Unbridled youth

Thu, 02/11/2021 - 5:15pm

“Come with us, son. You’re under arrest,” said the Newport Policemen. “Just walk with me and don’t do anything stupid.” I’d already done something stupid, that’s why I was walking with two policemen. In 1967 while at the Newport Folk Festival and hanging out with a bunch of kids near the festival grounds and stage, we were all having a blast playing our guitars, flirting, and singing Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan songs. It was like an old-school version of tailgating at a Jimmy Buffett concert or a Patriots’ game at Schaefer Stadium. The only difference is that no one had the money to get into the festival grounds to see the show. I’d snuck in to see Dylan in ’65, but that night, before Dylan’s set, I had more fun hanging out in the parking lot with kids my own age.

In ’67 I sported a wide brimmed Panama hat that I wore while caddying at the Point Judith Country Club. I had the hat on that night outside the festival fence when the police came to give the boot to all of the kids who were sitting around and having some harmless teenage fun. A kid starts saying to the gang of about sixty kids, “Hey, this isn’t right, we ain’t leaving because we ain’t doing anything wrong.” The next thing we know, a couple of cruisers pulled up along with a Paddy Wagon. I was in the middle of this gang of yelling, unruly, and unbridled youth and flirting with a cute girl who was watching me play guitar earlier. I was eating a peach while whooping it up and chanting with my rebel pals, and between my chanting I tossed the peach stone, which landed near a cruiser. Bad move. “Joey, that policeman is looking at you,” said the cute girl. “He looks upset.” She was right and as it turned out I was the perfect guy to bust - an easy target with my big straw hat - and it made the crowd of rowdy young hooligans finally disperse. I wasn’t trying to destroy a police car with a peach stone. I just tossed it near some bushes near the cruiser; however, that action was all the policemen needed to set an example for the crowd.

The irony of that night when I was seventeen was that I really wanted to hear Johnny Cash sing his songs. I like his stuff. And, I did get to hear Johnny sing a song - one song. As the Paddy Wagon pulled slowly out of the festival parking lot - where a Walmart now stands - the ten of us in the wagon could hear Cash singing “Folsom Prison Blues.” (You can’t make this stuff up.) The paddy wagon pulled up to the Newport Police Department and marched the rag-tag group of reprobates into the cellblock. I ended up in a cell with a guy from NYU who was a Dylan fan like myself, and two other guys. Twins. These two guys were like cartoon characters. They were identical; same clothes, long hairstyles, and an equal number of teeth in their respective mouths. (Each guy appeared to have about eight teeth, each.) The NYU guy looked at me and then at the guys, and shrugged. That’s when I thought, how in hell did I end up with these characters. The guys were unstrapped and were not new to the legal system.

The twins were from the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and spoke with New Yawk nasal accents. They told us that they both did some time in the Tombs. “Ya ever been locked up in the Tombs?” asked twin number one. The NYU guy and I said no. “You don’t want to go there,” said twin number two. “That place is bad news.” These guys were completely at ease in jail, and they looked at the whole thing as no big deal and were happy to have a place to sleep for the night. I didn’t ask why they were arrested. The Manhattan Detention Complex, a.k.a. the Tombs, was part of New York City for two hundred years. (Google this.) Since 1967 I’ve read many stories about the Tombs. The twins from New York City were right, the place is bad news.

The next day we were led upstairs to a clerk, and were told of our fines. I had no money and was allowed one phone call. It was a weekend and my parents were at our summer shack in Point Judith. My older sister Janey answered the phone, and I told her that I was locked up in Newport.

“What the hell did you do now, Joey?” she asked.

“Long story,” I said. “I need ten bucks to pay my fine and I don’t have any money.”

“I’ll Western Union you the money, tell the cops that.”

The money was there in fifteen minutes and I was free to leave the Newport Police Station. After paying the fine, I asked the policeman why I was arrested at Festival Field. He handed me a receipt for my fine, and a copy of the complaint. It said, I was arrested for “Inciting a riot.” I told the policeman that I was just having some fun playing music with other kids. I told the cop we were just having fun and I guess things “got out of hand.” Seeing that I was a juvenile, the charge was filed. However, it was a wake up, or what we would call today, “a learning moment,” call for an unbridled seventeen-year-old. In the early 60s there had been some serious riots during the Jazz Festival in Newport, and on 4 July 1971 things got completely out of hand, when some very unbridled kids tore down a section of fence to get inside where the audience was seated. As a result, the next two days of the festival were canceled. There was a scary tension in the air that night - I was there - and you could feel something bad was going to happen. Finally, there was just too much crazy that night, and I had enough good sense to just get the hell out of there. In hindsight, I learned that actions and words can have consequences.

‘Nuff said.