Governments Secret War on Music Festivals

Article Contributed by Ryan Neeley | Published on Monday, October 15, 2012

On Tuesday, October 9th, 2012, Jimmy Tebeau, bassist for the Grateful Dead tribute band The Schwag and most recently JGB, was sentenced to 30 months in prison for the crime of “maintaining drug-involved premises” on his 350-acre farm in a rural county in Missouri.  The government closed down the farm, which was known as Camp Zoe and home to the music festival Schwagstock, in November 2010 based on the statute, which was originally drafted to go after crack houses, after a two-year investigation into drug sales on the premises.  Tebeau, who is currently touring with Melvin Seals and JGB Band, was never charged with dealing any drugs, but he did admit to knowing OF drug sales on his property and stated to officials that he gave specific instructions to his security to kick out anyone selling hard drugs such as cocaine, crack, heroin and nitrous oxide.

Tebeau had purchased the land, which is 140 miles southwest of St. Louis near Salem, MO, and moved there in spring of 2004, holding numerous music festivals, biker rallies, and Gateway Burners, which is similar to the Burning Man Festival, over the course of six years.  According to a complaint filed on November 8th, 2010 in Eastern Missouri District Court, drug officials had specifically observed open sales of “Drugs such as marijuana, LSD, Ecstacy, marijuana-laced food products and psilocybin mushrooms by individuals attending the music festival and made multiple purchases of illegal drugs.”   The investigation goes all the way back to 2006 and included “surveillance, undercover operations, source information, bank records and interviews,” and the government claimed that Tebeau and staff were in the immediate area when drug deals took place and did nothing to stop them (and it seems that the police didn’t either).  The plea agreement, which was reached in June, has Tebeau pleading guilty to a charge of “maintaining a drug-involved premises” on the condition that he would be permitted to remain out on bond while he appeals.  US Attorney Richard Callahan noted that while it is unusual to permit a person convicted of a crime to appeal as part of their plea agreement, the unique circumstances, in this case, justified the exception.  Tebeau was also fined $50,000, must serve 200 hours of community service, and forfeit Camp Zoe to the government.  The complaint showed that the Camp Zoe property had an approximate value of $600,000.  In researching the statute, I learned that you do not even need to be convicted of a crime, just that the property was part of criminal activity.  So, in other words, if your car or home is used in a crime, no matter if it was you committing the act or not, the court can issue a certificate of forfeiture and take the property to auction off.

Grateful Web traveled to Logan, OH Family Roots Festival and Pittsburgh, PA’s Hard Rock Cafe to cover JGB’s performances, one of the first two shows since his sentencing, and Tebeau was in good spirits.  Although he couldn’t comment on the case, he did thank many well-wishers for their support and seemed to be taking everything in stride.  He played a smoking set with JGB featuring Melvin Seals and The Schwag’s guitarist David Hebert, and graciously shook hands with fans.  Tebeau took the time to actually meet each person who greeted him with a smile, handshake or hug, and thanked supporters, commenting that Camp Zoe, “is a beautiful place” when I stated that I had attended a few festivals there and offered my thanks and support.

But this is not the first time Camp Zoe (or any other venue that holds music festivals for that matter) had been targeted by the government – From 2007 to 2010, state troopers conducted fourteen “safety checkpoints” at an intersection six miles north of the camp, all on days when music festivals were happening.  I’m sure it’s purely coincidental, but they did arrest a total of 2,388 people including 171 on felony drug possession.  According to Sgt. Marty Elmore of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the roadblocks were not part of the ongoing operation at Camp Zoe, but a checkpoint on May 23-25, 2010 – the same days as Schwagstock 37 – resulted in 268 arrests, of which 23 were for felony drug possession.  They also arrested two NORML members who had erected signs warning drivers of the checkpoint and charged them with “placing an unauthorized sign/signal device on/on view of highway,” which is a misdemeanor.  According to Tebeau’s attorney Dan Viets, Tebeau had asked local law enforcement to help patrol the festival grounds during larger gatherings but his request was declined.

Jimmy Tebeau

Being a bit of a festival nomad and traveling throughout the east coast this summer, I witnessed hundreds of encounters of profiling, and the state highway patrols are the #1 culprit.  While I understand that these people are breaking a law by possessing an illegal substance, I believe that our tax dollars would be better spent going after violent offenders and people who PUSH drugs, not to peaceful folks who are just trying to listen to music and have a nice weekend with their friends and family.  America’s prisons hold over a million nonviolent offenders that could be paying taxes, supporting a family, or contributing to society, and we continue to arrest, convict, and imprison people for ridiculous charges, all on taxpayer money. And if you’ve been to one of these festivals, you can attest that violence is one of the LAST things you will see, and I’ve personally never see drug “pushers” – People partake on their own free will and some look forward to having a weekend of freedom away from the daily grind and judgmental people. It’s a shame that they have to hide their coolers, take off their tye-dyes, rip stickers off their car, and disguise their identity in general so they won’t be profiled.

Music festivals are not going away – actually, they are as popular as ever, with numerous camping festivals happening throughout the country each weekend from March to November – but we as music fans must band together and fight the profiling that is done on a regular basis so that we can continue to congregate together as a family.  If the government was pulling over everyone with What Would Jesus Do stickers because some of them make their own wine, people would be in an uproar.  Know your rights, support causes such as the ACLU and, do what you can to educate your friends and publicize the fact that there is an open war on music festivals and the good people who organize, promote and attend them.  Because, just like in the Grateful Dead favorite New Speedway Boogie, I saw things getting out of hand, I guess they always will. Now I don't know but I been told If the horse don't pull you got to carry the load.  I don't know whose back's that strong, maybe find out before too long. If you care about festivals and believe this situation is getting out of hand, it’s time to recruit soldiers to help us fight to protect this scene that we call our own.