The Riots of 1964 — Chapter 7

July 2 – July 5, 1965

Project Director’s Report
Paul Estaver, Director

July 2 – July 5, 1965

Thus on the morning of July 2nd we were faced with the task of assembling a professional show for July 3rd and July 4th, and it had to be a show of sufficient caliber to qualify as a counter attraction to a possible riot. Had it not been for the exploration of the previous week, it obviously would have been impossible. Had it also not been for cooperation above and beyond the call of duty on the part of Manuel Greenhill of Folklore Productions, Inc., it would have been equally impossible. Greenhill and I did business on the telephone from my house to his hotel room in Newport, R.I. where he had gone to oversee the production of several of his performers in the Jazz Festival.

From this room he proceeded to place calls all over New England to do the best he could for us. His best was quite good – of the four acts he sent us, three were nationally known recording and performing artists in the folk music field. For Saturday we had Eric von Schmidt, Bonnie Dobson, and an up-and-coming group known as the White Mountain Singers. This last group, although they had no reputation to precede them, were received almost better than the single performers in the particular situation at Hampton Beach. On Sunday, to replace the White Mountain Singers, there were the New Lost City Ramblers, one of whose members is the brother of Pete Seager. Both these groups were trios.

By mid-afternoon Friday all of these performers were committed, and a telegram contract including a substantial portion of the $1800 package price was on its way to Greenhill. In addition we engaged as a single performer and master of ceremonies Danny Gravis, another folk singer on the way up who had participated in several of the CAVE songfests and was well known and liked by the young people on the beach.

During Friday there was also an opportunity to consult with Bill Elliot and with Stan Bednarz, the Hampton Beach Band leader, to arrange that the CAVE shows, instead of being chopped up into one hour segments interspersed with the regular entertainment, were reduced to two each day, each running two hours, from three to five in the afternoon and from 7:45 until approximately 9:45 at night. We were particularly anxious that the CAVE program should be in full swing at dusk on Sunday evening, the traditional hour for trouble to start. Once the schedule was set, Greenhill was again contacted to warn all the performers to come well in advance of the appointed hour, bearing in mind that the congestion of a holiday could slow their approach and that there might even be problems with police road blocks if the situation looked at all explosive. We went so far as to indicate which approach they should take to the beach so that we could notify the proper road block officers or perhaps send one of the workers out as an escort.

Two other scheduled guests for the weekend were Korman Kassoff of the IACP, on hand as an observer, and Cy Rosenthal of the Office of Juvenile Delinquency, to observe and to assist where possible in the carrying out of the Fourth of July program.

A day or two previous the roof of the CAVE building had finally been finished, and we were able to return the trailer with thanks and occupy the new headquarters to carry on the recruiting, meetings and research. Doors were another week or more in coming, so that each night we had to take home everything of value in the building – interview schedules, typewriter, camera, membership cards, the membership file, poster materials, tools – and then cart it all back again the next morning. There were no lights, of course, but we were able to run a line in from the playground next door and use a mechanic’s drop light to some effect.

First Show Held Indoors

Saturday morning and early afternoon it rained intermittently, and then settled down to a steady drizzle which sharply reduced the holiday crowds. It also forced us to hunt for an alternative location to put on the first of the four shows. To fill this need John Dineen generously came to the rescue, offering us the use of his ballroom at no charge, provided that a crew of volunteers would clean it up when we were through. By one o’clock everything was lined up except the sound system; the unit then at the ballroom had been installed on trial and could not be touched except by its owner who was not available on short notice. Once again we were happy to have a man like Hammond on hand to whom one could say, “Go find us a sound system,” knowing that somehow he would do it – as he did in 45 minutes time. without it there could have been no show.

All the last minute changes, complicated by the fact that no one was sure how to make the sound system work or tune it properly, the change in location, CAVE’s limited facilities for poster-making at that time – all these made for a somewhat unsatisfactory event in the afternoon. As the photographs show, not only young people but adults came to the performances. In all probably somewhere between 500 and 1000 came to watch at least a portion of the show. By evening the weather had cleared enough so that we were able to hold the second show in the Seashell according to plan. In some ways it was highly successful, in other ways it was less than we could have wished. As far as the devotees of folk music were concerned, it could hardly have been better. They came early, plunked themselves down in front, and stayed until the final chord.

Folk Music – Limited Appeal

However, folk music has not nearly the universal appeal of rock and roll or other types of popular music and entertainment. In this situation our job was to attract and hold a large and heterogeneous crowd in an area adjacent to the north and south boardwalks, the beach, and Ocean Boulevard itself. Particularly over Fourth of July weekend when the seats were removed from the Seashell, it was all too easy for the audience to stop and listen for a few minutes if they liked a performance, or simply to wander away if it did not appeal. At the Newport Folk Festival or any indoor folk concert, a single performer can hold a huge audience, all of whom are conversant with and appreciative of this milieu. As lovely or, in some instances, as unusual as their performance may have been, the single artists alone on the stage simply could not hold the attention of the casual crowd on the street and on the beach as well as did the White Mountain Singers, who concluded the show with a really rousing performance.

Afterward in a critique there was much discussion about what could be done to improve the Sunday shows – to make them more universal in their appeal. Rosenthal strongly urged that we do anything possible to get more lively tunes, more rhythm, anything that would encourage audience participation, and if practicable to get more performers on the stage at once, possibly by utilizing some of the local, non-professional talent.

The latter we were able to do to some extent for the Sunday afternoon show, and we urged all the performers to do the liveliest numbers possible, but our most effective staging for Sunday night was partly a matter of sheer luck.

