The prompt ominous at Studio 30 Plus and recent recollections of an event 39 years ago instigated this post. This is a fictional account, as I was only six-years old at the time — born too late to have all the fun!
It took us five hours to get there riding our thumbs down the interstate from St. Louis. Only three of those hours were actually spent on the drive itself, and the other two were whittled away waiting on the shoulder for someone to give us a ride. Tons of people along they way said they were headed to the same place — the Ozark Mountain Music Festival.
The incredible lineup included The Eagles, BTO, Marshall Tucker Band, Blue Oyster Cult, Aerosmith, Bob Seger, Joe Walsh, Lynyrd Skynyrd, America, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and REO Speedwagon. I went to see my favorite, Boz Skaggs, and We’re All Alone ran on a loop in my head en route. There was to be a band for everybody’s taste with acts like the Charlie Daniels Band and the Earl Scruggs Revue. Even an up-and-comer named Bruce Springsteen was supposed to play. The only one I didn’t care to experience was that awful Ted Nugent who looks like my mental personification of a blond Beelzebub. He’s definitely what a whitebread El Diablo would sound like.
Traffic backed up for a couple miles north of town on Highway 65. A crazy line of vans and packed sedans crept the entire length of that traffic jam, when the main drag through town is probably five miles all told. The little hamlet of Sedalia didn’t know what to think of everyone descending upon it. Stock trailers, ferris-wheel riders, and Aunt Peggy’s apple pie were at the Missouri State Fair in August every year, but this was a landslide of love and LSD. A sweet mixture of fried meat and manure that usually wafted through the air was replaced with a cloud of cannabis smoke. These children of the ‘70s brought mescaline and mayhem.
We caught a ride from I-70 with a cute kid who’d convinced his Pop to loan him the truck to haul his buddies 20 miles to the heart of debauchery that no one expected. Their pot stash hidden in the glovebox brought no suspicion, because the entire scene became one big dope exchange. Card tables in the tunnel leading to the stage area were adorned with signs advertising hash, acid and opium. One guy hawked his goods by yelling, “Window pane … get your window pane here.”
Our pristine peepers saw things that mid-July like we’d never known before. The Fahrenheit reached 104, and some festival goers traipsed about sans clothes. My cutoffs and bikini top would more or less affix to my body by the end of the weekend. Overhead water pipes only gave us temporary relief from the heat, but folks were good about taking turns dousing themselves in that soul-refreshing stream.
Otherwise, it was a muddy musical paradise. Refuse primed festival-goers for the bands that went on mostly as scheduled, as a sea of sludge ran with empty popcorn boxes and RC cola and Schlitz cans. We rode its waves from the campground to the track where the stage was swamped with people. So many bodies standing shoulder-to-shoulder made it hard to get close to the stage, though. The musical could be heard from anywhere on the fairgrounds, even at our makeshift campsite across the grounds. Our lean-to tent was close quarters, and we slept on blankets next to the truck we rode in, feeling safe with those harmless boys.
Going to the bathroom, on the other hand, was an ominous endeavor. Used to camping in not-so-perfect circumstances, we found it easier to accept the filthy conditions, but toilet paper and sanitation were on short supply. Men had it so much worse, walking in human waste or watching it overflow.
Things got pretty crazy elsewhere, too. Fifteen thousand tickets sold turned into 100,000 music lovers there. Ice was nowhere to be found and people took food off local grocery store shelves and ate it in the isles. Restaurants closed their doors to the half-dressed and naked hoards when supplies disappeared. A garden hose became a shower if you found a generous neighbor or bathed fast enough before the homeowner ran you off. Rumors claimed BBQ grills built from stolen shopping carts were used to roast local farmers’ pigs. Corn was more likely the only thing actually swiped from their fields.
Town authorities claimed it was Sodom and Gomorrah but anybody there would beg to differ. Biker gangs were supposed to have beat people up and gouged them for entrance fees to get through a hole in the fence. A Senate investigation looked into the situation after the fact and asked why police weren’t consulted beforehand, but supposedly Department of Agriculture officers had been “hoodwinked” by festival organizers. The City of Sedalia eventually paid the cleaning bill.
Heat exhaustion was the worst we saw, along with some naked people (like we hadn’t seen that before). Where else could that many kids have so much fun at once? All I know is $15 bought a wonderful weekend of live music. Wolfman Jack’s voice rang in my ear when I tried to sleep, and I woke up to discarded trash by my face, but at least my head escaped being trampled. We looked and smelled like yesterday’s lunch left out in the sun but had the time of our lives.
The Ozark Mountain Music Festival took place July 19-21, 1974 in Sedalia, Missouri (pop. 20,000). Dustbin Films, LLC is currently producing a documentary of the Midwest’s mini-Woodstock for its upcoming 40th anniversary.