After the much-publicized Woodstock Festival in New York in August 1969, anything seemed possible for music promoters. Gathering hundreds of thousands of young music lovers in one location, with peace, love, rampant drug use and limited sanitation facilities, what could possibly go wrong?
As it turned out, quite a lot could go wrong. A few of the huge rock festivals in the wake of Woodstock were plagued by deaths, violence, and a sense of lawlessness that led to a decline in the number of such festivals. Here are five post-Woodstock festivals that ended badly.
5. Ozark Music Festival
Imagine a concert in the summer of 1974 featuring the following classic rock groups: Aerosmith, The Eagles, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bob Seger, Ted Nugent, Blue Oyster Cult, Bachman Turner Overdrive and America. Probably sounded almost too good to be true for music fans in that era, but those bands and many more popular acts performed at the Ozark Music Festival, July 19-21, 1974 at the Missouri State Fairgrounds in Sedalia, Missouri.
Concert promoters assured town officials no more than 50,000 fans would attend. Instead, anywhere from 160,000 to 350,000 people crowded into the fairgrounds, turning the event into a logistical nightmare for local residents and law enforcement officials. The massive traffic jam effectively shut down Sedalia. Inside the fairgrounds, drug use was openly flaunted, and one fan died from an overdose. More than 800 people had to be treated for drug overdoses, many so critical they had to be transported to local hospitals. Scorching heat and limited water and food supplies compounded the problems for many fans. After the concert, festival-goers left behind an epic pile of debris. Such was the fallout from the event that there were even hearings in the Missouri State Legislature to assign blame for the debacle. Almost 40 years later, the Ozark Music Festival has been largely forgotten, overshadowed by more popular music festivals of the era.
4. August Jam
The August Jam, which took place Aug. 10, 1974 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina, featured a lineup of popular performers that included the Allman Brothers, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Foghat, the Marshall Tucker Band, the Ozark Mountain Daredevils and several other name bands from the era. The Eagles were scheduled to play but canceled. The star-studded lineup and heavy promotion attracted more than 200,000 fans, resulting in myriad problems. Fans tired of waiting in long lines to get in the concert tore down fences surrounding the speedway. Security dogs were trampled to death, and some fans were injured. Fans briefly took over a police command post before being run off. To make matters worse, rain turned the grass infield into a mud bog. A bigger mess ensued in the years after the concert, as legal action was taken to collect damages for the mayhem.
3. Powder Ridge Rock Festival
It’s hard to say a concert ended badly if it never began at all, but the Powder Ridge Rock Festival was notorious for its cancelation. Legal action by residents of the Powder Ridge Ski Area in Middlefield, Connecticut, resulted in a court injunction delaying the 1970 concert, but as many as 50,000 fans showed up nonetheless to find … nothing. Only a couple of music acts showed up. Drug use, especially of hallucinogens, was so heavy at Powder Ridge it alarmed even medical personnel who’d been at Woodstock.
2. Woodstock 1999
Held to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the original Woodstock festival, the three-day Woodstock 1999 deteriorated into such mayhem that even reporters covering the event fled for their lives. Held July 23-25, 1999, at a former U.S. Air Force base in Rome, New York, the festival drew an estimated 200,000 people who came to see bands such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica, Rage Against the Machine, Creed, Bush, Sheryl Crow and more. However, by the festival’s end, the big story was not the music, but the dangerous conditions. Temperatures above 100 degrees and limited water supplies and portable toilets created a climate of despair among many. While there were reports of some violence and looting on the second day, during the final day, fans set bonfires and looted ATM machines and merchandise trailers. Police in riot gear arrived to disperse the crowd. Police also investigated several alleged rapes.
1. Altamont Speedway Free Festival
This Dec. 6, 1969 concert in northern California featured the Rolling Stones as headliners, but the real headlines happened off-stage, when a teenager wielding a gun was stabbed to death by a member of the Hells Angels. The biker was charged with murder but acquitted after jurors saw film of the incident. The motorcycle gang had been hired by the Rolling Stones to provide security for the band, with their pay alleged to be $500 worth of beer. The crowd, fueled by drugs and the lawless atmosphere, became increasingly unruly, resulting in several accidental deaths, numerous injuries, stolen cars and other mayhem. Even band members were victimized — a documentary film of the event, Gimme Shelter, shows a Hells Angel knocking Jefferson Airplane member Marty Balin unconscious with a punch. The situation deteriorated to the point that the Grateful Dead, scheduled to play the penultimate set before the Rolling Stones, left without performing.
Attendance was estimated at some 300,000. Coming only a few months after the Woodstock concert in New York seemed to usher in a benign new era of peace, love and rampant drug use with no consequences at large music festivals, Altamont ended that dream.
One More: Celebration of Life Festival
This June 1971 concert along the Atchafalaya River near McCrea, Louisiana, was billed as an eight-day festival featuring a diverse list of performers, including the Allman Brothers, B.B. King, James Gang, Chuck Berry, Buddy Miles, Ravi Shankar and the Voices of Harlem. The event was delayed four days as promoters wrestled with legal issues, and things went downhill from there. Two people drowned in the river, another died of a drug overdose and scores of concertgoers were arrested for drug use. Only a handful of groups scheduled to perform made it on stage before the crowd of some 50,000 fans.