December 12, 2017

The Day of the Locusts

The KC Star and Times' coverage of the OMF was sometimes positive, sometimes sneering.

Thirty-seven years ago this week, more than 100,000 young rock music fans descended on Sedalia, Mo., (population 22,000) for three days and nights of debauchery known as the Ozark Music Festival.

The event held at the state fair grounds July 19-21, 1974, has been called the height — or the nadir — of decadence in a decadent era. The 22-act bill included several destined to become Rock Hall of Famers (Eagles, Skynyrd, Seger) performing at their peak. Yet critics called it a disaster, likening the OMF to Sodom and Gomorrah, Hooverville and the aftermath of a tornado.

To be sure, the Ozark Music Festival featured epic quantities of sex and drugs and rock and roll. But there was also violence and overflowing toilets, injury and even one death. And heat. Everywhere throughout the fair grounds and the adjoining town, 100-degree, no-shade, oppressively humid, mid-summer heat.

High temperatures led to lots of nudity and semi-nudity among festival-goers. That probably freaked out the good citizens of Sedalia almost as much as reports of rampant drug sales and use in and around the fair grounds, even as outnumbered police and highway patrolmen sat on their hands outside the gates. The kids drank from people’s garden hoses and peed on their lawns; they stripped corn and pigs from farmer’s fields; they bum-rushed and broke windows at a grocery that had been limiting the number of entrants.

Things got out of hand rather quickly at OMF, given the number of people who showed up. But the actual attendance figure is impossible to know (estimates generally cite 100,000 to 150,000 or more over the three days) because, as KC-based promoter Chris Fritz noted, the perimeter fences were breached even before the doors officially opened on Friday morning of the festival weekend.

When the show was over, the event was probed by a special committee of the Missouri Senate, a Pettis County grand jury and a couple of lawsuits. In the end, nothing much came of it.

Headlines from the aftermath of the OMF.

But what a difference a generation or two can make.

When Chris Fritz held an April 25 news conference at the Kansas Speedway to announce his Aug. 5-6 KanRockSas Music Festival there, KCK tourism officials were at his side to hail the economic impact of a hoped-for horde of 100,000 attendees.

Even Sedalia now looks at the OMF through rose-colored glasses. In 2009 the Chamber of Commerce mounted an exhibit at the Historic Katy Depot to mark the 35th anniversary. A related website remains up, containing among other things a guestbook filled with comments from people who attended. (See Links below and “We were there” below for excerpts.)

Jeff Lujin was born in Sedalia in 1971 and grew up hearing tales – some true, some apocryphal — of the OMF.

“It’s part of Sedalia’s lore; everybody’s heard about it,” Lujin explained.

Veteran KC promoter Chris Fritz, the man behind the Ozark Music Festival and the upcoming KanRockSas Music Festival.

He’s been working on a documentary film about the festival for a couple of years now, recording hundreds of hours of interviews and collecting a like number of photos, plus Super 8 movie film shot by attendees.

“There were some biker gangs … everyone talks about the tunnels, mostly with fear. Lots of violence happened there. Lots of drugs,” Lujin said. “It wasn’t quite Altamont, and it wasn’t quite Woodstock.”

Fritz today says the problems at OMF were mostly attributable to the unexpectedly large crowd that showed up – four or five times what he and his partners expected.

He insists he will be better prepared, should the crowds at KanRockSas rival those of the OMF 37 years earlier.

 

“We were there at Ozark Music Festival”

 

(Note: all misspellings sic)

 

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on the OMF stage.

“I can remember Wolf Man Jack announcing the first baby being borned there during the Eagles concert … I was SO sunburned across my shoulders that I was blistered, but we were having the best time of our lives … Naked people were everywhere. People swam in the lagoon near the race track to cool off. Drugs were everywhere. The tunnels leading into the racetrack were lined with drug vendors selling anything I had ever heard of. People were passing out and being hauled off. The music was outstanding but conditions were horrid. If you needed to relieve yourself you did so openly in public. There was no other option … do remember Joe Walsh sing Rockey mountain way. The guy on the loud speaker selling everthing from Weed to Mexican junk red … I also remember the tunnell. Any drug you wanted was in that tunnell. Tables set up and guys with billboards on … People don’t believe me when I tell them that Marshall Tucker, Lynyrd Skynryd, Joe Walsh w/ Barn Storm and The Eagles played one after another in one night  … It is the first time I had ever seen anyone shooting up … It was clear that there was no police control. we were free for the first time in our lives … I remember seeing someone with a dog pulling a little red wagon filled full of bags of pot with a sign that said LIDS $15 … I can’t believe my parents let me go.  Maybe I didn’t tell them where I was going … By the time I left I was dazed confused and dehydrated and had to hitchhike all the way back home.”

