Friday, December 18, 2009

May 17, 1970 Fairfield University, Fairfield, CT

Due to a discussion on Deadlists, I have gotten interested in the May 17, 1970 Fairfield show.   Fairfield University, a Jesuit school founded in 1942 in the town of the same name, has a fine academic reputation despite its recent vintage. Fairfield, CT is midway between White Plains and New Haven, just within commuting range of New York City.

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
I actually think the last point may be the most relevant. Although the Dead played a rock festival in Philadelphia on Saturday, May 16, the Philadelphia and New York markets were distinctly different. Southern Connecticut, however, would probably have been perceived by Bill Graham (rightly or wrongly) as his turf, and he may have objected to a show being promoted that would discourage people from coming to Manhattan for a Friday show if they could just stay in New England.

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 beach party (also 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. If there was a Clam Jam show, perhaps it was some other time.

14 comments:

  1. I went to Fairfield University, and as University lore has it, the Grateful Dead played at "Clam Jam", an end-of-year party that would take place off campus, on Fairfield Beach (which is on the Long Island Sound). Clam Jam, (and it's Autumn counterpart "Luau"), were huge bashes that occured yearly and drew hundreds, even thousands of young people from across New England, as well as New York & New Jersey. Rumour has it that the Dead were coming back from a show (or as the author has written above, wrapping up a tour), driving through Fairfield, when they got stuck in traffic (or something like that, again, this was way before my time) and they inquired what was going on? Once they found out (or got involved in the festivities), they ended up throwing an impromptu concert on the point (the main area of Fairfield Beach's student rented housing)....pretty sick story, true or not....

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  2. Jack, thanks for this amazing detail. It makes a lot of sense that the Grateful Dead would play an end-of-term party at the tail end of the tour. I'll bet that the "Clam Jam" was publicized, but not the band, so there would be no ads saying "Grateful Dead."

    The Dead's contract with the Fillmore East probably prevented them from being advertised, making a college show attractive (the band wouldn't have been allowed to play a normal, advertised rock show in a nearby arena).Given the fuss over The Doors, the organizers of the event may also have had a stake in keeping the Grateful Dead's presence under the radar.

    The wonderful story of the Dead driving by and stopping off to play is a great tale, and almost certainly not true. For one thing, why would they be driving away from New York, when they were returning to San Francisco? However,this story does sound like the kind of hooey that College Seniors would tell the Dean when he asked how a nefarious rock band ended up playing a student event without prior authorization.

    On a more mundane note, the Fairfield date was on the original typewritten "Janet Soto List" from the early 1980s. (the Rosetta Stone of Grateful Dead performance history). Since the Soto list came from contracts, there must have been a contract with Fairfield (or some kind of written agreement), so the Dead's presence was not casual.

    Still, this is an amazing piece of information, and we can now start looking for "Fairfield University 1970 Clam Jam" for some further details.

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  3. I don't necessarily think that the Fillmore contract was so strict as to prevent them from playing impromptu shows. Bill Graham loved the Grateful Dead, especially Jerry Garcia. If the band played the show for free and it was an open night on the tour schedule, I don't think anyone would have been upset about it. Maybe someone from the band will share some info about it.

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  4. The Fillmore contract didn't prevent a band from playing free shows--it prevented shows from being advertised. Graham was from San Francisco, and certainly knew the value of free shows in creating a buzz.

    However, Graham (or any other promoter) did not want a publicly scheduled show, particularly a free one, to be advertised. Put another way, students at Fairfield might not have gone to Fillmore East if they knew the Dead would play for free two nights later.

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  5. The Fairfield University ‘Clam Jam’ story is most probably apocryphal. I grew up in the Fairfield beach area, maybe one-half mile from Lantern Point where Clam Jam usually took place. (That’s not entirely accurate, as the main activities were held at ‘The Point’, as it is referred to nowadays, but there were many other parties happening concurrently elsewhere in this area.) I graduated from Fairfield University and have attended several Clam Jams, in the late 80s/early 90s. I’ve been to around 130 Grateful Dead shows, mostly in the mid to late 80s, and have also spoken to Fairfield U. students who lived down at the beach in the late 60s/early 70s. No one I know ever mentioned the Grateful Dead playing down there.

    By way of background, back in 1970, the Fairfield beach area was very much a summer/seasonal community, with numerous small cottages; many were uninsulated. Most of these were left unoccupied during the off season; however, a small contingent of hearty Fairfield University students rented and lived down there during the school year. The University is maybe 3 miles away.

    It was only in the late 70s and early 80s that property owners saw the allure of living at the beach year round. A construction boom ensued whereby many homeowners either upgraded their cottages by insulating and finishing the interiors, or by demolishing the existing buildings and constructing new, more modern houses. It is still happening to this day. Many of these houses are worth upwards of $1 million or more.

