Today In History – July 3, 1969: Newport Jazz Fest Experiments With Rock Music

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The Newport Jazz Festival experimented with rock music for the first time on July 3, 1969.

The festival’s 1969 program was an experiment in fusing jazz, soul and rock music and audiences. Its lineup included, besides jazz, Friday evening appearances by rock groups Jeff Beck, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Ten Years After and Jethro Tull. Saturday’s schedule mixed jazz acts such as Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck with others including John Mayall and Sly & the Family Stone.

James Brown was among those who appeared Sunday afternoon, followed in the evening by Herbie Hancock, blues musician B. B. King and English rock group Led Zeppelin.

Miles Davis remarked that the various artists involved were highly encouraging to each other and that he enjoyed the festival more than ever before. He noticed and appreciated the spirited nature of the younger audience. But some clashes did occur. Excess crowds estimated at twenty thousand who had been unable to obtain tickets filled an adjacent hillside, and the weekend was marred by disturbances including fence crashing and crowd surging during the most popular performances.

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Saturday evening’s disturbances were particularly significant, prompting producer George Wein, who feared a riot, to announce that the Sunday evening Led Zeppelin appearance was cancelled. That show was allowed to go forward as initially scheduled after much of the overflow crowd had left the city following the cancellation announcement.

For 1971, the festival booked The Allman Brothers Band, a pioneering Southern bluesrock group. Many more fans were drawn than Festival Field could cope with. On the second night of the festival, following the recording of what would be released as “The Dave Brubeck Quartet featuring Gerry Mulligan – The Last Set at Newport” on Atlantic Records, over 12,000 people (would-be festival goers combined with young college age anti-Vietnam war protesters of that era) occupying the adjacent hillside crashed the fence during Dionne Warwick’s performance of “What The World Needs Now Is Love”, initiating a major disturbance.

That year’s festival was halted after the stage was rushed by the intruders and equipment destroyed.

The festival would not return to Newport in 1972, it was in Newport York City and then Saratoga Springs for several years. The Newport Jazz Festival would finally return to Newport in 1981.

1969 Newport Jazz Festival

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