Dixieland at Disneyland

dixieland-disneyland-mark-twain-night

Dixieland at Disneyland was an annual special event held at Disneyland beginning in 1960 and lasting through 1970 that featured live bands, a Mardi Gras floating parade on the Rivers of America, scenic environments, and more. It was a special hard ticket event priced around $4.50, and it brought out jazz fans in droves. Dixieland at Disneyland was also a special Annual Passholder event earlier this week with some similar elements, harkening back to the early days of Dixieland at Disneyland.

I was fortunate enough to attend this week’s Dixieland at Disneyland event, and had an amazing time at the event. It has been the highlight, so far, of the Annual Passholder events I’ve attended that I discussed in the Disneyland Annual Pass Info & Tips post. I wrote there that these events demonstrate that Disneyland does care about its Annual Passholders, and having an event like this that pays homage to Disneyland history and features a presumably large entertainment budget really shows me that there are people working hard behind the scenes at Disneyland who really care and “get” it.

Because I was impressed by the event and wanted to share some of the experience, I thought I’d write a recap. At the same time, I don’t want this to come across as “here’s a look at this awesome one-time(?) event you’ll probably never get to attend. HAHA, SUCKERS!” so I thought I would strike a balance by highlighting the history of Dixieland at Disneyland as well as a recap of this specific incarnation of it.

Fair enough? We’ll start with some historical info about Dixieland at Disneyland, then I’ll share some of my photos and thoughts from this year’s event…

sailing-ship-columbia-dixieland-disneyland

For starters, I don’t normally cover Disneyland history. Me writing about the history of Disneyland is like having a chimpanzee play piano at a wedding: chimps can do a lot of stuff and they probably could mash on the keys halfway decently, but there are a plethora of real piano players you’d be better off hiring.

That is, unless you really like chimps, in which case they are a good compromise for the job. I am like the chimp of Disneyland history, with there being literally hundreds of bloggers who are far more knowledgeable about this topic than me. Fortunately, the internet has this great thing called “links”; click on the ones throughout the paragraphs that follow and be rewarded with some great posts on the subject.

As I wrote above, Dixieland at Disneyland began in 1960 as a “one nite only” special event. The event was to be held in the entire park, but focus on creating the perfect environment in his park. Keep in mind, this event started before the opening of New Orleans Square, so the idea of bringing New Orleans to life in the park had likely been fermenting in Walt’s brain for some time, and he likely iterated on the concept and what it would entail, at least in part, through these events. Per the book New Orleans on Parade, Walt Disney drew inspiration for Dixieland at Disneyland from the Dixieland Jubilee held at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.

Tickets for the event, over the years, were sold in advance at the Disneyland box office as well as local Southern California businesses. The price started at $4.50 and by later years had increased to a whopping $5.50. Even adjusted for inflation, this is only about $35 today, which is a veritable steal for seeing the likes of Louis Armstrong and other popular jazz musicians of the day in concert…at Disneyland.

For a one ‘nite’ event, it seems that great efforts were put into it. Everything from the event programs and posters to the elaborate floats and scenic backgrounds created by WED (Imagineers) was carefully designed. Given the large lineup of musicians, Walt could have probably put them at various bandstands around the park and had that been sufficient. Of course, “sufficient” was a foreign concept to Walt Disney. If you look at this program from the 5th year, you’ll notice credits featuring some Disneyland heavyweights, including George Mills and Disney Legend Rolly (Roland) Crump.

The Disneyland History Institute reports that the first event in 1960 caught Disneyland operations by surprise, as some 9,000 jazz fans showed up. By today’s standards, a 9,000-head special event would be a disappointment (hard ticket parties typically sell ~30,000 tickets) but Disneyland’s capacity in 1960 wasn’t even close to what it is today. For some perspective, Disneyland’s opening day attendance was estimated to be 28,154, and was absolute chaos (only 11,000 people were invited, but tickets were easily bootlegged). Nine-thousand people for a special event focusing on music would have been a large number for the park to handle.

During this era, Dixieland at Disneyland was held near the start of off-season during the fall, and became a 2-night event. It was advertised in park maps and materials at the time, and touted “unlimited use of all attractions” (remember, attractions used the A through E-Ticket system at the time and were not normally unlimited) as well as some of the musicians who would be performing. Here are some 1967 tickets. What I wouldn’t give to have some of that ephemera.

As for the substance of Dixieland at Disneyland, it sounds amazing. This DHI paints a beautiful picture of the event–to quote:

From the very outset of the Dixieland at Disneyland, it was over the top. The first year of the event, 1960, saw a format that held true for the run of the show (and most assuredly provided the inspiration for Fantasmic…sans dragon). The show started with water pageantry that created a floating Mardi Gras parade on the Rivers of America. Used to stunning results were ground and aerial fireworks. For each of the inaugural year’s six bands a floating raft was created, complete with multi-colored spotlights that illuminated the musicians. And for the grand finale, all six bands gathered aboard the riverboat Mark Twain and sailed past the audience, swinging in time, to the all-time Dixieland favorite, “When the Saints Come Marching In.” (Following the first year, 200 guests were invited to take the ride on the Mississippi stern wheeler with the bands, and participate in the show by waving sparklers).
When the Mark Twain docked, the bands disembarked and were once again led by torch light. They carried on and playing their liveliest Dixie melodies, each band marched off to six separate locations throughout Disneyland to perform for the crowd during the remainder of the night. The evening culminated when at the strike of Midnight, the bands once again assembled and were lead in a foot-tapping parade down Main Street and to the Railroad Station in Town Square. Once again the massed band of jazz performers would play together until the closing of the ceremonies at 1am (2am from 1961 onward).
I think the next time anyone tells me that “Disneyland was meant to be for kids” as an argument justifying the kiddifying of the parks, I’m going to respond with that link.

