Today in History – July 3, 1969: Newport Jazz Fest experiments with rock music
The Newport Jazz Festival first experimented with rock music on July 3, 1969.
The 1969 festival program was an experiment in the fusion of jazz, soul and rock music and audiences. Its lineup included, in addition to jazz, Friday night appearances by rock bands Jeff Beck, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Ten Years After and Jethro Tull. Saturday’s program mixed jazz bands such as Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck with others including John Mayall and Sly & the Family Stone.
James Brown was among those who appeared on Sunday afternoon, followed in the evening by Herbie Hancock, blues musician BB King and English rock band Led Zeppelin.
Miles Davis commented that the various artists involved were very supportive of each other and that he was enjoying the festival more than ever. He noticed and appreciated the fiery nature of the young audience. But some clashes took place. Excess crowds estimated at twenty thousand who had been unable to secure tickets filled an adjacent hill, and the weekend was marred by disruptions including collapsing fences and packed crowds at the most popular performances .
Saturday night’s unrest was particularly significant, prompting producer George Wein, who feared a riot, to announce that Led Zeppelin’s Sunday night appearance was cancelled. This show was allowed to go ahead as originally planned after much of the crowd left town following the announcement of the cancellation.
That year’s festival was halted after the stage was rushed by intruders and equipment was destroyed.
The festival will not return to Newport in 1972, it will be in Newport York and then in Saratoga Springs for several years. The Newport Jazz Festival would eventually return to Newport in 1981.