The Ozark Music Festival
Three days that marked the peak of rock n' roll decadence
The Ozark Music Festival was held July 19-21, 1974 at the Missouri State Fairgrounds in Sedalia, Mo. More than 150,000 people were on hand for three days of sex, drugs and rock n' roll. See the photos and story below for more on one of the wildest events ever held in the United States.
I believe this is the Web's most comprehensive account of the festival. It may well be that these are the only photos that have been posted on the Internet. I haven't seen any others. So I hope you enjoy.
Since I created this site in 2006, I've been contacted by many people sharing some of their memories from the summer of 1974. I've also heard from quite a few people who say they're gonna write a book about the OMF or have video or pics or some similar story. Some also claim to have the real story behind the OMF. Sadly, there's been no follow-up.
The Eagles, Joe Walsh, Leo Kottke, Charlie Daniels Band, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Lynard Skynard, Marshall Tucker, and Electric Flag are some of the bands I remember. There were many more.
Rod, John and Chip made the trip on behalf of the Blue Angels. Here's Chip talking with George, a guy from St. Louis we kinda took under our wing. George rode his bicycle to Sedalia from St. Louis. We gave him a lift home on our way back to Illinois.
This is a scan of the button people who bought tickets were given as a way to indicate they had paid to get in. Admission was $15 in advance, $20 at the gate. However, thousands got in free. See the article below.
"Trying to stay cool" Thanks Rose!
All the photos on this page are mine, except where noted, and were taken over the four days we were in Sedalia. The following article is used with permission of the author.
The 1974 Ozark Music Festival:
"No Hassles Guaranteed"
When Robert Shaw, the manager for a Kansas City based company named Musical Productions, Inc. (MPI), first proposed a music festival on the Missouri State Fairgrounds, he insisted that his “new entertainment concept” would not be a rock festival. He assured Missouri Department of Agriculture officials and the Sedalia Chamber of Commerce that the three-day July weekend event would feature blue-grass music and “soft rock.” And, he promised, no more than 50,000 tickets would be sold.
Shaw and his associates, Chris Fritz, David Kinton, and Sal Brancato, undoubtedly knew that a rock festival in a conservative community like Sedalia would be as welcome as the devil and his demons at a Baptist church social. The half million who found their way to Max Yasgur’s farm near Woodstock, New York just a few years earlier, routed an image of stringy-haired musicians, drugs, and sex-in-the-mud to nearly every American who subscribed to Life magazine or watched the nightly news. Each one that followed-- Altamont Speedway, Watkin’s Glen-- had its own share of controversy. And surely, that’s why the MPI partners were adamant that state and local officials believe their festival would be different.
The final product MPI delivered, however, had little of the wholesome bluegrass charm the company presented in its promotional material. Akin to Mayberry, Sedalia is a quiet town. Situated in the Ozark foothills somewhere between Kansas City and St. Louis, it rolled out the red carpet each August for the thousands of Missourians who flocked to the Missouri State Fair.
The same residents gaped in disbelief, however, as tens of thousands, found their way into the city limits that July, many acclimating themselves to the sweltering July heat, au natural. Because the fairground gates weren’t scheduled to open until the festival began at noon on Friday, July 19, many Sedalians awoke that morning to sleeping strangers sprawled out across their lawns and bumper-to bumper traffic, making it impossible to get to work.
Many community members were accustomed to taking in an occasional horserace or flower show on the fairgrounds, but few welcomed the activities that weekend. In one corner of the grounds, two retired school buses were converted to accommodate 12 girls who prostituted themselves for two dollars an “episode.”
Countless lean-to’s and shanties were constructed to provide privacy for enterprising young women’s business ventures. Undercover agents reported a sex orgy near the sheep pavilion that attracted hundreds of spectators. There were also many young women, topless or stark naked, who painted signs on their body, advertising sex in exchange for drug money. And many couples reportedly made love wherever the moment found them: outside the main gate, in the pond in front of the 70 foot stage, in the sheep and swine pavilion, in full view of dozens or startled Pittsburg-Corning factory workers who watched from their building adjacent to the fairgrounds.
