As I write in the Wall Street Journal today (here), Friday marks the 50th anniversary of the Newport Jazz Festival riot. On July 2, 1960, upward of 12,000 teens and college students poured into tiny Newport, R.I., for a weekend of excitement. Unfortunately for the partying crowd, 16,500 jazz fans had already purchased all the tickets to the festival's events and had reserved every available room in town. [Pictured: Rhode Island state police officer with a rioter]
Frustrated and cranky, thousands of young beach-goers, many intoxicated by early evening, began trying to force their way into Freebody Park, where the festival was being held.
What happened next is the subject of my Wall Street Journal article. I interview George Wein, the festival's founder; vibraphonist Gary Burton, who was there; and four former Newport police officers who describe what occurred that night from their vantage points. In the end, the riot changed how outdoor jazz, rock and pop concerts and crowds were managed. And for the first time in 50 years, it's now clear that the disturbance had nothing to do with the festival or how it was promoted. [Pictured: Jazz festival ticket-holders are told the next morning that the festival's remaining concerts had been scrapped]
Here are the first few paragraphs of my article (you'll have to buy a copy of the Wall Street Journal for the rest if you don't have online access)...
"Blame it on Jazz on a Summer’s Day, A Summer Place and Gidget. All three films stirred the imaginations of New England’s youth in early 1960, motivating thousands to head to Newport, R.I., for the Fourth of July weekend.
"But what began as a chance to swim, find romance, and listen to live jazz quickly turned ugly on the evening of Saturday, July 2. Unable to disperse an intoxicated mob of up to 12,000 young people seeking access to the sold-out Newport Jazz Festival, New England’s wealthiest community summoned the state police and then the National Guard to restore order.
"When the tear gas cleared, stricter rules for crowd control and alcohol consumption were enforced at outdoor jazz, rock, pop and soul concerts nationwide. And the Newport Jazz Festival was left with a black eye."
Tomorrow: A JazzWax interview with George Wein on the little-known story of the much smaller Newport Rebel Jazz Festival that was held the exact same weekend as the Newport Jazz Festival 50 years ago.
Newport 2010. This year's CareFusion Jazz Festival in Newport will run from August 6 to 8. Acts include Chick Corea, Ahmad Jamal, Christian McBride, Bob Brookmeyer, Trio da Paz and others. For more information and tickets, go here.