Iola Rock Fest – the final chapter
Continued from previous edition
Portage County Sheriff Nick Check gathered thousands of pages of reports and willingly provided them to authorities around the state, so they would have records of what took place at the event and could take action to avoid similar situations.
The day after the event ended, Check wanted to arrange a tour from the airplane so officials could see the aftermath. Gusty winds prevented that, so he toured the site with them on foot to give them a close-up view of once pristine fields covered with litter.
Bottles, cans, paper, clothing, bags, watermelon rinds, shoes, corn cobs, plastic tarps were strewn on the ground.
There was litter everywhere.
Two weeks earlier, the 200-acre site was partly woodland and partly open field covered with knee-high grass.
The woods were still there, cleared somewhat to provide poles and firewood for the attendees.
But the grassy fields were unrecognizable.
Holes had been dug to provide seating, and the grass in most places had been trampled by tires and thousands of feet.
Where the ground cover was gone, the soil became powder and the wind sent it up in dust clouds.
The Iola Town Board saw enough of the festival that came about because of the board’s inactivity earlier.
Three days after the event, on July 1, 1970, the board adopted the Waupaca County zoning ordinance that prohibited events and activities such as rock festivals.
Waupaca County had a zoning ordinance against rock festivals, but it was on a local option basis, and the town had not adopted it prior to the rock festival.
The town of New Hope had adopted the Portage County zoning ordinance, so the promoters could only use the property there for parking, a permitted use in an agricultural district.
Portage County District Attorney William A. Bablitch, later a state Senator and Wisconsin Supreme Court justice, announced he was preparing an ordinance that would require licensing for any future large gatherings of 3,000 to 5,000 or more persons.
He said he didn’t want to term it an “anti-rockfest ordinance,” but it would require promoters to provide funds to the county to cover expected law enforcement and traffic control expenses, which had been estimated at $20,000 at the Iola event.
Bablitch said the ordinance would also require the promoter to hire a security force chosen and directed by the sheriff to police the grounds and furnish proof of compliancewith state health codes in providing adequate water and sanitation facilities at the site of an event.
The Portage County Board of Supervisors adopted that ordinance for Regulation and Licensing of Large Public Affairs in Portage County three weeks later, July 21, 1970.
Supervisors unanimously supported the ordinance, with 24 favoring it and zero opposing.
Three supervisors were absent.
The ordinance became a model ordinance for counties and municipalities throughout the state to deal with large public gatherings during a period that the government was trying to avoid having too many rules.
The ordinance required an application to hold an event be filed at least six weeks before an event, identifying the identification of all persons involved in organizing the event, the legal description of the property for the event and the identity of the owners of the property.
The application also required the nature or purpose of the event; the total number of days or hours of the event; plans for supplying potable water; plans for providing toilet and lavatory facilities;plans for holding, collecting and disposing of solid waste material;plans to illuminate the location of the event;
The ordinance also called for plans to provide for medical facilities including the location and construction of a medical structure, the name and addresses and hours of availability ofphysicians and nurses, and provisions for emergency ambulance service; plus plans for fire protection including alarms and extinguishers, and the number of emergency fire personnel to operate the equipment.
The major thrust of the ordinance was to allow large public gatherings to be held, but hold the promoters responsible, instead of taxpayers, for the costs and meeting standards to provide sufficient water, lavatory facilities, solid waste collection, lighting, medical service, fire protection and parking for the anticipated crowds.
The Portage County ordinance has been amended many times during its history, as occasions and standards change.
Initially, the Golden Sands Speedway on Highway 54 in the town of Plover was required to apply annually, but the county amended the ordinance to avoid duplication of requirements for regularly scheduled events.
Around the state today, large music festivals are held outdoors throughout the state, such as at Cadott, Stanley, Rhinelander, Oshkosh and elsewhere.
The main difference the ordinance provided is preparations and planning to hold the event, providing sufficient facilities and accommodations to make a festival successful and pleasant experiencefor attendees.
The rock fest era started in the 1960s, but the logistics, expense and commercial failures deterred many promoters from mounting similarevents.
Some of the events also spurred violence that darkened their appeal.
Was the ordinance successful?
Well, since 1970, Portage County hasn’t been the site of another “rock fest.”
But, the area, state, nation and world have entertained music festivals that have brought the sound of music, including rock ‘n’ roll, to the great outdoors in natural settings. The ordinance enlightened promoters to the logistics and financial responsibility for the events