Sunday, July 11, 2010

Boomer Music: Woodstock and the Ozark Music Festival

I read an article about Woodstock, NY, last week in American Profile. Of course, when I hear “Woodstock” I’m thinking 1969 and the festival, or “An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music.” In reality, Woodstock was not in the town of Woodstock but rather on Max Yasgur’s 600 acre dairy farm near Bethel, NY. During the festival, 500,000 people converged on the farm creating a national spectacle. Woodstock, 2010, is a sleepy, artsy village that has incorporated the famous festival with the same name in their tourist offerings. The town of 6,241 has 500 artists and 20 galleries.

Here in Sedalia, MO, July 1974, on the Missouri State Fairgrounds, we had a mini-version of Woodstock known as the Ozark Music Festival. I lived in town then, and nothing prepared us for the chaos that would overtake our lives throughout the three-day festival.

Most of us were naïve enough to believe it was going to be a bluegrass festival with a little “pop rock” thrown in. How wild could that be? When rumors began that our little festival was getting national attention, the locals pointed out that the Earl Scruggs Revue was listed on the posters. Of course, others were listed as well—The Eagles, Bruce Spingsteen, Bob Seger, Aerosmith, Ted Nugent—and the list went on and on.

The bluegrass festival was advertised as “No Hassles Guaranteed” and I think promoters may have failed to mention the blue part of the grass. Once the seventeen mile traffic jams cleared out, Sedalia was invaded for the duration.

My husband and I finally had to see for ourselves what was going on and took an evening drive past the fairgrounds. I particularly remember a man strolling down the street wearing nothing but a towel—and it was hanging over his shoulder. Topless women were everywhere. Naked people spilled off the fairgrounds and along Sixteenth Street as they scouted the area for food, water, and beer.

Festival goers took over unattended garden hoses to shower in front yards. They discovered the quarry lake and converged on it skinny dipping to avoid the 100 degree July heat. Around 1,000 people suffering from drug overdoses and dehydration were transported to the local hospital. Stores closed down because they were overrun with scantily dressed hordes of people.

Estimates of the crowd range from 160,000 to 350,000. They did more than $100,000 damage to the fairgrounds and the with the state fair a few scant weeks later, heavy equipment was used to doze the filth away. The Ozark Music Festival is called one of the largest and most forgotten festivals. Maybe the world has forgotten, but longtime residents of Sedalia, especially boomers, remember the festival well.

Copyright © July 2010 L. S. Fisher

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