Even more disturbing were the thousands (or by some estimates, millions) of dollars of drugs that exchanged hands during the festival. A senate investigation into the event documents a security guard who claimed there were so many drugs — LSD, mescaline, amphetamines, cocaine, not to mention marijuana— it was “just like going into a candy store.” Another security guard was alarmed at the amount of heroin present at the event and compared the heroin transactions to “a farmer’s exchange-- you know, selling it back and forth.” The same guard testified he saw a man carrying around syringes in a cartridge belt like bullets, selling them for the purpose of shooting up heroin. In a report compiled by the Missouri Highway Patrol, undercover agents noted at a camp site by the main gate, a man was conducting a seminar of sorts, providing instructions for injecting drugs with a hypodermic needle and, in turn, selling the needles and the drugs.
Furthermore, the constant, jarring pulse of bass guitars, with the assistance of an extraordinary state-of-the-art sound system designed to wake the dead, rattled nearly every window within a two-mile radius. Sedated by the music and the euphoria of the crowd, many curious young men and women found their first encounter with the drug culture and Sedalia citizens were furious. Not only had their fairgrounds become a marketplace for drugs and sex, they believed their community had fallen prey to what the grand jury appointed the following September could never prove--that Shaw, Brancato, Fritz, and Kinton were unscrupulous scam artists who created a music festival as a cover for their illegal drug enterprise. As the week unfolded and the quiet city of 20,000 exploded to almost 200,000, many demanded answers for a weekend that resulted in one death, nearly 1000 drug overdoses, miles of bumper-to-bumper traffic, over $100,000 in property damage and a senate investigation
As the 60 acre field west of the fairgrounds grew increasingly crowded a week before the festival began, many Sedalians became suspicious of what Pettis County Sheriff Emmett Fairfax had questioned for sometime. Serious discrepancies surrounded the promotion of the event. When Shaw approached Fairfax in April, requesting that the local law enforcement provide security for the event under his charge, Fairfax chose to decline, claiming that the sheriff’s department, the Sedalia Police, and the Highway Patrol would be too small a force to control the size of the crowd anticipated. In fact, the issue of crowd size was the core of the problem that would soon erupt into an experience the 1974 Senate Report would later describe as “unlike anything in recent Missouri history.”
Fairfax grew more skeptical of Shaw’s claims when he realized that the information in some press releases was significantly different than what was presented to state and local officials. Press releases distributed elsewhere boasted that 19 of the country’s top recording groups would be featured including the Eagles, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bachman Turner Overdrive, the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, and R.E.O. Speedwagon.
A full-page advertisement appeared in Rolling Stone magazine and renowned celebrity Wolfman Jack, hired to host the event, recorded a radio spot that aired weeks prior to the event. On radio stations across the nation, the Wolfman invited his listeners to the Ozark Music Festival in Sedalia where “we goin’ be on the grass at the Missouri State Fairgrounds…they’ll have food, water, free parkin’, free campin’ and no hassles guaranteed.” The obvious invitation to a weekend of drug use without interference from authorities was, by itself, a clear indication to Fairfax that the Sedalia community could easily be invaded by tens of thousands of drug culture groupies.
Vincent, a 48-year-old Georgia businessman who requested that his last name be withheld for this article, remembers having no question in his mind that the festival would be a place to come and “step out of society,” free from all rules including those regarding drugs. When he saw the full-page advertisement in an issue of Rolling Stone that spring, he was immediately aware of what the promoters had in mind. The setting was perfect--out in the middle of the Ozark Mountains with “hillbilly law enforcement.” “We knew exactly what it was going to be,” Vincent claims. “If it was going to be in the wide open spaces, we knew crowd control would be impossible…It was going to be one big party!”
Scott McKinney, a 42-year-old farmer from Leoti, Kansas, claims he and two friends were also lured by the ad in Rolling Stone. “We thought we were going to Woodstock and we weren’t disappointed!” states McKinney. “I was just a farm kid from the western part of Kansas and here were 20 of the bands I heard every day on the radio!”
In the weeks prior to the festival, questions were also raised about the backgrounds of some of the MPI associates. Missouri state officials learned from the Federal Task Force on Organized Crime that Sal Brancato’s brother Nathaniel had recently been convicted on federal charges of conspiracy to promote gambling and prostitution. When Colonel S. S. Smith of the Missouri Highway Patrol approached Ron Jones regarding Nathaniel Brancato’s contract to operate a concession stand at the event, Jones assured him the festival promoters were willing to cancel any arrangement involving Brancato.
