Woodstock may be the best-known rock festival, but is likely that the Ozark Music Festival held over the weekend of July 19-21, 1974 was one of the very biggest. It is estimated that around 350,000 people turned up at the Missouri State Fairgrounds in Sedalia. Initially, the company that organized the event said they would sell no more than 50,000 tickets, but it was obvious from the Thursday evening that it was going to be way bigger, as people arrived from far and wide, despite the first bands not scheduled to play until the Friday.
The lineup was stellar with Bachman Turner Overdrive as the national headliners – their single “Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” was on its way to topping the Billboard chart. America had already topped the charts 2 years earlier with “A Horse With No Name,” scored a couple of other top ten hits, and were heading for another American top 5 record with “Tin Man.”
According to Dewey Bunnell of America: “It was just another stop on our endless summer tour of 1974 so we were pretty buzzed, but I do remember we arrived in a helicopter on the last day and it was incredibly hot! Everyone was sweating and sunburned! Flying in we could see it was a very large festival and the first thing I remember seeing as we stepped off the chopper was a bloody t-shirt amid the debris backstage. Dan was from Missouri so he was happy to be playing this big festival in his home state and I think he had relatives waiting. It was obvious that the previous 2 days had taken a toll on the audience, but everyone was having a great time. When we took the stage the festival crew were spraying water and beer on the crowd. I remember we just joined the masses and had a good show, interacting with the smiling faces and half-naked crowd.”
While the Eagles hit singles may not have been as big as America’s, their first two albums had done well on the chart in the USA, and so they were considered headliners as well. Similarly, Joe Walsh and Barnstorm had done well on the album chart with their second long-player, The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get. The Marshall Tucker Band from Spartanburg, South Carolina was making a name for themselves with their brand of Southern Rock.
The festival was billed as one featuring bluegrass as well as rock so it was that The Earl Scruggs Revue and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band were included. Other bands not on the poster that played included The Ozark Mountain Daredevils and The Southern Hillman Furay Band – refugees from The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and The Flying Burrito Brothers; the cream of California country rock.
Others that played but went unbilled on the poster include, Aerosmith, Blue Oyster Cult, and Boz Scaggs. There was apparently even an English band that played – Babe Ruth. Not a household name by any means and it would be interesting to know how they ended up on the bill. Bizarrely, the Italian prog band, Premiata Forneria Marconi also played, and given the rest of the bill it’s hard to imagine how they went over; let’s just hope they didn’t have to follow a bluegrass band.
Given the breadth and depth of the performers, the Ozark Music Festival can justifiably claim to be one of the ten all-time great gatherings of the era. We’ll leave the last word to The Missouri Senate and a committee report on the event. “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.”