George Wein returns to Newport helm

Octogenarian started Playboy, New Orleans jazz fests

NEWPORT, R.I. -- The founder of the Newport folk and jazz festivals announced Tuesday that he will produce both events this summer, returning to a leadership role after selling his production company two years ago.

Jazz impresario George Wein, 83, said he decided to step in after learning that the new owner, The Festival Network, was experiencing financial problems and that the decades-old Newport festivals were in danger of being canceled.

"I can't let the festivals die," said Wein, who had remained involved with the shows for the last two years. "They're too much of my life."

Wein said he was negotiating a contract to produce gala folk and jazz festivals on back-to-back weekends in late July and early August. The acts and ticket information will be announced next month.

"My legs are shot, but for some reason, my head is doing better than ever," Wein said.

The festivals have been staples in Newport since the 1950s.

The jazz festival, which was established in 1954, has hosted legendary musicians including Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Billie Holliday, even Frank Sinatra.

The folk festival started in 1959 and is perhaps best known as the place where Bob Dylan went electric in 1965. The Festival Network made news last year by inviting performers seen as outside the traditional folk umbrella, such as Trey Anastasio and the Black Crowes.

"People sometimes think that putting on a festival is easy. They've been looking at it and they say, 'We can do that,"' Wein said. "I don't think it's that easy. I've been doing it for 55 years."

Wein, a jazz pianist-turned-impresario, also established the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and the Playboy Jazz Festival. He eventually created his own company, Festival Productions Inc., that produced jazz events around the world.