48 Hours in Atoka Remembered

(Photo courtesy of Ronald McKeown, editor of Buddy Magazine)
(Photos by Ron McKeown, editor and photographer of Buddy Magazine)

By Jan Sikes

Atoka, Okla., is a sleepy little town with a population of about 3,000 situated in the southeastern corner of the state. But what occurred on Labor Day weekend in 1975 changed it forever. It is now known as the home of Oklahoma’s Woodstock music festival.

On a recent visit to the Atoka Museum and Civil War Cemetery, I found a modest display commemorating an event that was destined to never happen again.

So, what went wrong? Well, I think it would be easier to list what went right rather than what went wrong. The music artists who performed at this festival were some of the top names around at that time. Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Freddy Fender, David Allan Coe, Jerry Jeff Walker, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jessi Colter, Hoyt Axton, Larry Gatlin, Freddy Weller, Johnny Duncan, Red Stegall and many more provided the entertainment.

A very young Reba McEntire performed two songs, “San Antonio Rose” and “Invitation to the Blues.” The next year, McEntire signed with Mercury records and began her journey on the road to a long and successful career. The Atoka Museum has a great McEntire display worth seeing.

That’s a stellar lineup and there is no disputing that the music part of the event was comparable to none other except perhaps Willie Nelson’s famed Fourth of July Picnics.

The promoters had cleared the land with a bulldozer and laid miles of irrigation pipe to water grass seed that never came up. The stage looked across a bowl-shaped area of dry, red Oklahoma dirt they believed would easily accommodate the concert-goers. Local carpenters were hired to build a partially covered stage, 10 feet tall by 68 feet long.

A 12-foot stockade fence was built down both sides of the stage to protect the performers and provide a restricted backstage area. About 200 Porta-Potties were ordered and a large water tank erected to provide lake water for open air showers and to combat the Oklahoma heat. Tickets were printed and promoters advertised heavily.

Law enforcement arrangements were made with the Atoka and Coal County Sheriff’s Departments and they were backed up by 65 private security guards and twenty-seven highway patrol units.

Pick up the September issue to learn more!