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Led Zeppelin Concert Memories: Newport Jazz Festival, 6th July 1969

tumblr_m6ppd4gBmf1qmle2jo1_1280From Underground Uprising

In 1969 the Newport Jazz Festival included several “jazz-rock” groups that the organizer, George Wein, invited on the recommendation of advisors hip to the new wave of sounds in the late sixties.

He thought he needed to have some of this to keep up with music trends. Well it turned out to be a rock festival, with all that goes along with it, i.e. drugs, nudity, and assorted hippiedom. There were also traditional jazz performers mixed in with the rock groups. Many of the blue blooded rich of Newport were near the front rows and they were mortified by the blasting volume and antics of the rock bands. The local newspaper had photos of these people and their facial reactions to the proceedings.

It was great! Some of the rock performers were Led Zeppelin, Jeff Beck, Ten Years After, Johnny Winter, Frank Zappa, Sly and the Family Stone, and Jethro Tull. Friday night was billed as “Jazz-Rock” night and had the bulk of these bands then. However, Led Zeppelin played as the last band on the last night of the festival, Sunday. As the festival was about to begin on Thursday, the townspeople and the police began to take notice of the undesirable element (hippies) invading the small town of Newport, Rhode Island. People had no place to stay so they ended up camping on lawns, in parks, and on the beach. During the shows people surged the stage and many outside of the festival grounds snuck in through the fence.

It was seen as a riot and George Wein freaked out. He made an announcement that Led Zeppelin would not be performing. He was trying to get the masses of hippies to leave and restore normality. I attended the Sunday evening show, I was only 12 years old but into the whole scene. My father was in the Navy and as a result I lived on the base only 1/4 mile away from the grounds! I could hear the Thursday, Friday and Saturday shows from my house! My next door neighbour and I walked to the concert just outside the base gate. Let’s see, Buddy Rich, Herbie Hancock, Gypsy and the Savage Rose, B.B. King and Johnny Winter played before Zeppelin. As Led Zeppelin were coming into town in a limo they noticed all these cars leaving. They were wondering why.

zep_newportWell, Peter Grant (their manager) found out about George Wein making his announcement of an Led Zeppelin no-show and gave George Wein a piece of his mind and said they were gonna play! Since festival goers had heard about the no-show many had left by the time Led Zeppelin came on. It seemed to be about midnight when they took the stage. Opening with Train Kept a Rollin’ that electrified the few that had stayed, the place appeared to be less than half full. Robert Plant said over the loudspeakers that he heard there were rumours of their non-appearance but assured the crowd they never intended not to play. Drawing mostly from their first album they played about an hour.

I remember How Many More Times the best. It was my favorite Zep tune. They really jammed. Also, Dazed And Confused sent the crowd crazy with the violin bow section. After it was over my friend and I walked back to the Navy base gate where my parents were waiting, angry at me staying so long. Being only 12 at the time I had to be reminded by some newspaper accounts to validate my faded memories. I still remember the Joshua Light Show (brought in from the Fillmore shows), the smell of my first time around pot, and how the P.A system sounded pretty shitty. But what a great experience to see these bands and it was a full month before Woodstock!!

Joel Barron

May 20, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Concert Memories: Newport Jazz Festival 6th July 1969 | , | Leave a comment