Iola event brought new laws statewide
By Gene Kemmeter
Continued from a previous installment: Click here
The People’s Fair rock festival in the town of New Hope in Portage County and the town of Iola in Waupaca County from June 26-28 triggered a backlash against the event that became known as the Iola Rock Fest.
That backlash has lasted for decades, and mentioning the event today in the town of New Hope brings a less than welcoming response.
Most town residents don’t want to talk about it, usually because they weren’t around back then, and the event left a bad taste in the mouths of those that were.
The event attracted an estimated 40, 000 to 50,000 people forthreedaysof music, but ended prematurely for many after shots rang out on Sunday morning.
By the end of the day, three persons had been treated at St. Michael’s Hospital in Stevens Point for injuries from the violence and another 26 persons had been arrested, including 23 members of a Chicago-area motorcycle gang.
Yet the impact of the event remains today, not from the shootings, but from the litter the festival left behind.
The fields were awash in litter when the event ended, and only community volunteers have tried to clean it up through the years.
The promoters of the festival purchased the property on a land contract, but then reneged on the deal after the event was over, returning the land to the original owner in its littered state for the price of the down payment.
“The excesses of this event came as a shock to this rural community whose residents were conservative in their tastes, habits, and virtues,” Ed Seefelt and Jim Stoltenberg wrote in their book Can Anything Good Come Out of New Hope?
They wrote about hearing the beat of amplified rock music from miles away, a steady stream of cars moving through the quiet countryside, people from the site taking a “skinny-dip” in nearby lakes, and people stopping at nearby homes, asking to use the bathroom.
Portage County Sheriff Nick Check had summarized his impressions of the event in the June 29, 1970, Stevens Point Daily Journal, just after it ended as “A nice big organized lawless drug party.”
He revealed those thoughts as he sat on the steps of the North NewHope Lutheran Church in the town of New Hope at midnight.
The church had been the command post for law enforcement officers during the event.
Check seemed relaxed, but he was disappointed in the event.
If anyone tries to hold another rock festival here, he said. “We’ll keep people out if it means blocking off half the county.”
The sheriff estimated it cost $20-25,000 to police the festival, an expense that would be borne by Portage County, the city of Stevens Point, Waupaca County, the city of Waupaca and other counties and cities that provided men.
Borne by them, that is, unless the bill was paid by the rockfest promoters, North Central Productions of Madison, headed by James Sitton and Earth Enterprises of Stevens Point, headed by Fritz von Buchholtz.
The bill wasn’t paid by the promoters.
The weekend had been a long one for local officials, and they had been compiling reports about incidents on the ground and in the area.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources had provided a plane and a pilot to the Portage County Sheriff’s Department for the weekend to monitor traffic control and the crowd.
Lt. Ray Potocki, a detective with the county, rode with the pilot during the weekend.
He had been up in the air during the Sunday incident, and when the plane landed near the festival grounds, a young man ran up to the plane and told him that a group of motorcyclists had been shooting in the air at them, trying to hit the plane.
Potocki said recently that the man pointed to members of the gang to identify them, then left. Potocki said he and the pilot inspected the plane but couldn’t find any damage.
The man had left by the time the inspection was completed, he said, so they didn’t pursue efforts to find the shooters.
Read the final installment in next week’s edition