He's Gone: As Schwagstock founder Jimmy Tebeau enters federal prison, should other music-festival organizers worry about on-site drug use?

He's Gone: As Schwagstock founder Jimmy Tebeau enters federal prison, should other music-festival organizers worry about on-site drug use?
Jennifer Silverberg

Anybody who has ever attended Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Coachella, Sasquatch or other major summer music festivals understands that drugs are an inescapable part of the experience. Many people enjoy the show sober. Others stick to alcohol. But inevitably there are thousands of people stoned out of their skulls, on every hallucinogen under the sun. It has been that way since the Woodstock era, when "sex, drugs and rock & roll" was a to-do list as much as an ethos.

So on November 1, 2010, when federal agents swarmed Camp Zoe, a 330-acre campground and festival venue in rural Missouri owned by the frontman of a Grateful Dead tribute band, their big announcement after four years of undercover investigation was less than shocking: People at a jam-band festival called Schwagstock were buying, selling and consuming marijuana, mushrooms, LSD, ecstasy and other drugs.

Who knew, right?

The more alarming revelation was that Jimmy Tebeau, the man federal prosecutors aimed to hold responsible for the drug activity, was not actually a drug dealer. He was the venue owner, concert promoter and lead singer of the Schwag, the festival's headlining act. Federal prosecutors contended Schwagstock was "an illegal drug haven, with its music as a side offering."

"We didn't view this as a music-festival prosecution," says Richard Callahan, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri. "We viewed it as somebody who was using a festival site to promote illegal drug sales and profit off of that. We thought there was a difference between a music festival with incidental drug use and a drug festival with incidental music. We believe in this case it was the latter rather than the former."

At first prosecutors weren't sure what charges to press against Tebeau. They used asset-forfeiture proceedings to take his land and freeze his bank accounts (see "Shakedown Street," published in the February 3, 2011, issue of Riverfront Times). Finally, six months after the raid on Tebeau's property, they accused him of "maintaining a drug involved premises" — a violation originally intended to punish landlords who lease houses to crack dealers.

One long-time friend describes Tebeau as "a low-key guy who doesn't like a lot of confrontation," but the 45-year-old with a bushy red beard and long dreadlocks is still indignant about being charged under the so-called Crack House Statute.

"That's not me at all," Tebeau says. "We're talking about a 330-acre campground, and I'm putting on music festivals. I'm paying for the sins of others. Some people were ingesting some drugs at the property and selling drugs, which I wasn't affiliated with in any way, shape or form."

Last June Tebeau reluctantly accepted a plea bargain. Had he gone to trial, he faced the possibility of a nine-year sentence. The government possessed overwhelming evidence that he at least tacitly allowed certain drugs to be bought and sold at Schwagstock (marijuana, hallucinogens and ecstasy were allegedly OK, while crack, meth, heroin and others were off-limits) and profited handsomely from the popularity of his festival as a result. The plea agreement explicitly states that the government could not prove Tebeau himself ever bought or sold drugs.

Prosecutors say the circumstances of the case are unique, but civil-liberties advocates warn that targeting a musician and venue owner sets an ominous precedent for festivals and concert sites nationwide. Tebeau is believed to be the first artist or festival organizer ever imprisoned for widespread drug use at a music festival.

"Club owners should be fearful," says Daniel Abrahamson, director of legal affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit advocacy group working to reform American drug laws. "There is precedent of government overreach with this statute, implicating core First [and Fifth] Amendment concerns."

Abrahamson and others wonder when the government, having targeted Tebeau, will next decide that drug use at a concert has crossed the line from open secret to something that deserves punishment. How does one prove that fans are drawn to a summer festival for the party and not the music? And could the organizers of a mega-festival like Bonnaroo be next?


See Also:
- Best Old Band - 2006 - The Schwag

- Schwag frontman Jimmy Tebeau says Camp Zoe is an idyllic campground for weekend hippie jam fests. Federal prosecutors beg to differ. (February 2011)

- Schwag Frontman Jimmy Tebeau Faces 30-Month Sentence on Guilty Plea (June 2012)

- Schwagstock's Jimmy Tebeau Gets 30-Month Sentence for "Drug-Involved Premises" (October 2012)


Tebeau is exactly what you'd expect from a guy fronting a band that promises to "preserve and perpetuate the vibe and music made popular by the Grateful Dead": He is a cheerful old hippie through and through. But his keen business acumen is at odds with the fun-loving-stoner stereotype.

