Schwag frontman Jimmy Tebeau says Camp Zoe is an idyllic campground for weekend hippie jam fests. Federal prosecutors beg to differ.

Schwag frontman Jimmy Tebeau says Camp Zoe is an idyllic campground for weekend hippie jam fests. Federal prosecutors beg to differ.
Courtesy Jimmy Tebeau

Drink all day and rock all night
Law come to get you if you don't walk right
— Robert Hunter

The Ozark region of southern Missouri is not renowned as a hotbed of psychedelic rock. Heritage-wise, the rolling hills and winding rivers have proven conducive to jug bands and dexterously plucked banjos, not jam bands and fifteen-minute guitar solos. But every summer since 2004, thousands of tie-dyed hippies have descended on the Ozarks as though it were Haight-Ashbury circa 1967.

This annual Summer of Love revival in the heart of hillbilly country is largely the work of Jimmy Tebeau. An ebullient 43-year-old who sports a chest-length red beard and a thick tangle of dreadlocks, Tebeau is the bass player and frontman of a St. Louis-based Grateful Dead tribute band called the Schwag. When the Dead's legendary lead singer Jerry Garcia died in 1995, the act, which had formed three years prior, was suddenly a hot ticket. In the summer of 1997, Tebeau organized the first Schwagstock music festivals, a series of weekend events headlined by the Schwag and staged at campgrounds in the Ozarks. The shows were popular — drawing upward of 7,000 people five times per summer — and Tebeau saw an opportunity to expand.

Jimmy Tebeau bought Camp Zoe to give Schwagstock events — and his family — a bucolic permanent home.
Jennifer Silverberg
Jimmy Tebeau bought Camp Zoe to give Schwagstock events — and his family — a bucolic permanent home.
'Stocking feat: The Schwag's series of events at Camp Zoe attracted crowds — and, local and federal law-enforcement authorities allege, drugs galore.
Courtesy Jimmy Tebeau
'Stocking feat: The Schwag's series of events at Camp Zoe attracted crowds — and, local and federal law-enforcement authorities allege, drugs galore.

"The [campground] rent started becoming twice the amount of total cost of a land payment for one year," the singer explains. "It only made sense to buy a campground and customize the property to cater to this regular series of events."

About 150 miles southwest of St. Louis, near the tiny town of Salem, Tebeau found exactly what he was looking for: a 352-acre tract, bucolic and picturesque, with access to the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. From 1929 to 1986, it had been the site of a youth summer camp called Camp Zoe. In order to muster a down payment on the $530,000 parcel, Tebeau refinanced his home mortgage and borrowed money from family members. Relocating to his new spread along with his wife, Tiffany, and their two children, Tebeau resolved to resurrect the old campsite's name, wooing concertgoers with a mix of music and the great outdoors.

"It's just kind of a fun concept," says Andy Coco, whose band the Dogtown Allstars has played several Schwagstocks. "I really enjoyed being in the middle of nowhere and having a body of water to jump in and stuff like that."

Tebeau hosted a variety of events at Camp Zoe, including the Pagan Spirit Gathering, the Bluegrass Jam, biker rallies and Gateway Burners, a gathering inspired by Burning Man. He estimates that the camp has attracted more than 150,000 visitors since 2004.

With the crowds came the party.

James Mullins, a disc jockey at KDHX (88.1 FM) who volunteered to work the public-address system and spin records between sets at several Camp Zoe events, says the Schwagstock festivals in particular developed a reputation for debauchery.

"It's a stereotype that all people that go to this are heavy into drugs," Mullins says. "So there were folks that, word-of-mouth, were saying, 'Hey, go to Schwagstock; it's a hippie festival — anything goes.' I think there were probably some folks that were going for that. Not that that's why Schwagstock happened, but I'm sure some folks were thinking that."

Local entertainment lawyer Emmett McAuliffe, Tebeau's attorney and a personal friend, says goings-on at the campground were no different from what transpires at any other music festival or large gathering.

"You have problems in society at-large — drug use, violence, drunken driving, et cetera," says McAuliffe. "When you get people assembled for a recreational event, those problems are not going to disappear. As a matter of fact, you expect them to get a little worse — because it's the weekend, after all."

McAuliffe adds that Tebeau went to great lengths to keep things under control, including hiring security guards and installing lighting in high-traffic areas around the campground.

"Camp Zoe did everything that all other festivals and amphitheaters do for security, and perhaps more," the attorney says. "[Jimmy] has got a four-year-old and a two-year-old. The last thing he would want is a bunch of drug-crazed weirdos camping out on his front doorstep."

Tebeau's efforts notwithstanding, several festival attendees and performers say that in recent years the scene at the campground had gotten out of hand. One musician, who asked that his name be withheld because he does not want to jeopardize his relationships with members of the jam-band community, tells of car break-ins and thefts from campers' tents.

"There was kind of a weirdness about it, that it was getting a little dirty," says the musician. "The feeling among some of my friends was that Schwagstock was becoming slightly dangerous. Some of the kids were more runaways than they were credit-card hippies."

Concertgoers and musicians weren't the only ones concerned about the happenings at Camp Zoe.

The bacchanals eventually attracted the attention of law-enforcement officials.


Carrie Goebel went to sleep this past Halloween in her own version of paradise. She woke up to a nightmare.

The 46-year-old artist from Warrenton spent the last weekend in October 2010 camping out at Camp Zoe's Spookstock festival. "The weather was great; there were lots of good costumes," Goebel recalls. "Little kids were trick-or-treating from campsite to campsite. It was a good time. It was a great weekend."

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