While historians and collectors have managed to preserve tickets and posters from Dixieland at Disneyland, few photographs depict the events. Save for these incredible photos of the scenic environments, bandstands, and Mardi Gras floats and this one of Louis Armstrong performing for the first time, there are few photos of the events. There’s actually a CD of music from a band that performed at the event, and I’m definitely going to check it out.

By the “Summer of 100 Million Smiles” in 1971, Dixieland at Disneyland had transmorgified into “Dixieland and all that Jazz” and was a 6-night event…

jazz-band-dixieland-disneyland-mark-twain

…And now, Dixieland at Disneyland has made its triumphant return!

The return is largely in name since the offerings for the Annual Passholder event were dramatically different than the original events from the 1960s, but in fairness, much has changed about Disneyland since that time. From what I can surmise based upon reading about the original events and having experienced this one, it held true to the originals at least in spirit.

dixieland-disneyland-673

What really impressed me about this event was that it was a free event for Annual Passholders. Disneyland generates plenty of money from APs (between the pricey tickets themselves to the money we spend once in the parks), so it’s not as if the company is exactly strapped for cash, but this isn’t something they have to do, so it’s pretty special that they chose to do it, and not charge for it. I’m not going to state how much I would have paid to attend this event because I don’t want to give anyone who might be reading this any ideas…

dixieland-disneyland-665

Dixieland at Disneyland started by getting wristbands for the event and picking up the program flier outside the park. Pretty spiffy looking, and clearly drew some inspiration from the art used in the 1960s.

The event was initially fairly busy, and we started out by walking around the areas of the park that were open surveying what would draw the biggest crowds. To my surprise and delight, about 20 minutes after the party started, Big Al and Liverlips from Counter Bear Jamboree had an estimated 45 minute wait. That line would only get longer as the night went on. This line was considerably longer than the line for Pooh and friends, and that bear has an attraction at Disneyland after evicting the Country Bears over a decade ago.

I’ve met the Country Bears in Walt Disney World countless times, so the prospect of a 45 minute line was not appealing. Instead, we went on to watch the Golden Horseshoe Revue at Big Thunder Ranch.

dixieland-disneyland-666

The friends with whom I was attending the party had all seen Golden Horseshoe Revue during its Limited Time Magic run a couple of years ago, but I had not. They were a bit letdown by this truncated version of the show, but I absolutely loved it. It was funny, edgy, and irreverent. I suspect it was truncated because the performers had limited time to practice for this one-night engagement, but I certainly hope this is only a preview of a surprise return for Disneyland’s 60th Anniversary this summer.

helmsman-disneyland-pirates-caribbean

Following the first viewing of the Golden Horseshoe Revue, we did a few attractions that were open in Adventureland, Frontierland, and New Orleans Square (the rest of the park wasn’t open due to testing of the Paint the Night Parade) and then headed over to the Mark Twain for a nighttime ride on that.

mark-twain-disneyland-dixieland-jazz-band

Nighttime rides on the Mark Twain are always glorious (and rare, due to Fantasmic), but this one was especially enjoyable due to the live jazz band aboard the ship. The Jambalaya Jazz Band was performing on the second deck of the ship, and it was pure magic floating around the Rivers of America as they performed.

sax-dixieland-disneyland

After one delightful ride aboard the Mark Twain, the rest of my group opted to line back up for another. I was left with a dilemma, as both the last Mark Twain cruise was at midnight, as was the last performance of the Golden Horseshoe Revue. I decided to watch the Golden Horseshoe Revue again, this time snagging a front row seat. Here are some of my photos from that viewing:

dixieland-disneyland-667

dixieland-disneyland-670

dixieland-disneyland-671

dixieland-disneyland-672

dixieland-disneyland-674

dixieland-disneyland-675

dixieland-disneyland-676

dixieland-disneyland-677

golden-horseshoe-dixieland-disneyland

There was plenty of other live jazz music around Disneyland, including at the French Market, where I ended my night at 1 am by sitting in a near-empty seating area, listening to the high-energy jazz music while enjoying some bananas foster cheesecake.

dixieland-disneyland-678

This quiet moment was somewhere between sublime and transcendent, and gave me pause to reflect upon a flawless evening. These little moments are what really elevate the Disneyland experience for me, and they seem to happen with some regularity. The park has a certain elusive, indefinable quality about it and it’s this quality that makes me love the place so much, and so strongly encourage every Disney fan to visit.

If you’re planning a Disneyland trip make sure to read our posts containing what you need to know before going, including how to save money on Disneyland tickets, our Disney packing tips, the best restaurants for dining at Disneyland, and a number of other things, check out our comprehensive Disneyland Trip Planning Guide!

Your Thoughts…

Did you attend the Dixieland at Disneyland event? Did you enjoy it? Hoping to attend a future Annual Passholder event like this? Would you like Disneyland to do additional events similar to this? Please share your thoughts or questions in the comments section below!

13 Responses to “Dixieland at Disneyland”
  1. Randy April 28, 2021
  2. Tyler Bliss May 6, 2015
  3. Cory May 3, 2015
  4. Tim May 1, 2015
    • Tom Bricker May 1, 2015
  5. Marilyn VanderVorst April 30, 2015
    • Tom Bricker May 1, 2015
  6. KCmike April 30, 2015
    • Tom Bricker May 1, 2015
  7. Ashley April 30, 2015
    • Tom Bricker May 1, 2015
  8. Kramerica Industries April 30, 2015
    • Tom Bricker May 1, 2015

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.