«Led Zeppelin played the iconic Newport Jazz Festival slot after Buddy Rich and his big band. The festival site was becoming overcrowded and the radio stations started to announce that we weren’t going to appear to try and cut the numbers of people that were travelling to the site. Such was the popularity of the group that we had hijacked such a prestigious jazz festival.» – Jimmy Page

Review: Great Zeppelin Closed Newport, Despite Ban!

For the first and last time, British groups may have suffered as a result of the 16th annual Newport Jazz Festival, held last weekend in Newport Rhode Island.

The three day event attracted a record crowd of some 80,000, the heaviest attendance figures of 25,000 coming on Friday night, which was devoted entirely to heavy rock. It also attracted the attention of the local authorities who, because of the tension and near riotous situation which prevailed on the same Friday night, demanded that Led Zeppelin be cancelled from the final bill on Sunday, and subsequently revoked the permission given for the opening concert on the Blind Faith tour.

Getting down to the festival itself for the first time, promoter George Wein was persuaded to run rock acts. If I recall, the first show he booked into this category was English – Jeff Beck, Ten Years After, Jethro Tull, John Mayall and Led Zeppelin – was the count of UK acts.

Excitement caused tension, tension provokes trouble with the local authorities and Newport, hardly used to rock, told George Wein to cancel Led Zeppelin’s appearance on Sunday, “in the interest of public safety”!  Wein announced the Zeppelin would not appear owing to the illness of one of the group. They showed up on Sunday anyway, following a knockout performance at the Atlanta Pop Festival and at 1am Monday morning, proceeded to go on stage and completely destroy the audience.

Led Zeppelin performing at the Newport Jazz Festival in Newport, RI on July 6, 1969. ** NEVER-BEFORE PUBLISHED PHOTOS **© Peter Tarnoff / Retna Ltd.

It was a strange situation for the Zeppelin to be in. Jimmy Page told me: “You don’t blow a date like this one. Not after all that. The Newport Jazz Festival was far too important to us to just cancel out and I’m very upset at the whole thing. Wein should never have announced once of us was ill.”

That wasn’t all. Johnny Winter was given an hour and a half on stage. Other acts ahead of Jimmy seemed to ignore the time limit set on their performances. Page was uptight, but when he went on stage, that crowd out there was ready and waiting, and Led Zeppelin was prepared to sock it to me – regardless of the unfortunate set of circumstances. With the Zeppelin’s close, so the 16th annual Newport Jazz Festival came to an end. (J. Harris, July ’69)

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News Report (2): A report that Led Zeppelin would not appear as billed on the Sunday evening Festival program was heard over the radio. This brought the group’s manager Peter Grant flying into Newport with lawyer saying that the British group would appear.

Led Zeppelin did appear. Led before a audience of 12,000. Grant later said: «George Wein panicked. It was obvious they weren’t going to get everybody in. He thought there’d be about 15,000 who couldn’t get in, so they announced that one of the group was ill and they wouldn’t appear. This was done without our knowledge. Actually, we came over from England to do the Festival. We were very excited about it. We felt it was progressive musically and would give us a new audience. We feel this hurt the act a lot».

Grant said that Led Zeppelin were planning to do a free concert in the area for the «people who came a long distance to see us and had no way of getting in.»

So Led Zeppelin closed the 1969 Newport Jazz Festival – actually with a vintage rock ‘n’ roll medley that started off with «Long Tall Sally.» It is worth noting that when the Festival finished last year, Wein stated: «The public for jazz is incredible – talk of jazz being dead is just ridiculous.» Nearly 80,000 attended the four days of the Festival, with three afternoon shows – an increase of 25,000 over the year before. [Billboard / July 1969]

Setlist: 

Train Kept a Rollin’, I Can’t Quit You Baby, Dazed and Confused, You Shook Me, How Many More Times (incl. «Lemon Song»), Communication Breakdown, Long Tall Sally.