Someone who currently lives in Fairfield wrote in to Deadlists, frustrated that there seems to be no information about the show, so I poked around and I, too could find out absolutely nothing. I did find out one interesting thing, however: The Doors were supposed to play on May 9, 1970 and the show was canceled on May 8. According to Greg Shaw in his fine chronology The Doors On The Road:
This much anticipated show was purportedly canceled due to a management dispute over the audience capacity, but the campus newspaper's front-page headlines announced that the concert had been canceled after an emergency meeting of the board of trustees to prevent The Doors from appearing at the upcoming gig.Following that session the board issued a statement:
"It is not in the best interests of the Fairfield community to have as its star attraction at spring weekend a person such as Mr. James Douglas Morrison."
The statement went on to warn that "undesirable and immoral elements might infiltrate the campus under the guise of watching the concert." The cancellation created enough of an uproar to warrant coverage by the New York Times when approximately half of the student body protested with a boycott and called for the resignation of the university's president. After the uproar, refund were given for all returned tickets sold and the event silently became another chapter in Doors history.
There's two ways to look at this. The first is that the University was afraid of a campus riot if they canceled the Grateful Dead, too--no joke in the wake of Kent State just a few weeks earlier. The other is that if a school found Jim Morrison and The Doors might attract "undesirable and immoral elements," it doesn't seem that likely that they would say "however, a band with a lead singer named Pigpen and his Hell's Angels friends are still always welcome."
There are a few other things to consider:
- the show was at the end of a tour, and its always easiest to cancel the last day of a tour
- Fairfield University was about to admit women in Fall 1970, and the college may have been extraordinarily conscious of how they appeared to parents
- The Grateful Dead had played two shows at the Fillmore East on Friday May 15, 1970, and Fairfield is only about 60 miles from Greenwich Village
Assuming the show wasn't canceled outright, it may be that the show was simply not publicized, thus placating Graham--it may have been a condition of a Fillmore East contract--and making it very difficult for historians to determine much about the show. A few years earlier it had been possible to have "stealth" shows on a University campus, booking the Dead under a false or vague name, and spreading the news through word of mouth. This appears to have been done at SUNY Stony Brook on June 3, 1967, for example (see this comment thread). By 1970, however, even Jesuit Administrators had heard of the Grateful Dead, and FM radio would rapidly spread the word, so a stealth or free concert was pretty unlikely on the East Coast on 1970, particularly if Bill Graham's wrath might be incurred.
A more plausible explanation, given the date, was that the performance was a University sponsored event, like the Senior Prom, and it was not open to outsiders. This is not as far-fetched as it might sound. Often these events had substantial budgets, and/or wealthy benefactors (such as if the children of wealthy alums were graduating), and were held in a large venue. On October 16, 1970, Drexel University in Philadelphia rented Irvine Auditorium at U-Penn (nearby) for their Homecoming Dance and hired the Grateful Dead. In that case, every other row was reserved for Drexel students and their dates, many of whom were not expecting what they got (this was written up in Deadbase IX by Zea Sonnabend, who attended). Clearly some hippies got their hands on the Drexel Homecoming budget, went through an agency and got an empty space on the Dead's schedule.
Given that May 17 was probably the end of the semester, or near it, a big blowout event on or near campus for graduation seems pretty plausible. Many University events are closed to outsiders, so the show may not have been advertised at all. Certainly, after the Doors debacle, whichever students had helped recruit the Dead must have known to keep their heads down if they wanted the concert to go on.
All my reasoning about the Dead playing Fairfield or not, under various scenarios, still proves nothing one way or another. Until someone can definitively say they attended, or explain why or how the concert was planned and then canceled, this will remain another unconfirmed mystery on the list of Grateful Dead performances.
Update: A commenter who attended Fairfield University somewhat later says that school lore holds that the Grateful Dead played an off-campus event called "The Clam Jam." The Clam Jam was an annual Spring beach party (along with a Fall event called "The Luau") held on the beach at Long Island Sound, not far from campus and where many students lived in rental housing. This fits several scenarios: the event would have been advertised as the Clam Jam (or Luau), not a Grateful Dead concert, fulfilling the Fillmore East contract and holding off suspicious University administrators (while it may not have been a campus event per se, a hostile University never helps). Whatever the exact financing of the Clam Jam, there may have been some money available to pay the Dead to make it worth their while to stick around an extra day.
The Clam Jam and Luau were quite large events that attracted young people from far away. As the town of Fairfield Beach has become more residential (rather than seasonal) over the years, the events have been curtailed.
Update2: Commenter and ace researcher Tony found a mention of this show in the Bridgeport paper. It was supposed to be a rock festival featuring the Dead, Chicago, Butterfield Blues Band and some local groups. He tracked down someone from one of the local groups who recalled it being canceled. That explains both why the contract existed (the source of the list in the first place) and why we could find no record of it. The Clam Jam rumor seems to have been a retroactive, wishful retelling of what could have happened.