    But not all cottages were improved. Many of these are still being rented to Fairfield University students today, for exorbitantly high rents (some for $4,000 to $5,000 a month and higher!).

    Also at this time, increases in enrollment and expansion at Fairfield University, coupled with a dearth of on-campus housing, made the beach area a ‘destination’ place for students to live and party without the watchful eye of University officials. This set up a situation where you had year-round, adult residents living next to itinerant University students who like to party. And I mean ‘next to’. Some of these houses are only several feet apart.

    Here is a shortened google maps link so you can see for yourself (move the map along Fairfield Beach Road and you can see the density of houses): http://g.co/maps/twy6w

    As more and more students moved to the beach area, the Clam Jam became a bigger event. But this only really started happening in the 1980s. Eventually, due to complaints by year-round beach residents, the Town of Fairfield and University officials adopted policies to curtail severely Clam Jam.

    Anywho, while it may be cool to believe the Grateful Dead did, in act, play at a Clam Jam, Jack’s note really describes Clam Jam as it existed in the late 80s/early 90s.

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  6. Ted, thank you very much for the interesting background. The one significant factor in favor of the Dead actually playing the Clam Jam in 1970 was that there appears to have been an actual contract to perform.

    However, given the fact that the University canceled The Doors, perhaps the Dead's appearance at Clam Jam was scuttled as well. However, was the Clam Jam subject to University control in those days, even indirectly.

    It's an interesting mystery either way, and you have added a lot to the picture.

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  7. Corry, the Clam Jam was never an officially sanctioned University event, nor controlled even indirectly by the University - or the Town of Fairfield, for that matter - until at least the early to mid 90s.

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  8. on a lighter note- Mickey Hart Band will be at the Ridgefield Playhouse Friday April 13th. It is going to be an awesome show!

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  9. If the Grateful Dead really played the Clam Jam, then it stands to reason that some of the people who went to it will be at the Riddgefield show. Seeing the Dead at your college beach luau would most likely make you a Deadhead for life. Too bad we can't survey the crowd, for the historical record...

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  10. I was particularly interested in this show, having grown up just over the line in Westport and attended high school at the prep school on the campus of Fairfield University.

    I found a mention of this show on the front page of the Bridgeport Post on 01 Apr 1970.

    "Fairfield U. Scene of Five Band 'Rock'"

    "A rock festival, featuring five nationally known bands, will take place from 1pm to dusk at Fairfield university Alumni field, sponsored by the Multiple Sclerosis society, 2 Trinity place, Norwalk.

    Musical groups will include the Chicagos (sic), Grateful Dead, Butterfield Blues, Goodhill, and Charleston Grace.

    Proceeds will benefit the Multiple Sclerosis society, with 60 percent being used for MS patients in Fairfield county."

    Newspaper image (bottom right corner)
    http://flickr.com/gp/tonymasiello/v5u26i

    Goodhill was a local band based out of the Westport/Weston area. Though they never recorded professionally, they are mentioned on the Staples (Westport) High School class of 1970 alumni website, and there is some silent 8mm footage of Goodhill performing on Youtube. I made contact with Rick Adams, who was the drummer in Goodhill. I showed him the newspaper announcement and described my interest in the show. This was his reply to me;

    "Hi Tony,

    For reasons I don't recall, that concert got cancelled. Not just our participation, but the whole concert. Would have been fun!

    Regards,
    Rick"

    I think Rick's testimony is significant, because participation, in an event like this, for an unsigned local band, would have been a big deal, and the cancellation was likely a significant disappointment to them at the time.

    So with this new information in mind, I think it is most likely that this date represents a canceled show for The Grateful Dead, and that the date is based solely on a contract or written agreement that remained in the band's archives. I am hoping to find a more definitive written account of the cancellation. I suppose that this does not rule out the possibility that the Dead made other arrangements to perform on May 17, 1970, but I find it highly unlikely.

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  11. Wow, thanks for the research Tony! While it's sad to see even a lost show disappear, it's good to know what happened.

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  12. Tony, that was pretty awesome research. Thanks! Lost no more, I guess, and the Clam Jam rumor was probably just a story.

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  13. In Sam Cutlers book he talks about the Temple show and how the band had trouble receiving payment.
    on page 253 of the softcover he states.
    "At six in the morning we would be leaving on a flight for Connecticut, but I don't remember being able to sleep."

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    1. Robert, I saw this too. The one thing about books written in the 21st century is that the authors (Phil Lesh, Sam Cutler, Rock Scully, etc) are looking at old copies of Deadbase to jog their memories. I'm glad they do, but it's not like Cutler really remembers anything about the Fairfield show, just that he couldn't sleep.

      That tells me he got on a plane, but it wasn't necessarily to Fairfield. So maybe there is some truth here--maybe the Dead didn't play the outdoor festival but DID play the Clam Jam--but I can't take Cutler's memory as definitive yet.

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