In 1997 Tebeau (pronounced tee-boh) began organizing Schwagstock festivals at campgrounds in rural Missouri. The events were a showcase for his band, the Schwag, and they gained a steady following among Deadheads and Haight-Ashbury revivalists from around the Midwest. The gigs were profitable, but Tebeau wisely recognized that a substantial chunk of his change was lost to the rental fees he paid to the host venues.

On April 8, 2004, the bandleader tapped his savings and borrowed money from family members to purchase Camp Zoe, a sprawling tract of land squarely located in the middle of nowhere: about 80 miles southeast of Fort Leonard Wood near the tiny town of Eminence. Formerly the site of a church youth retreat, the property borders the Ozark National Scenic Riverways near the Current River.

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127 comments
tebeau_sucks
tebeau_sucks

I've known this moron for 15 years; my husband knew him long before that.  I'll tell you right now that he absolutely is at fault when it comes to buying, selling, and partaking illegal substances, etc., he's first in line.  Maybe he shouldn't be prosecuted for the actions of others, but his time spent in prison will be worthwhile because he smells like shit, screws every female that can get past the odor, and is terrible at pretending to be Garcia.  

kaylabear512
kaylabear512

sure theres drugs around at music festivals but theres drugs around EVERYWHERE in this world. no matter how hard the police try to stop it its like part of this life. but whats so wrong with people doing them in safe ways? where they can experience peacefulness among strangers who they can call there brothers and sisters. whats so wrong with that?!  no fights, no guns, no hate, no crime. just peace and love. I think the music festivals with all the electronic music and dubstep are what rots people's brains. its like a cheesegrater to the head, and what could make that feel a little more soothing?..drugs.  we go to music festivals like Shwagstock to jam to our favorite bands. the REAL music. we can have a good time without drugs there. music itsself can bring ppeople together just like  family dinner or a new born baby, or grandmas 79th birthday. Music festivals like this one, where a man who started it had nothing but the right intentions, should not be the ones to get shut down, or faught against. This is some of the last "good stuff " left. This is real music. and only people who really appreciate the good music can understand me. and i feel sorry for those who dont. This man was doing nothing but bringing peace and shame on who ever thought to look down on him for that.

notdeadjustgrateful4
notdeadjustgrateful4

I couldn't help but shed more than just a few tears when I heard the news of the bust on the 1st of November in 2010.  I knew it was only the beginning of another chapter in my life, but regretfully, the end of one that I will never forget.  My experiences at ZOE helped shaped me into the proud hippie I am today.  I doubt that there will ever be another place on Mother Earth that had the vibe that ZOE had during sunset on a Saturday night.  Jimmy, I had the privledge of seeing you perform at Byrdfest 4 in Arkansas in April of 2012.  Melvin was a wonderful addition to the team.  It was my last festival before going to prison and my now fianee's first festival.  For me, it has always been about the music.  Jimmy, you will be missed but never forgotten

funkyfreshfortuna
funkyfreshfortuna

I've went to zoe 3 more times since underground sound in 2010 just to camp and enjoy the beauty of the place without all the wasted idiots around. Every time me and my brother were walking around this guys land with inner tubes and cases of beer he'd stop us and ask if everything was going ok, offer us a ride and wish us happy tubing. he was one of those people who always had a very strong aura of peace about him. whatta tragedy. fucking pigs should burn

thinlizzie
thinlizzie

OK, HonkeyDonkey, let's do the math your way:

$2.16 Million cash per year, less $650K deposited equals $1.51 Million---which is where? Donated to?

Get a clue and reread some posts, my pissy little friend. No one said he made his millions selling drugs, he made his millions AS YOU point out, catering to a clientele at least in part (large part, from what I saw) drawn to what amounted to a large open-air drug market.


thinlizzie
thinlizzie

I have to agree with JenraeJoseph, Spot nailed it. I made the mistake of taking two teenage (17, 19) daughters to a "Shwagfest" and couldn't leave soon enough. And I did the math, too: the RFT accurately stated he deposited 4.6M over 7 years, that's about $650K a year. And I'm sure you believe him to be a totally honest and legal taxpayer, so NO cash ever made it's way directly into his pocket. The real tragedy: according to insiders he was warned, repeatedly.  Moral of the story: good, bad, or otherwise, thumb your nose at the feds, and watch where they put THEIR thumb. And DonkeyHotay:  why so angry and all the name-calling? Not that you would care, but it really detracts from any point you're trying to make. 

