Saw that the annual Newport Folk Festival, which was held over the weekend, sold out about two weeks ago and from the review, seemed to be a huge success. I think this is fantastic - proves that a new generation of music fans has discovered the joys of acoustic music. I confess that most of the new and up-and-coming (read: young!) acts were not anyone I knew but judging by the brief descriptions of their performances I'm pretty sure I would have enjoyed them very much. Many older acts were also there, along with well-established folkie (oh wait - "Americana") acts like Gillian Welch and of course the old war horses and the true spirit of the event, Ramblin' Jack Elliot and Pete Seeger. Which reminds me of a story....
I've mentioned this in this space before but I'll bore you with it again. Way back in 1968 when my friend Barry Greenhalgh and I attended the festival we happened to be walking across Festival Field and lo and behold, there was Pete Seeger walking back from a workshop he had just given. We timidly approached him and said: Mr. Seeger, could you tell us the chords to "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy" (one of the great anti-war songs of all time, written by Seeger)? Barry was carrying his Martin 00-18. Pete said: Well, boys, you have a guitar. Sit down with me and take it out!
We were in awe, to say the least. A lesson from Pete Seeger! Barry handed him the guitar and he began to play the tune and sing, stopping every few measures to say, OK, E minor here, then G, then D, then B seventh... Got it?
We nodded and tried to be cool and make the gathering crowd believe that we got private lessons from the Father of American Folk Music all the time! In a few minutes and after Pete finished the tune and everyone cheered, he handed Barry back the guitar and bid us farewell. We were blown away, to say the least!
And that was what Newport was all about in those days - interaction with the musicians, passing the torch - it was one of the bedrock principals of the event when Pete and George Wein and all the others first conceived of it. Already by 1968 a certain amount of "star power" was entering the folk scene and I would love to hear Pete's take on their booking acts like Big Brother and Holding Company with Janis Joplin and of course bonafide stars like Dylan and Arlo Guthrie. My guess is that Pete was not in favor of that direction. Arlo always "got it" and was (and I'm sure, still is) one of the nicest and most approachable people you will ever meet. Dylan....uh, not so much!
Is Newport still that way? I kind of doubt it. I attended the Newport Jazz Festival a few years ago and with a few exceptions there was no doubt judging by the many security people guarding the fences between the stages and the audience that the separation of the two groups was the policy. Too bad. Also, with the parking far away from Fort Adams and in many places, I seriously doubt the wonderful parking lot jams of the old days are going on.
OK, so I sound like the old guy musician that used to drive me crazy in my younger days. "Everything was better back then, blah, blah, blah...." So I'll shut up now.
Anyway, the bottom line is that the sell-out of this year's Newport Folk Festival all but ensures the necessary corporate sponsorship for next year. And this can only be good. Congratulations to them and I will make the effort to get off of my (old) ass and get there next time.
Peace & good music,