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Newport Folk Festival Keys On Contemporary Sounds

By KEN FRANCKLING

NEWPORT, R.I. -- Los Lobos and the Robert Cray Band will headline the 1988 Newport Folk Festival, which was rescued from cancellation through sponsorship by Ben & Jerry's ice cream, festival founder George Wein said today.

The Aug. 20-21 event at Fort Adams State Park, to be called Ben & Jerry's Newport Folk Festival, has shifted its lineup away from nostalgic and traditional bookings of the 1985-87 to more contemporary players of folk and crossover music.

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'It's not all folk, but it's folksy. Contemporary is the name of the game in music these days,' Wein said. 'Without the big names, today you have nothing.'

The lineup for Aug. 20 lineup will include Los Lobos, the West Coast band with the 1987 hit movie theme song 'La Bamba;' guitarist Richard Thompson, who founded the 1970s British folk-rock revival group Fairport Convention; Queen Ida and her Bontemps Zydeco Band; folk festival veterans Buffy St. Marie and Taj Mahal; and Odadda! -- a traditional African dance and drum group from Ghana.

The finale on Aug. 21 will feature Cray; New Orleans rhythm & bles pianist Dr. John; the group Nashville Bluegrass; and veteran folksingers Holly Near, Tom Paxton, and Doc Watson.

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Los Lobos and Cray both played last month at Wein's New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and are eager to play Newport, Wein said.

'We've always had the blues at folk festivals going way back to the early days -- B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Mississippi John Hirt, Sleepy John Estes, Howlin' Wolf -- we had them all,' Wein said.

The historic Newport Folk Festival, which ran from 1959 to 1969, was a career launching pad for Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Arlo Guthrie and his 'Alice's Restaurant' anti-draft rag. It was also where Bob Dylan debuted his shift to electric guitar.

Wein and his folk producer, Robert Jones, revived the event in 1985. Last year's sponsor was Nestle Foods Corp., which was criticized from the stage by several performers. Collins and British punk-folker Billy Bragg spoke about nagging questions concerning Nestle's role in supplying infant formula to poor Third World countries, a practice critics contend discourages breast-feeding.

Nestle dropped out of the picture this year after deciding not to increase its support for an expanded event. Ben & Jerry's Homemade Inc., the rapidly growing Vermont-based ice cream maker, decided to get involved this month.

'We're pleased Ben & Jerry's has rescued the Folk Festival. They love folk music, and this whole thing was put together in two weeks. It made life very easy for us, considering that we were prepared to let the Folk Festival die,' Wein said.

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Ben & Jerry's multi-year commitment includes an ambitious expansion of the festival format and exposure. The sponsor also will underwrite two two-hour programs to be broadcast on the American Public Radio network over Labor Day weekend.

For the first time since 1969, the festival also will be scheduling workshops the old event was famous for. One morning workshop will be on guitar playing, another on songwriting.

'The Newport Folk Festival has always been the central and leading showcase of folk music,' said Allan Kaufman, executive director of sales and marketing for Ben & Jerry's. 'We feel it is important to ensure its continuation to help present and foster folk artists, public radio, and the audience for both.'

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