The Earl Scruggs Revue perform in this unidentified concert that would have been very similar to the one they gave in 1973 at the Ozark Mountain Folkfair near Eureka Springs.
New York had its Woodstock. Monterey, California, had its Pop Festival. In 1973, Arkansas, always a few years behind the rest of the nation, was about to have its own megafestival.
A very impressive concert lineup was announced for the Ozark Mountain Folkfair, a three-day event to take place that Memorial Day weekend at Oak Hill Eco Park, 10 miles north of Eureka Springs near the Arkansas-Missouri border. Performers included The Earl Scruggs Revue, James Cotton Blues Band, Clifton Chenier Cajun Band, Johnny Shines, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Big Mama Thornton, John Hartford, Jimmy Driftwood, Mason Profitt, Rambin’ Jack Elliot, and John Lee Hooker. (Photo galleries of the festival can be found here and here.)
Filmmaker Les Blank, known for his music documentaries, would be honored each night. Also featured at the event would be an arts and crafts village consisting of several master artisans through the Midwest with demonstrations and a farmer’s market.
Helping build the excitement was the approval of the Arkansas State Legislature, which presented to the event’s sponsor, the Ozark Mountain Folklore Association, a citation where it expressed its “full endorsement and appreciation.”
Mike “Supe” Granda, bass player and vocalist for the Springfield, Missouri-based Ozark Mountain Daredevils, recalled in his book, It Shined: The Saga of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, that the performers were housed in Eureka Springs’ Crescent Hotel, where impromptu music jams ensued as thunderstorms and tornado warnings hampered performances on that opening day. Concert-goers – somewhere from 20,000 to 30,000, according to newspaper accounts – were less fortunate and had to hunker down in their tents and cars. But when the rain subsided, the music resumed … with plenty of mud in the hills.
“When we hit the stage that Saturday afternoon, we were ‘the local boys make good’ portion of the show. A wonderful congregation of friends and neighbors gathered on the mountain. The sight of them, stretched out on a hill in front of us, put lumps in our throats and shot us into overdrive. The music elicited wild dancing. ‘Chicken Train’ went into hyperspace, transforming into a tribal chant. We stomped the shit out of our set. The crowd stomped the shit out of the mountain.”
But an Associated Press article about the event presented a slightly less cosmic view. The big news wasn’t that local service had run out of gasoline as a result of the crowds. Higher up in an article was a report of a woman being removed by ambulance from complications of a botched abortion three weeks earlier. The Crisis Intervention Center reported few bad drug trips – just three had to be “talked down” from LSD. That there were only three reported drug problems in an audience of up to 30,000 was still too many in the eyes of a few locals, who viewed the festival differently. A letter to the editor in the Eureka Springs Echo decried the event:
“I weep for these young people, not for what they do to me, but for what they apparently are doing to themselves. They seem to be rushing headlong into an abyss of hollow laughter and synthetic good times. The abyss may become deep and wide, and everlasting.”
While the author of the letter was disgusted, the Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce was livid. It was reportedly uncooperative with the event from its inception. Following the festival, the chamber’s sentiment prompted the resignation of its president, possibly the only sympathetic member to the festival, 26-year-old Don Watson, the Harrison Daily Times reported. Watson told the Chamber he would have liked to have had an opportunity to consult with Folkfair organizers to make the festival “more appealing to families and less appealing to longhairs.” To prove he hadn’t defected to the other side, possibly to appease chamber members, he added, “The board members don’t like hippies.”
The Chamber was apparently more than glad to see Watson step down and accepted his resignation unanimously, adding that their decision to lambaste the festival was “in harmony with a firm resolution pass earlier by the chamber.”
The resolution was probably related to an advertisement the chamber had placed in The Eureka Springs Echo:
“The Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce believes that the Memorial Day Folkfair that took place 10 miles north of Eureka Springs, as conducted, was detrimental to our future growth as a retirement community, our tourist industry, and our general economy. If you share these feelings … voice your opinions. Write your State Representative and State Senator and urge them to work for passage of legislation or taking other possible steps which would help to control such events.”
The Associated Press reported the Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce officials released a poll among its members showing there was “overwhelming support” of the chamber’s opposition to the festival. Adding to the controversy was festival organizer Edd Jeffords’ attempt to join the chamber, which was being stalled, and his claim that the poll was distributed to members who were known opponents of the festival.
But that didn’t stop folks from trying to put on another festival, Granda wrote. There was talk, but that’s all there was. The Ozark Mountain Folkfair never returned.
(Note: For more information, check out the blog entry about the Ozark Mountain Folkfair by April Griffith, library assistant for the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History in Springdale, and her connection to it.)