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History of the Tanglewood Popular Artists Series

Tanglewood expanded its musical offerings in 1968, with the creation of the “Contemporary Trends” concerts -- a precursor to today’s Popular Artist and Jazz series. Originally conceived as an extension of the Festival of Contemporary Music by Gunther Schuller, the purpose of the series was to present performances by popular groups representing important trends in contemporary music outside the sphere of Western “classical” music.

The first few years included performances by The Association, Modern Jazz Quartet, Ravi Shankar, B.B. King, Miles Davis, and Chicago, and Chet Atkins. The series addressed the fact that while Tanglewood audiences were not getting smaller, they were getting older; and the introduction of different styles of music, including rock, jazz, and folk attracted a larger and more diverse audience and boosted box office receipts.

1969 color flyer advertising Jefferson Airplane, BB King and The Who at Tanglewood

Flyer for the August 12, 1969 Contemporary Trends concert that included performances by Jefferson Airplane, B.B. King; The Who, and Joshua Light Show, who stopped off at Tanglewood en route to the Woodstock Festival.

The inaugural series took place on four consecutive Wednesdays in July of 1968, with each concert emphasizing a different aspect of contemporary “popular” music, including musical satire; folk-rock music; non-Western music; and jazz.

We believe that the Festival of Contemporary Music, if it is to be truly representative of today’s contemporary musical life, must offer the best creative efforts in jazz, rock, folk, gospel and the various ethnic crosscurrents which fundamentally affect our music culture.

Gunther Schuller (1969)

Rock Fans Jam Tanglewood

1969 news clipping describing the crowds at the Contemporary Trends concerts at Tanglewood in 1969
1969 newspaper clippings describing the crowds at Tanglewood. An unintended consequence of the Contemporary Trends concerts were crowds of up to 22,000 people that caused monumental parking and traffic problems, security issues, and noise complaints from neighbors.

Popular Artists Today

Earth, Wind & Fire performs at Tanglewood on Saturday, June 18, 2016 Photograph by Hilary Scott