The Ozark Music Festival was held on the Missouri State Fairgrounds, in July 1974 in Sedalia, Missouri. While the Woodstock Festival from 1969 is the most well-known rock festival, the Ozark Music Festival was one of the largest music festivals ever held, while at the same time, it was also one of the least remembered festivals. "No Hassles Guaranteed" was the motto of the festival.
Some estimates have put the crowd count at 350,000 people which would make this one of the largest music events (Rock festivals) in history.
A company called Musical Productions Inc. (MPI) from Kansas City promoted the festival, and assured officials from the Missouri Department of Agriculture (the State agency which oversaw the State Fair) and the Sedalia Chamber of Commerce that the three-day weekend event would be a blue-grass and “pop rock” festival with no more than 50,000 tickets sold.
Even though the Festival was not scheduled to start until Friday, thousands had arrived by Thursday night and there was a steady line of cars, trucks, vans, hitchhikers and even an occasional hippie camper slowly winding towards Sedalia and the fairgrounds.
Posters for the festival announced that some of the best bands in country and southern rock would be performing, including:
Bachman Turner Overdrive
Marshall Tucker Band
The Mahavishnu Orchestra (Scheduled but did not appear)
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes
The Earl Scruggs Revue
Bruce Springsteen (Scheduled but did not appear)
Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band
Other bands not listed on Ozark Music Festival posters but rumored to have attended the concert include:
Joe Walsh and Barnstorm
The Souther Hillman Furay Band
The Ozark Mountain Daredevils
Charlie Daniels Band
On Friday morning, many Sedalians woke up with sleeping hippies, bikers and groupies sprawled across their lawns, and a long line of bumper-to bumper traffic clogging the roads into town. Some residents were not able to get to work, and for many, their fears of impending chaos at the Fairgrounds were realized in the days to come.
Midnight Special MC, Wolfman Jack hosted the event, and was on stage nightly to introduce the groups and to encourage people to stay cool and “clear the light towers of people before they fall."
The stage was a huge double sided affair, with one band performing and a second band ready to go with just the turning on and off of spotlights.
The roar of the crowd was defining when The Eagles dedicated “Already Gone” to Nixon and his impending impeachment. Barnstorm sang “ Rocky Mountainway” as “bases are loaded and Nixon’s at bat;" yet another politically charged moment that brought thousands to their feet cheering.
By Saturday morning the Festival was going full force and the town was in gridlock. The festival had grown to around 184,000 attendees, and all of the bands had to be shuttled in and out by helicopter. Many of the fans were seen walking around the fair grounds naked throughout the festival trying to keep cool and find water, because the heat was significant, leading to an outbreak of Dehydration throughout the grounds. There were long lines at the few water fountains or spigots that worked, even though the water itself was warm.
It is believed that the entire concert was filmed by NBC for future release, but the footage was confiscated by the courts due to the amount of damage done to the city and fairgrounds. This would explain Wolfman Jack's presence and nightly MCing of the concerts. While this may be rumored, as a person setting up and taking the bands down, I never witnessed NBC filming anything back stage.
Wolfman Jack would be in one of the numerous RV's parked behind the stage nightly to make announcements as needed. One time when the crowd was climbing on the towers, I personally went to get him. It was a "pot-smoke" filled trailer with plently of girls.
The "No Hassles Guaranteed" advertisement was supposedly meant to be a clear indication that the festival would be a wide open drug event and that the community would soon be invaded by tens of thousands of drug culture groupies.
Drugs were bought and sold openly, and some people reported an entire roll of “drug” vendors set up with signs and sample products. People were observed carrying milk cartons filled with marijuana for sale, and many even wore hand-made signs around their necks advertising 'Hash for sale'.
The PA system in the campgrounds interspersed messages of lost people with cautionary advice to avoid overdosing. Couples were observed openly engaging in sexual activity.
If you attended and felt safe during the Festival it was because The Hells Angels biker club acted as the law on the fairgrounds. And it has been reported that several brothels were set up in buses on the fairgrounds under the supervision of these guardians.
Hourly helicopters flights by the Missouri National Guard flew over the two main stages, carrying drug overdoses away from the festival.
There were only about three liquor stores open at the time and by Saturday they were all totally sold out. No more could be ordered because the traffic was so thick you couldn't bring any trucks in. The only place to buy beer was the local grocery store and people report waiting in line three hours to get it.
By Monday, July 22, the festival crowd had left, leaving a field of garbage behind. Damage estimates of $100,000 were reported, and with the Missouri State Fair only a few weeks away the fairgrounds had to be cleaned up quickly. Damage and garbage remained, along with a lingering few waiting around for their friends who had been sent to medical facilities for treatment for dehydration.
After the festival the city of Sedalia only had a few weeks to clean the whole mess up for the Missouri State fair, so helicopters were used for spraying lime over the fairgrounds as a precaution against the possible outbreak of disease.
On the ground, Bulldozers scraped up the topsoil, which was (reportedly) littered with discarded drug paraphernalia and gnawed cobs of corn from a neighboring field along with Mountains of contaminated dirt and garbage which were hauled to the county landfills.
The Missouri Senate met in October 1974 and discussed the events of the music festival in the committee report. The report states that, "The Ozark Music Festival can only be described as a disaster. It became a haven for drug pushers who were attracted from throughout the United States. The scene made the degradation of Sodom and Gomorrah appear mild. Natural and unnatural sex acts became a spectator sport ... Frequently, nude women promoted drugs with advertisements on their bodies." But most people there had an incredible time; the people setting up the event failed to prepare properly for the large crowds (the government had to step in to help).