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Schwagstock – Once We Were Hippies

Once upon a time, in a land where the air was as sweet as the smell of incense, and music poured down from the heavens on the tie-dyed souls below, the world was once again filled with the joy of love and peace.  At least that’s what it felt like to those of us who had traveled to Camp Zoe, an old canoe rental on the banks of Sinking Creek a few miles south of Salem, Missouri. It was that time again. It was time for another Schwagstock.

Schwagstock. What hell is a Schwagstock?  Schwagstock was a music festivalorganized by a Grateful Dead Cover Band called The Schwag. Each year there would be four of these festivals spread out over the summer, and in October there was Spookstock, a crazed and very colorful event complete with costumes, masks, and things not to be spoken of in polite company, all set to celebrate Halloween. It was the last rite of summer.

While it started off small, after a short time, word had spread that there was a happening along Sinking Creek that brought back memories and the good vibrations of Woodstock . Could it be true? Were peace and love still alive? Was everything going to be all right after all? Maybe so.

By the time I became aware of Schwagstock there were ten thousand people or more from all over, winding down the Ozark roads to Camp Zoe. Obviously I had to find out for myself. I had been hearing about it from my sons, Matt and Marc, and most of their friends, but, to be honest, I was not that impressed. I guess I was jaded because of the many years playing festivals myself. Over the years festivals like this had dwindled in size and become much less of a big deal, Bonaroo and a couple of others notwithstanding.

I finally decided to check it out when I learned my youngest son, Matt, was playing drums with his band, Johnson Street, on the Battle of the Bands Stage. That was something I was not going to miss. How could I? It was Matt’s first performance at the event they had been telling me about. And, Camp Zoe and Schwagstock were only about forty miles from my house.

So when the time came, off we went — me, Matt and Marc, and possibly a mushroom or two. After all, it was supposed to be like Woodstock, so I felt that would be required to understand what was going on. I had my TV camera with me to record Matt’s debut at the festival and Marc, microphone and all, was ready to be our guide to the evening’s comings and goings.

As we arrived I was dumbfounded. There were people, cars and vans everywhere. Thousands of them. It was a glorious night full of music, light shows, lots of hairand a reminder of things that were once those closest to my heart. There were people I was familiar with except they weren’t the same people. They couldn’t be. They were in their twenties and thirties and the folks I knew would now be in their sixties and seventies. But the memories were sweet, and I was really glad to be there. The mushrooms perhaps?

It was great seeing Matt’s band and watching him beat the hell out of his drum kit. His guitar player, Sam, was good enough to play with anybody. They rehearsed in the studio at my house so I knew every song by heart. Still, seeing him up there on stage, setting the groove and doing some great drum solos is something that will stay with me the rest of my life.

I’m not sure how long Schwagstock lasted. I had been hearing about it for quite awhile but never went back after that trip with the boys. It was fun, but going to concerts and festivals to me feels a lot like going to work. Camp Zoe, The Schwag, and Schwagstock lasted another few years but, like so many good things, was finally shut down.

Probably too many folks being too many tokes over the line. Still, while it lasted, there was a place on Sinking Creek near Salem, Missouri, where music and love filled the air and where we could remember that once we were hippies.

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