During Saturday we had discussed these various problems with Eric von Schmidt, who said he had some friends who might possibly be able to help. Visiting him at his home were folk singers Dick and Mimi Farina (nee Baez), Bruce Langhorne, and Debbie Green. There might be a chance, von Schmidt suggested, that one or two of these people might volunteer to do a number to fill out the show, or even that some sort of ensemble could be worked out.

Sunday afternoon after the show, von Schmidt, his wife, children

and dog, repaired to my house for a little rest. Shortly thereafter another car drove in with his friends, and on my lawn by the ocean there then took place one of the most truly delightful and wholly spontaneous musical performance I ever heard. In addition to those previously mentioned, von Schmidt’s wife and children, with myself on bass, joined in singing and playing on a variety of instruments – guitars, banjo, dulcimer, lute, tambourines – and those who had nothing to play clapped their hands. The tunes von Schmidt chose were highly rhythmic ones, the best sort of thing in the tradition of old time spirituals.

Effectiveness of Group Performers

This same performance was repeated Sunday evening at precisely dusk when there would have been trouble if it was coming, and it was the hit of the weekend. We even managed to get the stage piano into it, and counting adults and children there were probably fifteen people on stage all at once. The audience stabilized and swelled, obviously enjoying themselves thoroughly. In a way it was almost anti-climactic since there were several single performances which had to follow but even this was alleviated somewhat by using impromptu groups of talented amateurs and building up to another finale of sorts as ten o’clock approached. At that Sunday night performance probably 1500 or more people were in and out of the area at one time or another, listening to the show. Once again, as had been the case with all the previous CAVE functions, there was virtually no sensation of tension in the area – or for that matter anywhere along the beach or boardwalk.

Law Enforcement

During this Fourth of July weekend, approximately $30,000 was spent on law enforcement for Hampton Beach. The cost to the town alone was $15,000. Including the state police and the sheriff’s department, there were some 200 uniformed policemen in the beach area, with the National Guard encamped close by in case of emergency. A very thorough plan had been worked out to cope with any trouble which might take place, with road block locations established to stop all possible flow of traffic if necessary, with a carefully arranged plan to drive troublemakers off the beach, then north and south away from buildings and automobiles where damage could be done, with officers posted strategically throughout the community, even including rooftop locations.

When it became evident that the Fourth of July crowd would be smaller than usual and that there were no signs of building tension, the police rather sharply altered their method of crowd control. Whereas through the spring and up to Fourth of July weekend there had been conspicuous and consistent vigilance, checking of cars and individuals, now the police for the most part simply patrolled the area in heavy numbers with little individual crowd contact, and let their presence take its effect. As a precautionary measure the seats were removed from the bandstand and all the trash barrels from the beach, and a few suspicious looking young men were removed from the crowd for questioning and perhaps sent elsewhere, but beyond these precautions little else was necessary.

The crowd itself was much smaller than on the equivalent weekend of the previous year. Police estimates suggest that the 1964 Fourth of July crowd was probably 100,000 and that for 1965 it was under 10,000, partly as a result of the inclement weather, but partly also, judging by what we learned on Labor Day, in response to police vigilance through the spring.

For whatever combination of reasons there was nothing like the tension of July Fourth, 1964. In the earlier year through the weekend there had been horseplay on the beach, the groups of young people singing, chanting, throwing firecrackers, ready to surge. By comparison, the beach itself was almost empty once the bathers and sun-bathers had gone home on July 4 of 1965. The boardwalk area, though congested, was orderly. Police made it clear that no large gatherings were to take place, and generally everyone strolled up and down although quite a number of young people were allowed to perch on the railings since it offered no particular threat. I don’t think I heard more than one or two firecrackers throughout the entire weekend.

Observations of the beach were made both by persons connected with the CAVE program and by police helicopter while the special shows were taking place. Indications were that, while there was a substantial crowd drawn to the Seashell area, the show had little effect outside the immediate center of the beach. A hundred feet north or south of the Seashell complex, the performers could not be heard. The helicopter estimate was that not more than 10% of the beach population was affected by the show. Two rather divergent conclusions could be drawn from these observations: One view was that the CAVE show was not really necessary, that police work alone would have been sufficient to control the crowd for fourth of July weekend. The other view was that a dance on the sand could have been held effectively, that here was a large empty area where many more people could have been involved at a smaller expense, particularly had there been tension that the show alone would not have been enough.

The police views that night about crowd control varied. One officer suggested that any crowd is a potential mob, even one coming out of church. On the boardwalk, where people were simply milling around, he said he felt no tension, but he said the larger gathering by the Seashell offered potential trouble, simply by virtue of its size. Another officer, upon being questioned in this same vein, said that the difference was determined by the attitude of the crowd. “Look at those people,” he said. “Look at that couple standing there holding hands. Do you think they’re going to start a riot? If you have the right kind of setting, you won’t have trouble with crowds simply because they’re big. These people all have something to absorb them. It’s those people out there on the boardwalk that worry us.”

At the conclusion of the weekend, there was much discussion concerning its obvious success in avoidance of trouble. In general the average businessman was inclined to credit the police, with emphasis on the work done by the state police through the weeks leading up to July Fourth. There were obviously also the factors of the weather and the much diminished crowds.

A few businessmen, a few police officials, and particularly the young people themselves, felt very strongly that, although the above were factors, the CAVE show and the determination of the young people themselves at large that there should not be trouble were equally strong deterrents. Once again, they felt they had proven themselves, and they looked forward to a revival and continuation of the CAVE program in the coming weeks.