A Star story July 12 recalled the Ozark Music Festival of 1974, three days of drugs, sex and rock ’n’ roll that shook Sedalia, Mo.
“It was the last of the uncontrolled rock festivals — and something Sedalia didn’t want to talk about for years,” said documentary filmmaker Jeff Lujin of Independence.
Up to a quarter million people from all over the country flooded into town to see Aerosmith, Bob Seger, the Eagles, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Ted Nugent, REO Speedwagon and more.
The story stirred vivid memories. Here are a few readers’ recollections.
‘Chaos and anarchy,’ followed by depositions
Jeff Rogers, Chiang Mai, Thailand (originally from Wellington, Kan.)
I was actually one of the “security” team on site. I’d just finished my freshman year at KU, and an alum of my fraternity had a management role at Wells Fargo Security and they were hiring. Interviewed at an office near the Plaza. We were to meet at Arrowhead to board buses for the trip. That said, there were some really scary folks on that “security” bus. Got paid $150 or so, plus free tickets of course. We got to stay in air-conditioned dorms on site.
Our roles varied. No one was trained, of course. Many were assigned to “guard” holes in the fence where people were streaming in. Reports of bartering entry for drugs was the rule rather than an exception. So we walked around in our “security” T-shirts, which was fine at first.
But as the evenings wore on, and the biker gangs accumulated, the T-shirt gained a bounty, and I opted to not wear it late at night. I distinctly remember a late arrival by the Detroit Scorpions biker gang with their distinctive leather jackets and logos.
During the day, many of us were shuttling heat exhaustion victims from the infield to the makeshift hospital made up of volunteer medical staff from around the state. That was a full-time job. The heat mixed with every kind of drug was a terrible combo, but that was the drill.
We found naked, sunburned babies with their parents nearby just completely out of it. When we took the children to the hospital nearly unconscious, some of the parents came with and some just said take them.
I recall walking near the livestock area one morning. I saw a curious collection of young males quietly sitting along a road three deep on an embankment. Finally noticing the direction of their gaze, I looked over and spotted a 20-ish gorgeous naked blond casually showering in the livestock showers. Life was good. I quietly took my seat on the embankment.
The main grandstand area was the scene of an amazing transformation each night. The food and refreshment stands along the dirt track closed around 9-10 p.m. or so. Shortly thereafter, drug dealers would occupy the empty food stands, and some put up a makeshift menu listing every illicit drug you could imagine like a noodle shop. So after 10 p.m., there was a procession of people just walking around the track, many, like me, watching carefully for topless entertainment.
As the hours wore on, the procession around the track got more complicated. Difficult to describe, but there was a feeling of utter chaos and anarchy late at night. There were no uniformed police on the site per the agreement of promoters and troopers after the pre-concert tiff outside the fence. I’d never been anywhere with 200,000 people and no police, until then. Add in drugs, alcohol, sex and rock ’n’ roll, and it was an amazing, though at times frightening experience. I recall meeting so many interesting folks from all over the country. Quite an amazing experience for me overall.
Six-eight months later, maybe more, several of us at the fraternity were deposed by attorneys apparently suing the promoters. There were some leading questions about helicopters and gate receipts.
‘Our shopping carts started to disappear’
Bill Smillie, Springfield
My wife and I lived in Sedalia from 1972 to 1975 and I was at this time the manager of the regional grocery store, Consumers #21 located on East Broadway. Consumers also had a store #8, located on Thompson Hills Shopping Center off of West Broadway and one-half mile from the fairgrounds.
So I got a first hand view of the proceedings from a front row seat, although I never ventured inside the grounds as the crowd behavior was such it would be no place for sightseeing. The local police and State Highway Patrol would not enter the grounds and maintained a perimeter outside of the fence. It was hard to tell where the event started as there were as many people outside the fence camping or sleeping on every piece of ground. Neighborhood yards became places to sleep, bathe, eat, and hang out.
The city did not run out of food, but the city did run out of ice on Saturday. I tried to have a trailer load of ice sent from Springfield (Consumers Headquarters), but do not remember ever getting any additional shipment. Some were selling ice for $10 per bag.
The first glimpse I got of things to come was on Wednesday before the event started on Friday night. I drove up Broadway from the East to make my usual bank deposit, and was greeted when I got to my bank on Highway 65 and Broadway to a steady stream of cars and people walking south towards the Fairgrounds. This lasted until Friday and then everyone was in town and no place to go. Cars were abandoned up and down Highway 65 and 50 from Marshall on the north to Cole Camp on the south and as far west as Warrensburg. A mass of humanity all moving towards the fairgrounds. Note: Temperatures were 102-104 degrees every day.
The issues faced were some looting and lots of shoplifting as there were too many people coming in and out. Our shopping carts started to disappear and we found they made great BBQ grills when turned upside down. (Didn’t know about the cow and pigs and corn.) I remember the manager of #8 finally closed to keep the crowds out.
On Friday, as Jim Mathewson related in your article, there were rumors and fears of a riot. My company security officer sent private security guards from Springfield to guard store #8. I was instructed to outfit them with shotguns and ammunition because my store sold sporting goods extensively. They never had an occasion to use the guns.
... After Friday I never felt threatened but most of the town folks stayed away from the fairgrounds as it was not a place to be, even if you could have gotten in. The motorcycle “bikers” came and opened their own gate and were charging a lot less than the front gate. I remember the biker tearing a man’s nose with his “hook” due to a disagreement over gate access. HA!
‘Never got my dog back’
I was in my early 20s and lived one block east of the fairgrounds. It seemed like Woodstock had arrived and I heard the bands from my house. I saw women almost naked riding on top of cars lined up from State Fair Boulevard all the way to I-70, which is a 30-mile stretch.
People came to my house to use the garden hose to cool off and get water. My dog was stolen from my back yard, and I had to take back roads to get to work. The ice plant ran out of ice and my husband at the time and his brother drove to another town and returned to sell ice cold beer out of our pickup for $1, which was expensive back then. I still have the button they handed out.
It was a mess and oh what was left that my husband told me he saw (he said it was too bad to let me go see) is too unbelievable to share.
... Never got my dog back.
‘Crazy times for sure’
Tammy Winders, Kingwood, Texas
My husband was in attendance and he had lots of stories to tell. He was from Nevada, Mo., and had just graduated high school. He had actually heard about this concert while at a three-day festival in Idaho. He and a buddy had hitchhiked to the World’s Fair in Spokane. Crazy times for sure! “I still can’t believe we did all that s---,” he says :)
It truly was Missouri’s Woodstock.
Flowers and a thank-you note
I grew up on Sunset Drive, which is about a half mile from the fairgrounds. In 1974, I was 22 years old. I was actually living in Warrensburg, but I went home to my parents’ that weekend because of the festival.
I didn’t go to it, but I did drive by on U.S. 65. Lots of people. I heard about people killing a hog to eat, and I heard about the drug stands. I didn’t actually see any of that. What I did see was this: Sunset Drive is just a three-block-long street between 5th St. and Broadway (U.S. 50). There were cars and vans parked all along the street, and some set up tents in the empty lot at the bottom of the street. I don’t remember any trouble on our street, but I’m sure the homeowners didn’t like it.
There were two young men (late teens or early 20s) living out of their van in front of our house. I think they were from the Chicago area, but I am not sure about that now.
Remember, all three days were HOT. My mom and dad took water out to them, and allowed them to use our bathroom. They were polite.
A few days after the festival was over and they had left, my parents received flowers from them with a thank-you note. So not everyone there was causing problems.