max_in_missouri
max_in_missouri

Glad Bush wasn't President while this seemingly silly prosecution happened.  You know the libtards would be jumping at the chance to blame him personally.  Yet as this all happens under Obama, no one blames him.... not saying they should, just saying this is a ridiculous double-standard.

mushroomgravy666
mushroomgravy666

Everyone knew what was going on down there. I never went to schwag. Mostly because I'm too poor to even hang with hippies, but also because I knew it was crawling with feds. We all need to stop pretending that we all aren't pretending. What I think is messed up is the length of time they allowed it to go on while looking the other way, and then one day its wrong. Its very deceiving.

warrenmart
warrenmart

About as bad as when Tommy Chong got  set up for selling a bong through the mail--war on drugs my behind, a lot of hooey.

mr.tambourineman
mr.tambourineman

In 2007 i got to sit down and interview jimmy for a paper i wrote about schwag in my comp ii class. Though jimmy did make money hosting schwags he told me that no matter how much money he deposited durring his time hosring festivals he could never get out of debt. Jimmy really only cared about the music, and i i recall there were some performers that didnt get all the money rhey were

Mary Novack
Mary Novack

It's bs that he's been taken advantage of....cops need to go after murderers!!!!

Kevin Rudroff
Kevin Rudroff

"He's Gone" is a grateful dead song. Now that makes sense. Thanks Autumn Wiggins for the clarification. The arrest and ceasing of his assets still doesn't make sense. Any law enforcers out there wanna clarify this for us?

Autumn Wiggins
Autumn Wiggins

"He's Gone" is a Grateful Dead song. I don't think it's about a dude that died. It makes about as much sense as any other GD song.

Patty Lager
Patty Lager

and such is the state....no freedom as long as we continue to vote

Couch Pig
Couch Pig

woodstock must of been ok in the feds eyes

Kevin Rudroff
Kevin Rudroff

"He's gone"seems a little much. Like there's no returning or that its final. He's not dead. I'm not exactly sure why the undercover cops purchasing illegal substances didn't arrest the perpetrators but instead arrested the organizer and land owner. Doesn't really make much sense. Much like the title on the cover page.

John Null
John Null

Federal pound-in-the-ass prison for NOTHING.

tactrix
tactrix

Well since the feds views this as a music festival prosecution I feel it's only fair that I tell them that I view EVERY FED as low life dirtbag, who deserve to be made penniless and end up with no help from anyone as they starve to death since it seems their goal in life is to take regular people and make their life a living hell.

spot
spot

" ...from 2004 to 2010 Tebeau deposited more than $4.6 MILLION CASH in his local bank..." Sorry to tell ya, DeadHeads, but Row Jimmy Tebeau left the Merry Pranksters' bus a long time ago...his Happy Campers weren't travelling long distances to the middle of nowhere just to hear a bunch of B-grade bands and the SchwagWannabe and come home with sunburn and chigger bites...he made his millions because the venue was Dope Heaven, and he knew it...

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@thinlizzie ... so you admit that depositing a paltry $650k cash  / year when the gross LEGAL receipts for admission, rent, food and drinks were in excess of $2.1 MILLION is absolutely ZERO evidence of criminal drug activity on his part.

Noted.

tebeau_sucks
tebeau_sucks

Why in the hell would anyone in their right mind take teenage girls to a festival called SCHWAGSTOCK? Really? As in seriously? So you didn't know what Schwag is referring to? As in, low-grade (ditchweed) quality. hahaha

What a joke.  As for the name calling, anyone who personally knows Jimmy knows exactly what a lump of shit he is.  I was around when the schwag was starting out - only Jack was worth some credibility - the reast of them were dirt balls. Of course this moron ended up in jail. He deserves it, for more than 100 reasons.

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@thinlizzie = math FAIL!

" Beyond the $60 cost of admission, concert attendees paid to rent their camping spot from him and purchased food, drinks, firewood and other goods from his general store. He staged five to seven festivals each year with an average attendance of 6,000 per event"

So are admit that the 6000 attendees x $60 admission x 6 shows = $2,160,000.00 / YEAR in gross receipts -- WAY MORE than enough to justify the $650k deposited WITHOUT having to alleged drug dealing to explain it.

