Resurrected after 40 years, the infamous Ozark Music Festival will live again July 19 and 20 with an 84-minute film premiere created by Jeff Lujin, owner of Dustbin Film LLC in Independence.
“The Ozark Music Festival: 3 Days of Sodom and Gomorrah” will be shown at Convention Hall at Liberty Park in two different screenings Saturday evening July 19 and a Sunday July 20 matinee.
The rock n’ roll festival that brought in bands such as Aerosmith, The Eagles, Lynyrd Skynyrd and REO Speedwagon, blindsided Sedalia at the time with approximately 180,000 to 200,000 rowdy fans pouring into town. Fans ran amok while drugs flowed, crimes were committed and one man lost his life during the festival.
Lujin, formerly of Sedalia and a 1989 Sacred Heart High School graduate, has been working on the documentary for six years.
“Well it wasn’t what I expected,” Lujin said of making the film. “I initially started out six years ago thinking that we’d be done for the 35th anniversary, that it would be a short film and it’s turned into a sort of an epic. We’ve interviewed over 200 people and are pretty sure we’ve found every scrap of film that can be found out there. I’m pretty certain that I’m the world’s biggest expert on the Ozark Music Festival.”
Lujin, 43, became involved with creating the film because a friend sent him an undercover Missouri State Highway Patrol report about the event six years ago.
“I knew about the festival but didn’t have any idea about what had gone on,” he said. “You hear about it growing up, it made for quite a read. My wife and I were looking at the time for a project to do and film to do a documentary on. So it seemed perfect.”
Lujin said he wouldn’t call the festival a perfect storm but added that several unforeseen elements came together that increased the crowd size.
One interview subject told Lujin the crowd was estimated to be “as low as 100,000 and as high as a trillion.” The Missouri State Senate committee that investigated the festival afterward estimated the crowd at 180,000. Lujin’s best guess was between 180,000 to 200,000.
“And certainly having something this size in the middle of town — most of your festivals were out in a field,” he added. “This was in the middle of Sedalia and that compounded the problems and the panic. A lot of people who worked this, mentioned later that this was a wake-up call as far as how not to handle a big festival.”
He added he thought many people were hoping the documentary would be like the Woodstock film, filled with great music coverage.
“But we are focusing on things that the Woodstock movie didn’t,” he said. “Promoters, of course people from Sedalia — the music is there, but it wasn’t filmed professionally. So we’ve stitched together everything that we can.”
Lujin has 20 minutes of concert footage, plus he includes news footage from Kansas City.
“It’s certainly interview driven but we’ve done it in such a way that you’re not bored by talking heads,” he noted.
The most difficult aspect of putting the documentary together was fundraising, Lijin said.
“I used a lot of my own (money) when we started,” he said. “Most of our financial support came from Sedalia. We did a fundraiser there two years ago at the Liberty Center and we raised quite a bit. And we’ve sold T-shirts here and there, but I didn’t think it was going to cost as much as it has. A lot of the money from this premiere will go toward fine-tuning it.”
In total the cost of producing the film has been around $90,000, of which Lujin has contributed $70,000.
“(For) some of our best interviews we had to go to New York and Arizona,” he said.
Lujin interviewed John McCeuen with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in New York and families of the deceased promoters of the film in Arizona.
“And some other behind the scenes guys,” he added. “That had a lot of film and had a lot of stories.”
Lujin said it has been worth all the work he’s put into the film these last few years.
“It’s really turned into something I didn’t expect,” he noted. “There’s a wide range of stuff going on in this story. I kind of approached it at first like it was going to be a comedy, and there’s a lot of funny stuff. But then a lot of dark stuff too that I didn’t anticipate. When I first read about it, the Highway Patrol report just seemed like uptight cops freaking out about naked hippies. And that’s part of it, sure.”
Lujin said they had great interviews with patrolmen and other law enforcement officers.
“They enlightened us to what some of the darker elements per se that went on,” he said.
Lujin found through his interviews that several rapes took place during the festival and people were physically attacked. And of course one man, Allan Richard Cragnotti, 22, from Blue Island, Ill., lost his life while at the festival.
“And a lot of people’s careers were kind of affected by the repercussions of this,” Lujin said. “People in Sedalia particularly, Ron Jones who was the director of the fairgrounds, who sadly declined to do an interview with us. He took a lot of the brunt of the blame from what we understand. I think the whole thing took everybody by surprise.”
Lujin added that the Missouri State Senate committee that investigated the incident pursued a mob conspiracy angle when they looked into the festival’s promotions.
“One of the promoters did have some loose mob connections,” he added. “Immediately alarms go off. We’re tackling all the rumors, some were true some weren’t. And again this is hard to prove one way or another, because 40 years on, a lot of documents and a lot of witnesses they’re gone.”
Lujin credits several people for their interviews, including the late U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton, Dr. and Mrs A.J. Campbell, of Sedalia, and former state Sen. Jim Mathewson.
“We did not have a bad interview,” he said. “Everyone gave us something, I don’t regret doing any interview.”
Lujin manages the Scandinavia Place in Independence and credits owners state Rep. Ira Anders and his wife Nina for their support with the documentary and also Laura Burris, the film’s production manager, but added he’ll be glad to be finished with the project.
“It will be nice when I’m done with this to listen to some different music,” he said laughing. “You edit these things for dozens of hours and you get one song stuck in your head for a week.”
Show times for “The Ozark Music Festival 3 Days of Sodom and Gomorrah,” will be at 7 and 9 p.m. Saturday, July 19 and at 2 p.m. Sunday, July 20. It will be at Convention Hall at Liberty Park; tickets cost $20 per person and can be purchased at Instrumental Influence, 3127 W. Broadway Blvd. or by calling Lujin at 816-808-1266 or at the Scandinavia Place at 816- 461-6633.