I have been corresponding with a reader who attended the Iola People’s Fair in 1970. In our most recent exchange, he sent along a couple of interesting items. The first is this pen-and-ink drawing modeled after the psychedelic concert posters made famous in San Francisco and elsewhere, made to promote the show. (As always, click to embiggen.)
A few years ago, I heard from a guy who claimed to have drawn a publicity poster for the event. I don’t think this is the same one, although my old link to that publicity poster goes somewhere else now so I can’t say for sure. He said that he was paid $15 for his work, but that he was lucky to have been paid anything, because none of the bands ever got paid.
Some bands at Iola were indeed not paid; I am skeptical of the claim that all of them were not. It’s hard to imagine that some of the national acts would have quietly accepted getting stiffed; a guy as famously combative as Buddy Rich almost certainly would have not. If he actually played the gig, of course. Publicity for this kind of show often listed performers who never appeared and did not list performers who eventually did. We know, for example, that Iggy and the Stooges were at Iola but had not been mentioned in the publicity. (I would very much like to assemble a definitive list of the bands that performed there.)
The advertisement/info sheet at the left has a more exhaustive list of bands, including many that would have been quite well-known to Upper Midwest hippies. The map showing how to get to the concert location from Stevens Point, the nearest sizable city, would have been very helpful. When I went looking for the site a few years ago, it was fairly remote, requiring me to travel on county roads, town roads, and paths trodden by cows. It’s about 20 miles east of Stevens Point, on the Portage/Waupaca county line.
The ticket prices of $10 in advance and $14 at the gate are equivalent to about $70 and $100 today. The promoters did their best to require paid admissions, although lots of people eventually got in free. From the long list of ticket locations, it looks like the promoters did significant legwork to make tickets available to anybody within a day’s drive of central Wisconsin. This info sheet and the poster above mention Madison-based Earth Enterprises as the promoter, but my past research showed that a company called Concert Promoters International was also involved.
Most of the ticket locations would have been either record stores or head shops. A few of the places on the list are gone but fondly remembered, including Lake Street Station in Madison and 1812 Overture in Milwaukee. (Click that link for some tremendous stories.) “Henry’s Music” in Green Bay, which was actually Henri’s, lasted until 2010. Electric Fetus is still in business in Minneapolis.
The lo-fi nature of this stuff is charming, and highly evocative of bygone times. Imagine having drawn the map, then sticking the map into your typewriter to add the text you wanted, and finally running off copies on a mimeograph machine. Envelopes full of copies were likely sent to the record stores and head shops, and from there they were stuck on message posts, bulletin boards, and windows in towns as remote from little Iola as Flint, Michigan, and Luverne, Minnesota.
I am guessing some of the info sheets also made it to radio stations in the Upper Midwest. Even in the absence of paid advertising (and after all this time, there’s probably no way to tell if there was any), we know that most shows like this were publicized, especially on underground FM stations. But it is likely that pop radio stations talked about it, too, especially in places close to the action: Madison, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Green Bay, Appleton, Oshkosh.
I am grateful to reader Dennis for sharing these artifacts. If you are a late-night old-hippie googler coming across this information for the first time and you have have anything you can add to our collective knowledge of Iola, drop it in the comments, or better yet, send me an e-mail or a Twitter DM.
You can read much more about the Iola People’s Fair, the Wadena Rock Fest, the Sound Storm Festival, and other rock festivals here. Listen to my podcast conversation with an attendee at both Iola and Sound Storm here.