Were you there at the Ozark Music Festival? Please leave a recollection below. And contact rick@kcrockhistory.com if you have photos or memorabilia to share.

 

Links:

 

Chamber of Commerce exhibit

http://www.ozarkmusicfestival.com/

 

OMF documentary film preview:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IWm51kJGIKo&NR=1

 

Home movie showing crowd:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1LLpgi8-xGY&feature=related

 

Home movie showing crowd, infamous tunnel, Electric Flag performing:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9sYy83nO-bY&feature=related

 

One guy’s recollection:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yKDPclPlIxE&feature=related

 

German group Locomotiv GT performing at OMF:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GAcndR5gUX0

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Vern Wichtendahl says:

    I arrived at the Ozark Music Festival on Friday riding my 500 Yamaha from Norther Iowa. While in line to go to the front gates to buy tickets people on a hill where they had torn down the fences encouraged us to ride through. We did. The heat was indeed , oppressive . I remember seeing broken off fire hydrants with giant mudslides. The drugs were being sold in a farmers market fashion. The music was outstanding .In our vicinity on one of the days there was a brothel tent. Naked and semi-nude people were common so one just kind of became used to it. The number 106 degrees sticks in my mind as the reported high temperature.If I had to choose a highlight performance , it would be Joe Walsh and Barnstorm. Did I mention that the music was outstanding. I have pictures I took with a 110. Also have a couple of T-shirts I bought There. One with the festival logo on the front. The other has the festival logo on the front and ” Beautify America, shoot a redneck ” on the back.

  2. Here’s what happened when I was there…

    I arrived from San Diego, Calif. on Thursday. I spent Wednesday nite in Warrensburg, Mo. at a guy’s parent’s home/farm who I’d met coming into Kansas City. They were nice people. We had a huge lunch in his kitchen that his Mom made on Thursday morning before I went off to Sedalia. Anyway, I met some girls (3 of them) from KC at the Ramada Inn that Thursday afternoon. They were friends of REO Speedwagon. We decided to hang out together. I guess they liked me ’cause I was a young, cute, sort of bashful 22 y/o baby-faced boy from So Cal. I was there to meet up with the Marshall Tucker Band and already knew they wouldn’t arrive in town for a couple days. There were no “regular” people at the Ramada Inn…it was all band related types. Roadies, managers, musicians, sound guys, truck drivers, etc. I secured a backstage pass from REO’s people prior to MTB arriving. There were only two real “hotels” in Sedalia at that time…the Ramada on the WNW side of town (coming in from KC on State route 50) and the Holiday Inn on the south side. I stayed at the Ramada. Both places, so I heard, were booked solidly with music people. I can’t speak for the Holiday Inn b/c I never got over there but I know for a fact I never saw any “tourists” or family/summer vacation types at the Ramada. They would’ve been too freaked out!

    I don’t remember the exact line-up on Friday night but I know that Joe Walsh & Barnstorm followed The Eagles. I do remember that because we went up on stage during The Eagle’s set. I think Aerosmith played late that night as well and I seem to remember that Skynyrd also had a Friday night slot. Look, I was hangin’ with the girls who knew REO and we were gettin’ pretty well blitzed most of the time so my memory is a little foggy. (Drinks from the Ramada bar, ‘ludes and weed.) I remember seeing Bob Seeger & the Silver Bullet Band…I think that was Saturday but I can’t be sure. I think REO Speedwagon had a Sat. night slot as well.

    The Marshall Tucker boys were on tour and weren’t due to arrive by tour bus until late Saturday nite/early Sunday. (So the guy that posted the bit about Skynyrd, Joe Walsh, the Eagles and Marshall Tucker all playing on the same night…he was too high. It didn’t happen that way.) We (Marshall Tucker Band) had a 2:00 or 3:00 p.m. slot on Sunday afternoon…somewhere in that time range. (See the newspaper clip/pic showing MTB playing during daylight. That’s the back of Toy Caldwell’s head in the shot) We played right before ….oh, I think it was Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatts. Might have been the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band but I’m not positive. All I know is that it was very hot and Paul Riddle (Marshall Tucker drummer) passed out from the heat right after the first song “Long, Hard Ride”. …Fell right off his drum throne. I know because I was standing 10 feet away when it happened. Paul is fair complected with red hair and the heat just nailed him. I think it was about 105 F….it was over 100℉ for sure! Prior to taking the stage, there was plenty of beers, Crown Royal and Coke on ice and one person, who shall remain nameless, with a large bag of “Columbian Marching Powder” who was taking care of everyone’s “jet-lag” in the double-wides that served as green rooms/dressing rooms. We were calling that stuff “helper”. It was a pretty wound up Sunday, as you might imagine.