Keep flailing, sucker.

aerosquid
aerosquid

@max_in_missouri Says who? I'm liberal and pissed as hell at Obama's stance on drugs. His campaign promises were LIES just Like Bush, Clinton and every fucking pol before and since. They all LIE. Unless we stand up and get rid of this no winner but the rich 2 party system the people will ALWAYS LOSE. Had enough yet America? I have.

tebeau_sucks
tebeau_sucks

Are you serious? hahaha.  Wow, I understand that you can't "get" a person by one interview, but from someone that traveled with the 'band' I can tell you that while he liked playing, he was far more interested in getting as f'd up as possible.  The only reason I and my friends were there was because of the party.  He's not a "great guy" - he's a sleazeball who cheated on his wife as fast as possible: if you were a chick, liked to get high, and had some extra to share, he would sidle up next to you in no time. Gross.

mr.tambourineman
mr.tambourineman

entitled to like keller williams. Jimmy was a great guy and didnt deserve any of this

JaMookus
JaMookus

@Kevin Rudroff 

"He's Gone" is the name of a Grateful Dead song. The use was intended to be some sort of snappy wordplay, not a statement regarding the finality of the situation.

tebeau_sucks
tebeau_sucks

Oh definitely for something! He's a piece of shit.

jenraejoseph
jenraejoseph

Yep. I attended many and your spot on spot. Everyone on here says Jimmy just loved playing music. Which may be true but its really easy to love playing music when your lining your pockets with Gold.

blubanjo
blubanjo

@spot do the math...5 festivals a year, average of 5-7,000 people per festival at around $60 per person, for 6 years!!  Figure on average $340-360,000 x 6 = $2.04 - 2.2 million, not counting camping fee's and food sales, rental fees from vendors.  Yes, it is very possible that Jimmy actually made that level of cash in a 6 year time span.  I'm sure that money is a TOTAL amount deposited BEFORE he paid taxes, insurances, artist fees, employee's, utility bills, payments on the land itself (300 acres in Shannon County next to the Current River Watershed is NOT cheap), and on and on.  Hey Spot, don't be a follower and just lap up anything you read.  Jimmy was never in it for the drug money.  

queen.ozzy
queen.ozzy

@spot You are absolutely wrong spot... many people did travel thousands of miles to go to one of jimmys schwags... shows what you know.  I have always been drug free and so are my people that i travel with.  We have logged thousands of miles traveling to different fests in different parts of the country.  The schwags are still and always will be our favorite... drugs were never the reason that we went there... and i know others that feel the same way.  If you want to classify us as drugged out happy campers then i guess that is your choice.. but just know that you are incorrect on so many levels.  I feel bad for you and your judgements.  I hope one day you can experience all the good things that we found at the schwag.  We will never get that back and we will forever be looking for the equivelent. 

How much money do you think bonnarroo deposits into the bank after one fest... a lot more than what jimmy made over the course of 6 years i can guarantee that... and he had to have at least 5 fests in a season to get that money... in no way shape or form is this even comparable. 

MarkoffChaney
MarkoffChaney

@DonkeyHotay You're operating on the premise that the use of the substances in question is wrong.

You are an enemy of freethinking people everywhere and you should be regarded as such.

MarkoffChaney
MarkoffChaney

@DonkeyHotay This is how you choose to spend your time. This. Right here. That is pathetic and I hope you experience some sort of awakening before you die that transforms you from insufferable buzzkill douche-nozzle to actual human being. Good luck.

ut_4_me
ut_4_me topcommenter

By all accounts in this article Jimmy's name was on the property and he was personally depositing the money.  I can guarantee you that the folks running Bonarroo are incorporated and lawyered up to the hilt.   Jimmy was running a true grassroots festival but was depositing big time money.   

thinlizzie
thinlizzie

@DonkeyHotay @spot jealous of a naive whiny Dead wannabe doing Fed time, or jealous of sunburned stoners? Gimme a choice here, DonkeyDude,,,

ut_4_me
ut_4_me topcommenter

@DonkeyHotay...I didn't make anything up.   I was just wondering out loud.  Many musicians, by their very nature, are not great businessmen.  What I read was that Jimmy tried to set something up that he thought would be cool and put property and bank accounts in his own name without realizing the end result. 

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@ut_4_me ... you just like to MAKE SHIT UP, don't you?

He has DEPOSITS and EXPENSES from his accounts, just like any other concert promotion business.

And at a gross of only $12 per head, he wasn't that "big time" in the music venue business.

ut_4_me
ut_4_me topcommenter

Yeah...because that is what "bad businessmen" do. 

 
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