Note: This column completes the Peace At Pittsburg Rock Rock Festival – 1970 series.
All in all, despite a late start due to electrical problems, the 1970 Peace At Pittsburg rock festival was deemed a success. The highlight being Sunday’s 15 hours of entertainment that included performances by Man Alive, Kansas and The Jerry Hahn Brotherhood.
There was a rush of anxiety, though, when a brush fire started shortly before midnight Sunday and threatened to enter the festival grounds as 25 mile an hour winds kicked up and it got into the trees. But, with the help of many ‘hippies,’ it was brought under control by the rural volunteer fire department.
But the festival came to an abrupt and somber close at 7 a.m. Monday, Sept. 6, after two teenagers from Missouri sleeping on the grounds were run over by an exiting car.
An 18-year-old Raytown woman spent 13 days at Research Medical Center in Kansas City. A 19-year-old Kirkwood, Mo. man spent three days in Mt. Carmel Medical Center. Two Columbus attendees were later convicted and fined in Cherokee County for reckless driving and failure to report an accident.
The mood had been genuinely joyful through Sunday with promoters Kenny Ossana and Fulton Wilhelm considering continuing the festival through Tuesday, as bands were still wanting to play.
The sobering accident brought an end to that. Stage manager and emcee Marc Marcano made the closing announcement around 10:30 a.m. The throng of approximately 4,000 on hand early Monday before the accident had dwindled to 150 by noon.
Where did they go? A few went on to join or form communes and live the alternative, hippie lifestyle. But most went back to their homes and jobs as railroaders, electricians, farmers, bankers, insurance salesmen, bricklayers, etc. Or back to college where they eventually became schoolteachers, nurses, counselors, accountants, engineers and social workers. In my case, it was finishing my senior year at KSC and on to become a juvenile probation officer in Crawford County.
As for my personal experiences at the festival, even as I’ve revisited them these past few weeks in my writing, they remain elusive; like a string of dreams I can’t quite bring completely into focus — as in Neil Young’s “Only A Dream”: “It's a dream, only a dream. And it's fading now, fading away. Just a memory without anywhere to stay.”
I do remember a distinctive musical camaraderie, by which I mean the high tingle that happens when musicians and singers perform before an audience – whether at a house concert, a church, a concert hall or an outdoor rock concert.
What my friend Don Viney was speaking to, years back, in reference to a view that you don’t need to be part of a group to be spiritual, “Yes,” he said, “but how do you sing ‘The Hallelujah Chorus’ by yourself?”
In terms of the youth movement, to be sure entrepreneurs and corporate America refashioned the ‘60s counterculture aesthetic into a marketable commodity, ignoring its incisive critique of capitalism. But there was an expansion of consciousness that shifted toward peace, respect and ecological awareness.
In some ways, though, it seems 50 years hence, things haven’t changed all that much. We’re still in a protracted, unwinnable war, there are large protest marches in the streets and the president is calling for increased law and order.
As for local the townspeople’s views on the festival, a couple of Headlight-Sun letters to the editor in the days after its close expressed decided differences of opinion. Mrs. Grace Higby, who described herself as a 35-year-old divorcee, attended the festival with her 15-year-old daughter to see for herself.
Higby said the gathering was indeed peaceful and that she and her daughter were treated with respect (addressed as ‘ladies’). She called upon area adults to give young people a chance – let them be heard; try and understand them rather than criticize them. As for outrageous behavior at the festival, Higby wrote, “Without a doubt I can truly say this much — I have attended wilder Christmas parties.”
Mrs. Harold Daugherty had a different view. Her letter to the editor opened with, “How about a little soul, Man! Soul satisfaction, that is.” She went on to ask if being entertained by blaring, blasting brass, overworked vocals and vulgar body gyrations was “soul satisfaction” as well as questioning the “soul satisfaction” of organizers filling their purses regardless of tragic results to young lives.
When it came to “filling purses,” the free admission festival appears to have paid off for the vendors only. According to an article by Gary Rice of the Kansas City Star, neither the farmer, the organizers, nor the musicians received a penny. “It was all a freebie,” Bob Golay of Fatty Lumpkin told him.
On a humorous note, following the festival, there was a short piece in the Headlight-Sun about the Kansas Geological Survey receiving a letter — forwarded to them from the Kansas Department of Economic Development — inquiring about the “rock festival at Pittsburg.” Apparently a worker at the KDED thought the rock festival had something to do with geology.
As for farmer Fiorn Meyer, even after its close, he continued to take heat from his neighbors for not running the festivalgoers off his land. He steadfastly believed he’d made the right decision, though.
Had he taken measures to evacuate the property, Meyer told Len Kazmierski of the Headlight-Sun, it would have made for trouble, not only on the grounds but also in area towns. He then summed up his feelings about his neighbors’ attitudes and treatment of him with, “I wish everybody I talked to and had to deal with were as pleasant as those youngsters were.”
Note: Special thanks to those who agreed to be interviewed and provided photographs for this series. Also to Bill Anderson and Carol Ann Robb who took the time to dig out old Headlight-Sun and Kansas City Star articles, without which this series would not have been possible. — J.T. Knoll
J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and eulogist. He also operates Knoll Training & Consulting in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 231-0499 or email@example.com