    I was only at the Ramada Inn and backstage. I never saw much of the crazy shit that was going on out in the crowd. I ferried, with “my girlfriends”, from behind the Ramada Inn property to the backstage “landing zone” at the fairground in helicopters ….then took VW vans over to the backstage compound for 3 days and nights. I never knew anything about the bikers, the drugs, the overdoses and all that until after the fact. Coming in on the choppers from the Ramada on Fri. and Sat. nights, we flew over the infield crowd and it was a sight to see! Jesus God! What a crowd!! Unreal! I NEVER heard about “the tunnels” and all that until years later. And I only remember seeing a few naked people… but I was backstage the whole time.

    I will say this; on Friday or Sat. night/morning, there was a great jam that happened in the Ramada Inn bar. Started before/around midnight and lasted into the wee hours. I was in there drinking with my girlfriends and I remember a couple of the Skynyrd boys, a few of the Eagles and maybe Steven Tyler and Joe Perry. Can’t remember if any of the MTB guys were involved but …who knows? Just can’t rewind it all that well but it was a good time. Mostly blues jams and that kind of stuff. I remember hearing “The Thrill Is Gone” for about 20-30 mins. (haha) …amongst other tunes.

    Okay… so I hope you liked my story. I assure you that it’s all true. You can’t make this shit up!! In fact, I enjoyed the hell outta writin’ this. Just brings back some great memories. Cheers!!

    Joe. H

    PS. I’m 58 years old. I’m about to go to the 50th annual Folk Fest in Pennsylvania. Started talking to my younger buddy about the old days of festivals and this subject came up. I googled the OMF and found this link. Thought I’d tell my little bit. There will never be times like that again, I’m pretty sure! Woohoo!!!! May Tommy and Toy Caldwell and George McCorkle rest in peace. Long live The Marshall Tucker Band. God Bless Southern Rock!!

  3. I was 16 when I went to this concert. I went with a male friend’s cousin and a friend of his from California – we really didn’t know each other. We drove from Topeka, KS, in my 1974 Vega only to get stopped in traffic for hours. It turned into a party on the highway. We pulled in to park. From that point, they went their way and I went mine. I didn’t smoke much pot then but I drank a lot of beer for three days. I loved the music; even climbing the towers Saturday night while Wolfman Jack was on stage. I roamed the area, visiting with strangers and never felt uncomfortable. I recall going through the tunnel with all the “vendors,” but not once was anything pushed on me – again, I was 16 and I was alone since my travel mates took off. The heat was oppressive. I do recall seeing many people passing out, overdosing, and the medical tents. I stayed to the last concert, Leo Kotke, and then went to my car to find my travel mates there. We drove back to Topeka, telling our individual stories. When I walked into my front door, my mother greeted me with the newspaper accounts of all the drugs, heat and deathn and was ordered to the shower. Remember, no cell phones. As far as the bathroom facilities, it was so hot that I didn’t need one – my diet consisted of beer, and more beer, and I was dehydrated and didn’t pee.

  4. Jane, Robin, Beth & family -We are sad to learn of Bill’s paisnsg. We were blessed to have known him he was a wonderful man who we greatly admired. We will always remember how easy it was to have a conversation with Bill. Dave especially enjoyed talking Missouri Tiger sports. Discussions about food and any number of other topics were always fun too. You are in our thoughts and prayers. Love, Dave and Lura

  5. I do have to say, the sentiment on the board today is indicative of a bottom. Lots of despondency. When we were at 600 a few days ago, too many people were excited for the imminent rebound. So if BC sentiment is any indication, we’re bottoming. Andy – we should all save complements until this game is over in January. It’s a few minutes into the fourth quarter and we’re down a couple touchdowns, but we have a great team (Apple) and savvy coach (you). I’m betting on a comeback.

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