(Second of two parts. Part one here.)
Wadena was—and is—a town in Fayette County, Iowa, population about 250. It’s located approximately as far from Dubuque as it is from Waterloo, northeast of one and northwest of the other. Forty years ago this week, it was the flashpoint for a conflict between concert promoters planning a rock festival and local and state officials trying to stop it. On Friday, July 31, 1970, while bands loitered in hotels and fans waited at the site, attorneys argued in front of a judge. Late that afternoon, the festival got grudging permission to go ahead, and the first band, Fuse, hit the stage.
The festival crowd was estimated at 40,000. From Friday night through Sunday night, their every need—for food, drink, souvenirs, and drugs—was met by vendors on the site. And all the while, there was music. News stories appearing in Iowa newspapers that weekend did not usually mention the performers, perhaps believing the names would mean little to their adult readers. And as was the case at other festivals of this type, not all of the publicized acts appeared—the Who didn’t make it to little Wadena, as advertised at the beginning of the week—but the Everly Brothers and Little Richard did, with Little Richard going on at 4AM Saturday morning. Johnny Winter, Rotary Connection, Buffy Ste. Marie, Mason Proffit, Chicken Shack, Luther Allison, and Albert King also played that weekend.
When the music ended Sunday night, most of the attendees cleared out, with only a few hundred hanging on into Monday. They, too, eventually dispersed, leaving only trash behind. The general consensus of local residents was that things were not as bad as they could have been. That, too, was part of the pattern from earlier festivals. But so was the post-festival legal retribution.
On Sunday night, Sound Storm, Inc., was slapped with a million-dollar lawsuit by Fayette County, claiming that everything the promoters had done was “illegal from start to finish” and seeking restitution for the county’s expenses as well as damages. The Fayette County attorney noted that there were only a dozen-or-so drug arrests, and he criticized law enforcement officials for “turn[ing] your heads not to make arrests.” Iowa Governor Robert Ray, who had attended the festival on Saturday and mingled with the kids, joined in the criticism. (Pundits would wonder whether public reaction to the festival would have an impact on Ray’s reelection bid that fall.) Officials of the Fayette County Fair, which had been going on over the weekend, blamed the festival for cutting its gate receipts by 25 to 50 percent. The U.S. Department of Agriculture even got involved, to determine if the festival had violated any federal regulations.
After the jump: The festival aftermath keeps lawyers employed for years.