The ‘last of the big, stupid, uncontrolled’ festivals: Documentary explores infamous 1974 Ozark Music Festival

By Mike Genet
The Examiner

Jefferson Lujin is ready for his hometown to see a longtime project tied to perhaps Sedalia’s most infamous page in the history books. 

Lujin, a local filmmaker who also works at Scandinavia Place in Independence, has spent parts of more than 13 years piecing together a documentary on the Ozark Music Festival, a one-time event that spanned July 19-21, 1974, and rivaled Woodstock from five years earlier for its scale, if not national lore. 

Of the clichéd “sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll,” Lujin said, “There was an abundance of all of it, and then maybe a fourth element, which we’ll call X.” 

“The guy who was in charge of the stage called it the ‘last of the big, stupid, uncontrolled’ festivals.” 

Next month, July 16-19, he will show “The Story of the Ozark Music Festival: 3 Days of Sodom and Gomorrah in Sedalia, Missouri” at Sedalia’s Liberty Center theater.  

“My main goal is laughs first, history second,” Lujin said. 

Lujin, who was 3 years old in Sedalia when the festival happened at the Missouri State Fairgrounds, has long been fascinated by that weekend and has spent “every bit of” $100,000, traveled to states as far away as Arizona, Nevada and New York to interview about 140 people – some of whom have since died – and cobbled together film clips to piece together the film. He debuted an early rendering of it seven years ago in Sedalia, but this is a more polished product. 

“It’s as finished as it will be, with my finances,” Lujin said. “If it didn’t go any further, I’d be happy with it.” 

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Jefferson Lujin of Independnece grew up in Sedalia, Missouri and has spent years making a documentary about the infamous Ozark Music Festival at the State Fairgrounds in 1974. The film is being screened next month.

The Ozark Music Festival left part of the fairgrounds trashed and prompted investigations

While the Ozark Music Festival had been billed in town as “bluegrass and folk rock” with no more than 50,000 tickets sold, it was advertised in Rolling Stone magazine and became obvious even the day before that figure – and all the planned logistics – were woefully low. At least twice the many fans showed up – with some estimates up to  350,000 – and high heat permeated through the weekend.  

The 27-band schedule included such acts as the Eagles, Aerosmith, Joe Walsh, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, the Marshall Tucker Band, REO Speedwagon, America, Bachman Turner Overdrive, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jefferson Starship, Boz Skaggs, Charlie Daniels and Bob Seger. An up-and-coming Bruce Springsteen had been billed on the concert poster but ran into transportation problems and ultimately didn’t play. Wolfman Jack was the host. 

No matter the number of people there, then four or five portable toilets on hand were clearly inadequate, hundreds of drug overdoses included one death (among Lujin’s interviewees was a man thought to be dead from an overdose who somehow revived) and a nearby corn fields and even a couple cows and pigs were pillaged for food. 

Afterwards, with a part of the fairgrounds trashed and the state fair weeks away, crews used lime to disinfect the area and bulldozed the topsoil to get rid of the leftover drugs, paraphernalia and other articles. 

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Another one of the acts, Ted Nugent, as a guest on a talk show years later, called the craziest scene he’d witnessed in his life. 

“There were reasons to be unnerved,” Lujin said of Sedalia’s citizens at the time. “Everyone’s yards were affected.” 

“It wasn’t talked about, not by the founding fathers,” he said. “The people that were in control of the town certainly considered it an embarrassment.”  

For longtime Kansas City-based concert promoter Chris Fritz, it marked his first large music event, Lujin said – and the man is still banned from Sedalia, and the state fair didn’t book rock bands for about 15 years. 

The festival spawned investigations by both the Highway Patrol – which had undercover agents in attendance – and a Missouri State Senate committee that in its report declared the event could only be described a “disaster” and that “The scene made the degradation of Sodom and Gomorrah appear mild.” 

Still, Lujin said, “The bands all showed up, everybody got paid and the power only went out to the town once.” 

As of now, the Sedalia theater is the only place Lujin is scheduled to show The Story of the Ozark Music Festival,” though he’s hoping to schedule a showing on the Independence Square. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased both at Scandinavia Place and at Backwoods Guitar in Sedalia. 

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