The festival began at The Kitchen in New York City in 1979. In this first year, the festival was actually called New Music New York.
In 1980, the festival was held in Minneapolis, Minnesota and was called New Music America. The 1989 edition was particularly diatribed; composer John Zorn wrote in the pamphlet with the music for the Brooklyn Philharmonic:Gann, Kyle (2006) Music Downtown: Writing from the Village Voice p.232Gordon, Tom (2008) John Zorn: Autonomy and The Avant-Garde. pp.39-40
From 1980 to 1990, the festival was held in a different U.S. (or Canadian) city each year: