There’s an old western, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” in which a newspaper reporter says of John Wayne’s fate, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
Missouri’s Jimmy Tebeau is today in a similar clutch as to what legend defines him. Depending on who is telling the story, Tebeau is either a felon and drug enabler, or unlucky victim of propped up charges and government land snatching. It’s all in the past now, but as Echo Bluff State Park begins another summer season at old Camp Zoe and Tebeau works toward relaunching his Schwagstock music festival, all the self-described hippie entrepreneur can wonder is what are the facts of his own story.
“I think a lot about whose idea it was to raid Camp Zoe, and when they first had it,” Tebeau says. “Along with that, I also think about who first thought of turning Camp Zoe into a state park. When I look back on all that’s happened, the question that really gets my mind going is do these threads lead back to one another?”
As the lead singer and bassist for The Schwag, Tebeau is use to feeling out of place around Missouri. He wears a full beard, has long hair and clothes to match the Grateful Dead hits he plays on tour. These days he also hosts The Jimmy Tebeau Show from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesdays on Rolla’s KKID 92.9 FM.
Now more than ever, Tebeau sticks out in the times he lives, and it’s not due to his wardrobe - its due to his history. While the federal government softens its approach to drugs, more states legalize marijuana and Denver decriminalizes psilocybin mushrooms, Tebeau exists as the only music venue owner ever prosecuted under 21 USC § 856, also known as the federal “crack house” law. It allows prosecution of those owning property on which illegal substances are sold.
In Tebeau’s case, it was Camp Zoe, a 330-acre tract in Shannon County he owned from 2004 to 2012 as home to Schwagstock and other music festivals. In its prime Schwagstock and other Camp Zoe productions booked talent from local artists to Rock and Roll Hall of Famers en route to becoming South-Central Missouri’s largest annual tourism event. After six years in operation, it was shut down by state federal authorities following a raid after its Halloween-themed Spookstock festival Nov. 1, 2010.
Tebeau served nearly 10 months in federal prison after accepting a plea deal in the case. As part of the agreement, Tebeau was also made to surrender Camp Zoe for auction by the United States Marshals Service. Missouri State Parks later placed the winning bid and developed the property into Echo Bluff State Park under the tenure of Gov. Jay Nixon.
“What makes me different than the people who own Bonnaroo (a music festival in Manchester, Tenn.), or Coachella (festival in Indio, California) or the other big festivals?” Tebeau asks. “Sometimes I get frustrated when I think about it. It really gets me down, and I wonder why me? Honestly, I think it’s because I owned a really nice piece of land.”
Tebeau says he can still remember hearing almost nine years ago that law enforcement had swept onto his property.
“The raid happened at the peak of Camp Zoe’s popularity and my participation with JGB, or the Jerry Garcia Band,” Tebeau says. “I was so busy back then I missed out on the whole raid. I played that Friday and Saturday at Spookstock, then caught a flight from St. Louis to California because I was playing a set with JGB at Tortuga Festival.
“The Grateful Dead’s original drummer, Bill Kreutzmann, was also at Tortuga playing with his group, and we ended up hanging out. He was frying on Owsley Acid, and one of his bandmates offered me some, but I turned him down because I still had a show to play. Later, I felt like I’d blown a real once-in-a-lifetime chance. Later, I called my wife when I got cell service back getting out of the Sierra Nevada mountains. I was so excited to tell her I was hanging out with Bill Kreutzmann only hours earlier, but before I got a word out, she said, ‘Shut up, Camp Zoe just got raided!’”
Making some serious cash
Jimmy Tebeau says Schwagstock first grew from a pipe dream. The music festival initially launched in the 1990s at campgrounds near Leasburg and Bagnell Dam as something of a family affair for the band and its most dedicated followers. In time, the festival flourished into a major regional venture.
By the early 2000s it hit the 7,000-person threshold twice at the Ozark Outdoors resort outside Leasburg. Tebeau subsequently took the advice of its owner and his friend, Bear Bass, to strike out on his own. He bought Camp Zoe in 2004 to be Schwagstock’s new home. The rural tract was previously a children’s summer camp for 60 years and had been relatively unused since 1989.
“Out of the previous nine properties we toured it was by far the best,” Tebeau says. “We immediately fell in love with its natural beauty, particularly Echo Bluff and the quality of its flowing water.”
Tebeau says he believes Camp Zoe’s turning point in prominence came in 2007 when the String Cheese Incident played the Big Summer Classic festival. That show brought in more than 10,000 people, and by the end of that season, Camp Zoe’s gross revenue maxed out at more than $1 million.
“We were making serious cash, and around that time I decided to overhaul the whole operation,” Tebeau says. “We were regularly attracting so many people that I started looking into the idea of creating a resort. People kept telling me they would be willing to pay to have their own room and a shower, so I had a business plan drawn up to build a hotel at Camp Zoe along with space for RVs and campers. I was shopping it around to investors with hopes of raising $5 million. The goal in the long run would have been to make more money off lodging than from ticket sales. My plan was to secure financing in 2011, and then break ground in 2012.”
As part of this initiative, Tebeau also looked to take Camp Zoe from being a state landmark to a national-level destination.
“We signed a contract with Madison House, which is the same production company which manages festivals like Bonnaroo,” Tebeau says. “I went through their training and something of an internship to learn how they handle different issues. They said crazy stuff with drugs goes on at all festivals. You can’t stop it. All you can do is hire a lot of security and get off-duty cops to come in and wear their uniforms as a show of force. Plus, be willing to make a few sacrificial lambs of anyone causing trouble by arresting them.”
After signing on with Madison House, Tebeau says he followed the Bonnaroo model by hiring a St. Louis-based security company, beefing up festival staff, changing vendor policies and seeking support from law enforcement in neighboring communities.
“As part of my outreach I actually spoke at a meeting of the chamber of commerce in Salem because I’d become a member. A police officer was also there as a speaker to raise money for a drug dog, and I actually donated $100 to the cause,” Tebeau says. “I tried hiring police from the area to work security at Camp Zoe while in uniform, or to at least to have a drug dog screening people entering the property, but they always said no when I asked. At the time I thought it was strange. Why would they turn down the chance to make an extra $30 per hour?”
Origins of investigation remain a mystery
It was around the same time Schwagstock was taking its next big steps that it also attracted attention from state law enforcement. As early as 2006, undercover drug task force agents were purchasing drugs from dealers attending Camp Zoe music festivals. Tebeau says he knows because he has several years’ worth of their reports. He obtained them through the discovery process in the lead up to his court case.
“I’ve gone through the documents page by page, and when you read them it’s mostly pot busts and yes, there were small amounts of mushrooms, ecstasy and LSD too, and sometimes cocaine, but there isn’t a single instance of heroin or meth being sold,” Tebeau says of the reports. “It also seemed they followed around the same few guys who were a little too loud and proud about what they were selling at these festivals. In fact, besides me, only one other person faced any charges in connection to the task-force investigation.”
The court documents, viewed by Phelps County Focus, indicate Tebeau was being surveilled as a named suspect from the beginning of the investigation. Field reports note task-force agents were instructed to document Tebeau’s behavior and movements through Camp Zoe. They do not document Tebeau in engaging in or orchestrating any drug activity. They do describe Tebeau walking around the campground and playing music on stage while drug use occurred in the general area. A 2009 report also quotes Tebeau as telling an undercover agent that Camp Zoe was founded as a place to “smoke and joke,” and that he arranges the song lineup of his sets so that psychedelic songs are played at the end to create a good climax.
Despite these hundreds of court documents and the years of reflection in federal prison, Tebeau says he has no answer as to how the Camp Zoe investigation began. Was it a lobbying effort by local residents? A drug task force initiative? Federal mission? Or was it then Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon, or Nixon later as working as governor?
We may never know.