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Music and mud at Newport Folk Festival

NEWPORT, R.I. -- Rain has been an infrequent visitor to the long tradition of the historic Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals. On Sunday, it made up for it.

A 6-inch, five-hour downpour had musicians singing in the rain and diehard fans dancing in the mud at Sunday's windup of the Ben & Jerry's Newport Folk Festival at Fort Adams State Park.

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A steady stream of soggy and weary festival-goers left the event early but a crowd of about 1,000 stuck it out until late afternoon, standing in 5 inches of water to hear the closing act.

Four Voices in Harmony -- a combination of Mary-Chapin Carpenter, Joan Baez and the Indigo Girls, were mid-way through their 90-minute finale when a tremendous thunderclap boomed from the sky and all of the state power went dead.

With more rain hammering down, they waved to the crowd and left the stage. The weather was so bad that Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, the Vermont ice cream barons who sponsor the event, distributed free ice cream to those who hung around.

Singer Loudon Wainwright III said he has never played under such difficult weather conditions but warmed the crowd with his famous 'Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road' and his anti-censorship jab at Sen. Jesse Helms, 'Jesse Don't Like It.'

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Carpenter, who performed with her own band prior to the finale, had to improvised. Because rain was blowing sideways onto the stage as the weather worsened, she had to put together an acoustic music set. Most of her bandmates left their electronic instruments backstage and wound up singing harmony vocals.

Other performers on Sunday's bill included the Fairfield Four, the Nashville Bluegrass Band, the Cajun band Beausoleil and singers Pat Donohue, Rachel Polisher and Iris DeMent.

Saturday's sunny opener featured Bruce Cockburn, Suzanne Vega, Shawn Colvin, Patty Larkin, Cris Williamson, The Band and Puerto Rican folk guitarist Yomo Toro.

Sunday's diehards also suffered on the ride home. The Newport Bridge, the main link between the island and western points, was closed for several hours from late afternoon into Sunday evening because of local flooding on access roads and the span's lower reaches.

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