In 1969 I came down to the festival from Boston with another friend. I told her about this great place where you could listen for free and few people knew about it. As we walked through the woods to find the spot, I saw people setting up camp sites. When we got to the same hill side as I sat on in 1968 there were thousands of people where only a few had been.
George Wein had changed the format and invited some rock groups like Sly and the Family Stone, Jethro Tull, Jeff Beck, Ten Years After, Johnny Winters, Blood Sweat & Tears, John Mayall, Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention, and Led Zeppelin. Wein wanted to make his event more relevant to the current music scene and had asked around about rock groups. He was told that Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson learned flute by studying Rahsaan Roland Kirk, that Led Zeppelin were a good white blues group. He had been inviting black blues groups for some time. He said in a later interview with Jon Garelick, "So I hired all these rock groups, and at that point I could hire them, they were all available to me, they all wanted to come to Newport.” He had the Fillmore East's light show at the fest.
George also had traditional jazz artists like Rashaan Roland Kirk, Sun Ra, Bill Evans, Gary Burton, Art Blakey, Miles Davis, as well as blues and R&B acts such as James Brown and B.B. King. The Ken Burns documentary on jazz shows clips of the 1969 festival and says that Miles Davis was impressed with the large crowd’s reaction to Sly and the Family Stone. Miles changed his style to be more rock oriented to successfully reach a larger fan base and play at bigger venues.
It was a precursor to Woodstock. I am one of the few of my generation who admits to not going to Woodstock. I was working then and watched many of my friends go. However, this event had some of that flavor with people everywhere and just sleeping on the hillside. We joined them as the party lasted most of the night.
Led Zeppelin was the most intense rock group there as I remember. Robert Plant got creative with the lyrics. They played: Train Kept a Rollin', I Can't Quit You, Dazed and Confused, You Shook Me, How Many More Times, Communication Breakdown, Long Tall Sally. You can get Led Zeppelin’s act as part of a three CD set, Tales from ’69. Jethro Tull played: My Sunday Feeling, Bourée, A New Day Yesterday, Dharma For One, Nothing Is Easy.
As I mentioned in the first post, I went back last year to find the site were the 1969 festival occurred. I asked around town and was directed to one of the local librarians, Lynda Bronaugh, who was around at the time. She was not in that day but we exchanged emails. Here is what she told me about 1969:
“In '69, the Newport Bridge had been completed, bringing in many more fans and George Wein had made a conscious decision to arrange a program that appealed more to youth with more rock groups. Tickets were in short supply, bans on sleeping out weren't enforced, and the 100 man security force was totally inadequate. Crowds attending the festival numbered 22,000 with another 10,000 camped around the site.
On Friday night, Jethro Tull and Blood, Sweat and Tears were on the program and the crowd outside broke the fence down, cheered on by the audience. Saturday night, the crowd outside got unruly and again breached the fence during a set by Sly and the Family Stone. Wein received a $52,000 bill from the city of Newport, half for overtime police protection, half for a city council-ordered chain link fence to surround the site and a proviso that no more rock groups were to be booked.
The 1970 festival was only three days, and without incident. The last Festival Field festival was held in 1971. On early on Saturday evening, crowds of young people high on everything from alcohol to acid surrounded the site. Wein called the police command force to clear the area, but they never came. The young people breached the chain link fence during Dionne Warwick's set. The stage was soon overflowing with a crowd who tore the lid off the piano, smashed everything in sight, and the police began lobbing tear gas canisters. Wein announced that the city had ordered the Festival shut down. Traffic was halted on the bridges allowing only residents and people with legitimate business in. At 7AM Sunday the police moved into Miantomoni Hill with bull horns telling everyone to put out their fires, fold their tents and leave within 15 minutes. Within an hour the park was cleared, and police moved on to the parking lots and cleared them.”
What is it about Dionne that sets off the riots?
In 1971 George Wein hired a new band called the Allman Brothers because he did not want to have the headaches caused by the big crowds. He said in the Garelick interview, "After Woodstock, no one would allow rock festivals. Those kids had no place to go. I asked Ahmet Ertegun [at Atlantic Records] to recommend a white blues group, but I wanted to make sure they weren't popular. So in January he recommended this group he'd just signed. And between January and July they became monsters. So the kids descended on Newport and they broke the fences down and we cancelled the festival."
The next year it moved to New York. It was held at Philharmonic Hall and Carnegie Hall that first year. It stayed for a number of years before coming back to Newport ten years later as a pure jazz festival without the rockers. The 1972 session is available on vinyl on several used record sites.