WADENA — “It had all the elements, people, drugs, sex and rock ‘n’ roll, lawsuits, tripped-out hippies and parents looking for their runaways, ” wrote a Gazette reporter who covered the Wadena Rock Festival in 1970.
The festival was supposed to be held in Galena, Ill. An injunction against Sound Storm Enterprises Inc. of Chicago, sponsor of the festival, put a stop to that, and the company began looking at sites in Wisconsin and Iowa in case its appeal fell through. They had invested $89, 000 in the venture and were determined it would be held somewhere from July 31 to Aug. 2.
An announcement of the purchase July 25 of the 220-acre Clarence Schmitt farm, about two miles west of Wadena, by Wadena Development Co., an associate firm of Sound Storm, came as a shock to Fayette County officials. They tried feverishly to get an injunction filed against the rock festival in the three days before it commenced.
“We are not crotchety old men — instantly opposed to rock festivals — but we have no alternative other than to take action against the one planned in Wadena, ” Fayette County Attorney Walter Sauer said July 28. Officials voiced concerns about safety, pollution and sanitation. The state health department was called in, while highway patrolmen studied traffic problems, especially the dusty gravel road leading to the site along the Volga River.
As the town fought to keep the rock festival from happening, it happened. More than 12, 000 people already were at the site July 30 and thousands kept coming. At the peak of the event Aug. 1, the crowd was estimated at 40, 000. The concert attendees told reporters they had known about the festival for several weeks.
A legal tangle surrounding the festival started Tuesday with an injunction filed by Supreme Court Justice C. Edwin Moore. The festival sponsor challenged it in Clayton County. The injunction was modified Friday to permit the festival if sanitation rules were met and a permit obtained. The tangle unraveled. Sound Storm rushed 100 portable toilets to the scene and several farmers leased farmland to Sound Storm for parking.
Festival attendees, waiting in the scorching, 90-degree heat for an afternoon without music, cheered the decision as the festival got underway.
Some of the rock groups that played in the continuous program were Johnny Winter, The Fuse, Illinois Speed Press, Rotary Connection, the Flying Burrito Brothers, the Chicken Shack, Mason Profit, Buffie St. Marie and Little Richard. Wine, beer and drugs were easily available along with sno-cones in the searing heat.