Then, early in July, Garrett received a report from the Missouri Highway Patrol about Christopher C. Fritz, the President of Musical Productions, Inc. and his arrest in Los Angeles for the sale and possession of marijuana. Relying on this additional information, Garrett contacted Missouri Attorney General John C. Danforth on July 12, questioning Fritz’ character and painting a scenario of what might lie in store for the Sedalia community if the lease were not terminated. Garrett was again unsuccessful when Danforth concluded that because Boillot, the Director of Agriculture, had agreed to lease the fair grounds it was unlikely the state would win a lawsuit brought by Musical Productions, Inc. for a breach of contract.
Much of the friction surrounding the Ozark Music Festival concerned the astounding crowd size and evidence which surfaced suggesting the promoters were well aware of the number of people the event would attract. Despite the 40,000 to 50,000 estimated headcount Robert Shaw repeatedly gave to Missouri officials, a press release circulated nationwide stated the Missouri fairgrounds could easily accommodate 100,000 people. In addition, the senate report notes that Musical Productions Inc. ordered the printing of 230,000 tickets. To avoid the ticket price, thousands entered the festival through the gaping holes in the fence. Consequently determining crowd size from gate receipts was impossible. On Saturday afternoon, however, the Missouri Highway patrol reported a 160,000 people on the fairgrounds, an estimate many consider “conservative.”
Residents were furious that the facilities simply did not exist to accommodate the tens of thousands of people who came. Exacerbating the circumstances was a record-breaking heat wave and those who attended the festival soon discovered there was little means of escaping the heat. The highway patrol reported that shower facilities were inadequate and by Saturday morning they were fully integrated with men and women, packed beyond safe capacity. On Saturday afternoon, water lines to restrooms and showers were shut off, leaving no drinking water available for two hours. Furthermore, security guards reported that portable toilets were filled to the lid by Friday evening and inoperable. Consequently by the festival’s end on Sunday, much of the west portion of the fairgrounds was littered with feces and the grass completely worn away with the excess of human waste.
Many who lived or operated businesses in the area surrounding the Missouri State Fair grounds suffered property damage, not to mention overwhelming inconvenience. As the campgrounds filled beyond capacity, the residential areas around the fairgrounds were invaded with people and their blankets and sleeping bags, begging to use outdoor faucets for water, raiding gardens and urinating on lawns.
One outlet that allowed Sedalians to voice grievances was the Concerned Citizens Hotline, a radio program organized by Senator James Mathewson who, at the time, was the Democratic candidate for the state legislature.
In a matter of three days the hotline received 805 calls demanding answers to a wide range of questions such as “Are they eating dogs on the fairgrounds?” to “Did the Mafia promote this?” to “Can I kill someone in my garage?” 165 frustrated callers wanted to know who was responsible and 44 wanted to know who they could sue.
Mathewson attempted to put an end to rumors like the one which claimed 63 had died of drug overdoses and, at first, he advised listeners not to arm themselves in their homes. However, after riding with Sheriff Fairfax through the festival grounds and witnessing the chaos firsthand, he went home, sent his family out of town for their safety, and made certain his shotgun was loaded and ready to use.
Perhaps the issue that most infuriated law-abiding Sedalians that drug and prostitution laws were not enforced during the festival. In addition, security seemed to have no control over the numerous reports of harassment, assault, and extortion connected to the approximately 80 to 90 members of the motorcycle gangs including the Scorpions, the Fourth Reich and the Diablos, who staked the Northwest corner of the fairgrounds as their temporary residence. Anyone who unsuspectingly crossed their turf was forced to empty his pockets of money or drugs, forfeit coolers of food and beer, or perform sexual favors in exchange for safe passage. 33-year-old Walter C. Prohaska, a Renegade motorcycle gang member from Detroit, allegedly cut a hole in the fairground fence and set up his own admission gate. Sedalian William Swinford was transported to the Bothwell Hospital emergency room where doctors spent three hours stitching up his face. Apparently Prohaska, who was arrested on assault charges in the incident, slashed Swinford’s face with his metal hook prosthesis when he refused to pay Prohaska’s three dollar “toll” for passing through the fence.
