. Many point to a young Lynyrd Skynyrd as a standout act. Electric Flag had reformed for an under-rated record that year, BTO were riding high in the charts, Aerosmith were hitting their stride and Joe Walsh's Barnstorm album was a big favourite. Great to see British glam rockers The Sweet on the bill too, along with Babe Ruth whose debut album First Base was popular with the discerning rockers everywhere.
There seems to be much agreement that the music was excellent. It was just everything else that was a problem.
By Monday, July 22, the festival crowd had left, leaving a field of garbage behind. Damage estimates of $100,000 were reported, and with the Missouri State Fair only a few weeks away, the fairgrounds had to be cleaned up quickly so helicopters were used for spraying lime over the fairgrounds as a precaution against the possible outbreak of disease.
On the ground, bulldozers scraped up the topsoil, which was littered with discarded drug paraphernalia and gnawed cobs of corn and probably discarded underwear.
Meanwhile, festival-goers crowded the Interstate 70 rest stops to catch up on sleep lost during the weekend. Tents and sleeping bags were spread throughout rest stops all along the highway like human litter.
There were questions in the state legislature andThe Managreed it could never happen again. And it never did.
The irony was the promoters used 'no hassles guaranteed' as a strapline in their advertisements.
So that was the Ozark Music Festival 1974 - an orgy of drugs and rock n roll. Doesn't sound so bad really.
Related t-shirt Joe Walsh
compiled from wikipedia, Listosaur and individual recollections.