When she was arrested again three months later for alleged possession of methamphetamine, Atkinson was more forthcoming. She estimated that 80 percent of Schwagstock campers were teenagers and that 75 percent of those teens were using or selling drugs. "Everybody is doing something," court documents quote Atkinson saying. "I'm sure you can get anything down there. Syringes are everywhere."

Atkinson described incidents in which kids freaked out on ecstasy or LSD were physically restrained by being strapped to a table. She said many teens should have been hospitalized and claimed their parents later called to complain.

Tebeau says he was never personally involved in supervising the Schwagstock medical tent, and he remains incredulous that the existence of a medical tent that tended to the occasional drug-related crisis could be considered incriminating.

Photograph by Jennifer Silverberg

Location Info


Zoe Campground & Amphitheater

Highway 19 at Sinking Creek
Salem, MO 65560

Category: Music Venues

Region: Outstate MO

"Any major festival always has a medical facility, and always there's some drug-related incident," Tebeau says. "I never saw restraints. I heard one guy was getting wild, and they restrained him. I have mixed emotions about that, but apparently he was pretty drunk and pumped up on whatever."

Tebeau says there were no fatal drug overdoses at Schwagstock. He points out that by contrast, since Bonnaroo was first staged in 2002, eight people have died from drug overdoses at the annual Tennessee festival.

"At any music festival, you'll get people with other motivations for going there," he argues. "Ask a thousand people if they're there for the music, and they'll all say yes, but if you dig deep enough, long enough, you'll find people there for the wrong reasons. The amount of drug dealing and mayhem I saw at [Bonnaroo] — I never felt we were anywhere close to that."

There are certainly a handful of similarities between Bonnaroo, which happens this week, and Schwagstock, the most obvious being that both take place on remote, privately owned farms about 300 miles apart. But the sheer scale of Bonnaroo — attendance routinely tops 100,000 — and the caliber of artists involved (headliners include Paul McCartney, Tom Petty and Björk) are a world away from Tebeau's mom-and-pop operation.

A closer cousin of Schwagstock might be the notorious Gathering of the Juggalos. Held on private property in tiny Cave-in-Rock, Illinois, about 150 miles southeast of St. Louis, the annual event attracts more than 10,000 fans of Detroit rappers Insane Clown Posse. Music is ostensibly the main attraction — George Clinton, Ice Cube, Warren G and other hip-hop legends have performed — but debauchery rules the day. There are carnival rides, wrestling, wet T-shirt contests and more, a spectacle Village Voice writer Camille Dodero famously described as a "shantytown psycho-porn amusement park."

Drugs are openly bought and sold at the Juggalo party. There's a dark corner of YouTube dedicated to "Gathering of the Juggalos Drug Bridge," where solicitations run the gamut from "I got LSD, 'shrooms and ecstasy, dawg," to "buy some weed, see some titties." It makes the DEA's frumpy description of the Tebeau homestead festivities seem tame in comparison. Private security patrols the grounds at the Juggalo gathering; the local sheriff has refused to send in officers, publicly citing concerns for their safety.

There is, of course, widespread drug use at Bonnaroo as well. Last year police seized twenty pounds of Rice Krispies treats laced with marijuana, along with small quantities of LSD, cocaine, ecstasy, mushrooms and synthetic drugs. In 2011 authorities in a nearby Tennessee county boasted of confiscating "more than $12,000 worth of illegal drugs en route to the annual festival." Nevertheless, Tennessee law-enforcement officials heap praise on Bonnaroo.

"They're as much against drugs coming in as we are," says Billy Cook, director of a task force on drugs and violent crime for the Coffee County District Attorney's Office. "A lot of times [Bonnaroo] security will bring people to us that are dealing drugs or have drugs on them. The Bonnaroo administrative people — I think they do a good job. They're our allies instead of our enemy."

There is a strong economic incentive for Coffee County to keep things running smoothly at Bonnaroo. One study estimates that the mega-festival provides $14 million worth of annual revenue for the sparsely populated swatch of southeastern Tennessee.

"I don't want people to get the false idea that this is just a drug fest, because it's not," Cook says. "There's a tremendous amount of good people that come to this. They come to enjoy the music and events and things, and that's really what it's all about. It's not about the drug stuff."

Tebeau says he paid more than $200,000 in tax revenue to Shannon County over the years but that his relationship with local law enforcement was always adversarial. He claims the Shannon County sheriff told him he couldn't spare officers to patrol Schwagstock, and he says the state highway patrol rebuffed his request for assistance, as well, opting instead to set up roadside checkpoints and hassle drivers going to and from Camp Zoe.

"I found out later the highway patrol was part of the undercover investigation, so of course they're not going to help me," Tebeau says now. "I was almost set up for failure in a way."

In truth, Schwagstock was destined for failure in more ways than one. Tebeau clearly never felt that widespread use of marijuana and hallucinogens was a problem at his shows. (Jerry Garcia surely felt the same way during the heyday of the Grateful Dead.) His tolerance was slowly exploited until he totally lost control of what was happening on his property.

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