Twenty-five years later, retired sheriff Emmett Fairfax takes criticism of the law enforcement in stride. “When you have a crowd that size---over one hundred thousand people---and the conditions as they were---the heat, not enough food or water . . . “ Fairfax explains, “you can’t go in and make arrests with a small band of law enforcement. It would have been mayhem.” He believes that if attempts had been made to enforce the laws regarding drug sales or prostitution, the consequences would have been severe. “We’re talking about a huge crowd of people contained in an area in the heart of a community. It had to be controlled from the outside the perimeter, “Fairfax contends. “If we had gone in and made arrests, we might have started a riot that would have spilled out into the community. We could well have created problems that couldn’t be justified.”
In retrospect, many believe that the most significant impact of the Ozark Music Festival was a moral one. It served as a portal into the drug culture for a number of young people who found themselves surrounded by those who had already succumbed. Overwhelmed by an abundance of every illegal drug imaginable and little chance of getting caught, many experimented for the first time.
Sedalia attorney Adam Fisher, who has represented a number of individuals charged with drug sales in the years following the festival, claims that many of his clients attribute their drug background to the experience and connections they found at the event. “They came from all over the United States---selling drugs, using drugs, and making contacts,” Fisher contends, and when it was over, not everyone managed to sell all of the inventory.”
Fisher explains that dealers, wanting to avoid traveling with large quantities of an illegal substance, simply dumped their leftovers in bulk in the local community. In turn, the opportunity to acquire drugs en masse at dirt cheap prices may have been the temptation which led more than one to a lucrative career peddling dope.
“In the seventies and the eighties, “reports the attorney, “this community had a drug problem that a community this size shouldn’t have had and it may well have been a result of this festival. Our community has paid a price,” Fischer concludes in retrospect, “--drug addiction among the young---many local kids were introduced and subjected to the drug culture in major league fashion.”
Although it could never be verified, a number of law enforcement officers and area residents questioned whether Musical Productions Inc. itself was involved in the drug traffic. When he was interviewed on July 24, 1974 for the Senate Investigation, Sedalia Chief of Police, Bill Miller noted that festival promoter Sal Brancato rented two helicopters and that “Brancato and his people flew back and forth from their motels.”
But there were numerous complaints about the volume of helicopter traffic from aggravated citizens and some individuals drew the conclusion that helicopters were the chief means of bringing the mass quantities of drugs onto the premises. Henry Lamm reported in his interview that as he sat on his porch with his shotgun, he heard a loud speaker on a van “advertising all sorts of hard drugs” and that “a fresh shipment had just arrived by helicopter from the West Coast.”
But John McEuen, a band member with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, appears to have a more calloused perspective. “Well, if they were selling drugs, it was the middle of the 70's--that’s just the kind of thing that went on,” he states. “I’m not surprised---we probably played at a lot of concerts that were put together by mafia money. Drugs were sold--it was a way to launder money. It was just a way of life.
I didn’t do drugs myself,” McEuen adds, after a brief pause. “I was too busy road managing---too busy playing my instruments, but it always amused me to watch the people who did.”
But many of those who came to the Ozark Music Festival took advantage of the “no hassles” attitude toward drug use. For the three day duration of the event, thousands of drug transactions were made with no interference from the promoters or Wells Fargo security. “I couldn’t believe it. I never saw anything like it,” recalls Scott McKinney, the western Kansas farmer. “We were standing in line at Kentucky Fried Chicken and we watched two guys shooting up right inside the restaurant---I’ll never forget the lawlessness of it. People were selling drugs right out in the open--right out of Winnebago’s!”
A large portion of the Senate Report is devoted to the issue of drug overdoses and the role Dr. A.J. Campbell played along with area hospitals in controlling the problem. The makeshift hospital on the fairgrounds was filled to capacity from the early stages of the three-day festival and as the rate of emergency cases increased it became almost impossible to maintain accurate records. Campbell estimated that over 800 patients were treated for drug overdoses and he testified of that number, 250 to 300 “would have perhaps died if they hadn’t had emergency care.” Forty-five patients, whose condition was so critical they couldn’t receive the necessary care at the fairgrounds, were transferred and admitted to Bothwell Hospital in Sedalia. 22 patients were transferred to the Medical Center in Columbia.
