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Newport folk festival winds up

By KEN FRANCKLING

NEWPORT, R.I. -- Arlo Guthrie, in a nostalgic appearance ending the two-day Newport Folk Festival Sunday, performed a revised version of 'Alice's Restaurant' on the stage where he debuted the epic anti-draft rag 20 years ago.

'I wasn't planing on singing this song this afternoon. I wasn't even planning on singing it this decade, until someone reminded me it was the 20th anniversary.' Guthrie kidded. 'Half the people in this audience weren't even born 20 years ago.'

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The crowd at Fort Adams State Park waited in a gentle summer rain, then hung on every word as Guthrie strummed and sang his way into a reminiscence-filled version of 'Alice's Restaurant.'

It was 20 years ago this summer that Guthrie, then a skinny teenager, took to the Newport stage for the first time and performed the story song that quickly turned the son of late troubadour Woody Guthrie into a major folk name in his own right.

He reminisced about the song's familiar chord changes, then dedicated the song to his father, who died one week after the original performance.

Now sporting long, curly grey hair and a short beard, Guthrie confessed that he recently had to relearn the words to the 20-minute song, but said he was getting it used to it again.

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The crowd sang along on every chorus right from the start.

Guthrie brought the festival to a close with a rapping-improvised version of the timeless folk-gospel classic 'Amazing Grace.'

The two-day event drew a crowd totaling more than 10,000.

The music both days favored low-key acoustic folk and blues, and sometimes electric blues.

The biggest attractions were the major folk stars whose careers were launched at the old Newport Folk Festivals from 1959 to 1969 - Guthrie, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, and topical satirist Tom Paxton.

The most energy was generated Sunday by 'Swamp Boogie Queen' Katie Webster, a singer and solo pianist whose lively renditions of 'Let the Good Times Roll,' the Rolling Stones' '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction,' and Fats Domino's 'Blueberry Hill,' roused the picnic-style seaside crowd.

Grammy-winning Texas blues guitarist Johnny Copeland had many in the crowd dancing on the parched, brittle grass of the park site.

'You couldn't find an audience any better,' said country blues guitarist Moses Rascoe, 70, a new-found folk discovery who began his performing career last year after retiring as a long-haul truck driver. Rascoe appeared in a brief, emerging folk talent segment Saturday and opened Sunday's schedule with a half-hour set of blues and gospel music on his 12-string guitar.

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There was very little political music over the two days, with the focus instead on the rich diversity of acoustic American roots music.

It ranged from the singing and fiddling of teenager Alison Krauss to the tight, contemporary bluegrass sound of the New Grass Revival and the San Francisco-based new wave a capella group, The Bobs.

British punk-folker Billy Bragg made up for the weekend's lack of political statements. This young Cockney Bob Dylan blended his hard rock guitar with long, raspy statements that were anti-captialism, anti-nuclear pleas for political accountability.

One Bragg song about clashing ideologies was a re-working of Dylan's 'Chimes of Freedom.' Another hard-hitting Bragg tune was called 'Help Save Me From America.'

There was a strong dollop of the blues each day, including Rascoe, John Hammond, Webster, Copeland and singer Bonnie Raitt.

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