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Tradition Returns To The Newport Folk Festival

By KEN FRANCKLING, UPI Feature Writer

NEWPORT, R.I. -- The Newport Folk Festival, which waxed nostalgic at its 1985 revival, returns this weekend to what it always did best.

Last year's hug-fest has evolved into a showcase for the country's best regional and emerging young folk music talent. And that, in the eyes of the producers, is what the Newport Folk Festival was all about in its initial run from 1959 to 1969.

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The Saturday-Sunday event at picturesque Fort Adams State Park offers a blend of Cajun music, bluegrass, country, the blues, a capella gospel-folk, string band, social protest and French Canadian styles.

The old festival was the launching pad for a barefooted teenager named Joan Baez, for a skinny kid named Arlo Guthrie who stunned the crowd -- twice -- in 1967 with his 'Alice's Restaurant' folk-rap that quickly became a classic.

Baez, Guthrie, Judy Collins and a dozen other festival veterans came home last year, but are not on the bill this time. Headliners Tom Rush, Odetta, David Bromberg and Richie Havens -- Newport Folk veterans of the '60s -- are outnumbered by talent whose names are not household words -- yet.

'We're reaching out this year, or should I say reaching back, to the wide variety of style, continuing the tradition that made the Newport Folk Festival famous,' festival Director Robert L. Jones said Thursday.

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Saturday's lineup includes singer-guitarist Rush; Havens, who is best known for his driving rendition of 'Freedom' at Woodstock in 1969, three years after making his Newport Folk debut; The McGarrigles, sisters Kate and Anna from Montreal who sing wry, offbeat songs in French and English; eclectic and bluesy guitarist Bromberg; New England songwriter Bill Staines; the Colorado bluegrass quartet Hot Rize; Chicago blues harmonica player Corky Siegel; Wisconsin folksinger Claudia Schmidt; Cape Cod folk-pop singer-songwriter Patty Larkin; and The Chicken Chokers, an old-time Southern string band.

Sunday will feature Sweet Honey in the Rock, a five-woman a capella blues-gospel-folk group; folk-popster John Sebastian, who led the Lovin' Spoonful in the '60s; banjo ace John Hartford; singer-guitarist Odetta, a traditional folk artist for more than 35 years who appeared at Newport's earliest events.

Also, the Savoy-Doucet Band, one of the finest young examples of Cajun, that rambunctious, raggedy blend of accordion and fiddle music of southwestern Lousiana; acclaimed Austin, Texas., storysinger Nanci Griffith; Washington, D.C., harmonica ace Charlie Sayles; New Yorker Christine Lavin, who mixes poignancy and humor into her songs; raspy-voiced singer and labor organizer Si Kahn, who carries on the topical-satirical folk tradition; and fiddling champion Alison Krauss, the event's youngest performer at 15.

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There is a 6,500 attendance limit each day at the festival, located at a historic old defense bastion offering a panoramic view of Newport Harbor and sailboats slicing through the water.

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