But one participant, 22-year-old Allan Richard Cragnotti, would never return to his home in Blue Island, Illinois. At 1 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, he was dead upon arrival at the medical ward on the fairgrounds. The cause of death was an overdose of barbiturates.
By Sunday morning, July 21, acting Governor Phelps issued a second Executive Order requesting the National Guard enter the fairgrounds with medical personnel and supplies. Guardsman walked through the fairgrounds waking up festival participants and any individual who couldn’t be awakened was taken to the medical facility and treated for drug overdose.
Many who were a part of the three day event, however, claim that drug use was not the driving force behind the festival’s appeal. “In the whole scheme of things, drugs weren’t what the festival was about,” recalls 45-year-old Art Lamm, who now resides in Adrian, Oregon. “The promoters wanted to bring some great music to the fans. The culture was already in place and drugs were just part of the package.”
Lamm describes the atmosphere on the fairgrounds that weekend as one of “peaceful anarchy” that seemed to gain “a momentum of its own.” He believes that what many older people resented were the changes the festival and its music symbolized: the cultural upheaval that resulted from the civil rights movement, the women’s movement and the Viet Nam War. “Let’s face it,” explains Lamm, “it’s like our culture went from Guy Lombardo to Jimi Hendrix in three years. Every generation rebels and drugs were just a part of our rebellion.”
Another participant, Pam McGrath, also contends that drug use was not the festival’s crux, although it’s often remembered as a Mecca for many who embraced the drug culture. “The drugs don’t really stick out in my mind,” McGrath recalls, “but the people do. It was mind-boggling---the number of people that were there. It was this vast sea of humanity.”
McGrath’s most distinct memory is of the unsettling tension that existed on the campgrounds to the west of the festival site. Accompanied by a journalist friend covering the event for the St. Louis Dispatch, McGrath recalls being fearful. She describes the evening as unbearably hot and remembers many people cramped in one spot with hardly any water for drinking, let alone for showers. The bikers from the motorcycle gangs seemed to rule the campgrounds, she recounts. They roamed about, bullying and leering. No one questioned that whatever they wanted was theirs. “The mood in the campgrounds was a violent one, “McGrath claims twenty-five years later. “I got the feeling I was in danger. . . I was as naive as they come and the crowd was like nothing I’d ever experienced!”
McGrath, who today owns and operates a popular Sedalia restaurant, steered clear of the campgrounds for the remainder of the festival. When another friend arrived to cover the festival for Crawdaddy magazine, he got her a back stage pass where she stayed for most of the festival, basking in the live music of bands which helped define the seventies. “Bob Seger . . . America . . . the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band,” she reminisces. “It was phenomenal---all of the big names that came to Sedalia.”
“It was like playing to a field of baseballs---so many people---thousands and thousands of bobbing heads,” recalls John McEuen. “It was the biggest live audience we ever played for---184 thousand, the promoters said. All of the bands had to be shuttled in by helicopter--Lynyrd Skynyrd, Charlie Daniels…“his voice trails softly. “I remember when we landed near the stage---they told us the Hells Angels had taken over security---that can be a bad thing, but it can also be a good thing, if they’re on your side,” he laughs.
“Wolfman Jack had seen his share of hijinks, but nothing compared to this. He went on and on about how out of line it was--the anger he felt, mixed with the general fear that rock’n roll’s decadence was peaking in a field, not five miles away. His name was attached to the event, as was ours. Our show was memorable only in that nothing went right,” Ibbotson remarks as he recounts that the instruments were out of tune and the stage was intolerably hot. He also notes that he and fellow band members were somewhat fearful of the crowd before of them.
“We told each other to keep plodding ahead no matter what mayhem was going on across the moat of beer and blood that separated the stage from the leathered up biker guards and the hoards they thought they had to control,” he recalls. “So we played out of tune and time and we were probably too scared to sing well. I suppose that everyone looked up from whatever horror show they were involved in when we played Bo Jangles…but I think we were glad to hear that the road crew made it out safe with our gear.”
By Monday, July 22, the festival crowd had left, leaving behind a mountain of garbage, over $100,000 in reported property damages and an undisclosed amount in clean-up costs assumed by the State of Missouri. The festival site became every curious school kid’s paradise and they flocked to the fairgrounds on bicycle and foot, despite the law enforcement’s warning of disease. They came to see, of course, if there were any souvenirs left to claim amidst what the Democrat described as “a mountain of human waste and dirty syringes.” No one cared when Henry Lamm hauled off a souvenir of his own, a wooden shack with “Bruno’s Whorehouse” scrawled across the side of it. He used his tractor to drag it to a small lake nearby where it remains today, partly for posterity but mostly for a duck blind.
With the Missouri State Fair only a few weeks away, helicopters were ordered over the grounds to spray lime as a precaution against the outbreak of disease. For days, bulldozers scraped up topsoil, littered with discarded drug paraphernalia and gnawed cobs of corn from Henry Lamm’s field. In turn, the mountains of dirt were hauled to the county landfill.
Although the clean-up operation was underway, Sedalia residents refused to allow the issue to become yesterday’s news. The community was not only outraged but confused about where to rest the blame. Many believed promoters Shaw, Fritz, Kinton and Brancato had violated their community and they blamed public officials for giving them the authority to organize such an event. Senator Richard Webster who led the Senate investigation of the festival believed Shaw and his associates intentionally misled officials as well as the public. In the Tuesday, July 23 issue of the Sedalia Democrat Webster exclaimed, “This thing was advertised as the Ozark Country Music Festival in Missouri -- in the other 49 states it was advertised as an acid rock festival.”
Sedalians demanded accountability and a promise that no activity of such magnitude would ever again occur in the community. A Grand Jury inquiry was organized in September of 1974. Robert Shaw and Chris Fritz were charged with misleading advertising and Shaw and Sal Brancato were charged with running a confidence game, but after months of hearings and a change of venue from Pettis County to the neighboring Johnson County Court, all charges were dropped. Robert Shaw and his associates who comprised Musical Productions, Inc. were never convicted of any criminal act.
In fact, even Walter Prohaska, the Renegade gang member with the silver hook prosthesis, eluded serving time. Sheriff Fairfax arrested Prohaska on assault charges for which he was convicted, but he jumped bail waiting for his case to be appealed and fled the country. When Fairfax moved to the U.S. Marshall’s Office the following year, he requested that the FBI issue a Fugitive from Justice Warrant and, when Prohaska was located in Costa Rica working as a handyman for a convent of nuns, an international extradition team was sent to bring him back to the United States for sentencing. But the nuns came to Prohaska’s defense, writing letters praising his transformation in character and the LaClede county judge was persuaded to give him probation.
Many agree that the one positive effect resulting from the investigation appears to be a bill passed in June of 1975 providing stiffer regulation of all music festivals held in the state of Missouri. But, years afterward, the mere mention of “that rock festival” brings indignation from nearly any silver-haired Sedalian who resided in the town in 1974. For every resident with an unpleasant memory, however, there are countless individuals across the country in their 40's and 50's with fond recollections.
The Georgia businessman who asked to be referred to only as Vincent, remembers the Ozark Music Festival as one of the last golden moments of the era of protest. He contends that the music and drugs were a means of defying a corrupt establishment that had sent thousands of young men to their deaths in Viet Nam. He was 23 that summer, but he had left his boyhood home in New Jersey a year earlier to travel the country as a “liver of life,” finding his way to all of the concerts and festivals where, for a moment, “we could step out of society” and “express our individuality.”
One month after the Sedalia festival, on the evening of August 14, Vincent was in the audience at the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young concert in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. He claims that the climactic moment when Stephen Stills stepped onto the stage and announced Nixon’s resignation is permanently etched in his mind. “I will never forget the roar of the crowd. Everyone was cheering because Nixon was the symbol of everything we were pissed off about,” recalls Vincent. “And then, that night, we all knew it was time to go home---time to conform, time to get a job, time to make a family.”
Like Vincent, most of those who came to the festival to “step out” now shoulder the responsibilities of the social structure many of them once questioned. They smoked their last joint, cut their hair, made commitments, and embraced a political consciousness as a conservative or a liberal. Like Vincent, they will never forget the restlessness of the late sixties and early seventies which shaped their perspectives as adults and they will never forget being a part of a cultural phenomenon of their youth: a rock festival in a small Missouri town somewhere between Kansas City and St. Louis.