George Wein’s Newport Folk Festival is an event that stands proudly on its heritage. With its 51st anniversary approaching fast, it’s important to examine its legacy, impact and the tradition it carries all of which separate it from larger events. Festival producer, Jay Sweet, waylaid a few of my own misconceptions during a phone conversation and roused my excitement for this year’s event held July 30th through August 1st at Fort Adams State Park in Rhode Island.
Judging by the genre alone, a folk festival conveys images of old fashioned, stodgy musicians jangling tambourines or mothers singing to children on a small stage in the midst of an agricultural fair. Newport represents much more historically and musically than this initial glance might suggest. And though folk traditionalists may feel this year’s (or last year’s 50th anniversary) line-up is not true to Newport roots, Sweet is unabashed by the suggestion that it has drifted away. “People always tend to think change is scary. But Newport has always been about taking chances, always” he said.
This is the Festival where Dylan “plugged in” and where black and white-skinned musicians were integrated with little forethought. Respectful of Wein’s work, Sweet has embraced a number of sophisticated and authentic talents; some with prestigious experience (Levon Helm, Richie Havens), some notable and newer (The Swell Season, Jim James) and some lesser known (Nneka, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros) that are not merely the soup de jour. And this tradition helps set Newport apart, especially as it has been overshadowed by more massive festivals around the country, from Bonnaroo, Coachella and Lollapalooza. The close degrees of separation between the musicians will surely mean sit-ins during each other’s sets will occur and attendees can likely anticipate a sing-along finale each day.
Unfortunately, while Newport is only a few hours from New York City and even closer to Boston, this distance is likely to deter people from attending. After all, the planners of All Points West couldn’t get enough Manhattanites to cross the Hudson River (or maybe it was the thought of going to New Jersey). But then again, APW never built up the ritual Newport attendees have and it also catered to a far greater audience. For Newport, many families return year in and year out, ensuring nothing else obtrudes in on their calendars the first weekend of August as Sweet said. The idyllic Fort Adams State Park welcomes 10,000+ concert-goers to enjoy live music till sundown giving people plenty of time to get on home. Newport does not offer any camping options and there are not likely to be late night tents open either.
Despite the pull some names might have on a younger generation, the lineup this year is not so much about Andrew Bird’s “one and only US appearance this summer” or The Avett Brothers promoting their acclaimed latest. Sweet repeatedly emphasized the tradition of the festival; by curating bands for quality over quantity they become part of a rich continuum. For those traditionalists who view this as an unwelcome expansion of folk music, they might instead prefer to view this as a changing of the vanguard, one that cultivates a new audience. Younger attendees might know Jim James has a band called the Monsters of Folk but when Doc Watson or John Prine ambles on stage they will see the Dr. Frankenstein who inspired, or rather brought them to life.
—Official Press Release—
George Wein’s NEWPORT FOLK FESTIVAL® RETURNS TO ITS SEASIDE HOME JULY 30 – AUGUST 1
Tickets On Sale Friday, March 26, at 10 am
NEWPORT, RI, March 24, 2010 – The spirit of an open-hearted, old-fashioned family reunion is being summoned to life for this year’s 51st edition of George Wein’s Newport Folk Festival®, which begins July 30 at the International Tennis Hall of Fame at Newport Casino and continues July 31 and August 1 at Fort Adams State Park.
Tickets go on sale worldwide on Friday, March 26, at 10 am at www.newportfolkfest.net.
George Wein’s New Festival Productions continues to build on the festival’s historic past by featuring emerging young artists alongside some of folk music’s most venerable names. This year’s festival features Levon Helm’s Ramble on the Road, John Prine, Steve Martin & the Steep Canyon Rangers, Yim Yames of My Morning Jacket, The Swell Season, Andrew Bird, The Avett Brothers, Brandi Carlile, Doc Watson & David Holt, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, Calexico, Blitzen Trapper, Richie Havens, Sam Bush, The Low Anthem, Tim O’Brien, The Felice Brothers, Justin Townes Earle, Tao Seeger Band, A.A. Bondy, The Punch Brothers with Chris Thile, Dawes, Nneka, Horse Feathers, Pokey LaFarge & the South City Three, Ben Sollee & Daniel Martin Moore, Sarah Jarosz, Cory Chisel & the Wandering Sons, O’Death and Liz Longley. More artists will be announced at a later date.
Many of these musicians have performed and recorded together or crossed paths along the musical highway and they see this storied festival as being so steeped in cultural and historic importance that they liken it to “coming home” to the very roots of the folk-music tradition.
Wein has, since 1959, found Newport a scenic and hospitable venue for presenting the very best of this country’s blues, roots, gospel, country, bluegrass, Cajun and traditional folk music. Last year’s 50th anniversary edition paid tribute to the great performers who wrote the proud history of this festival, notably co-founder Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Arlo Guthrie and Mavis Staples.
“Newport is like a second home to me and I always look forward to the next visit,” said Wein. “After celebrating the 50th anniversary with Pete and 17,000 fans, I can’t wait to see the magic unfold over the three days.”
“There is something so perfect about being in Newport near the water and that old stone fort – all gathered in to sing with family and friends – that keeps me wanting to come back year after year,” said Yim Yames. “It’s like the walls of the fort are arms, and I feel secure when I am near them, protected by the spirits there – past, present, and future. And, I like to hear our voices bouncing off those old stone walls as my eye drifts to the sailboats on the seashore and the people just smiling and taking it all in.”
The 2010 edition builds upon the energy of the half-century celebration to include such legends as Doc Watson, whose infectious “picking” on the flattop guitar expanded the expressive possibilities for traditional country-and-bluegrass and John Prine, whose idiosyncratic, yet soulful compositions have been recorded by the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Johnny Cash and George Strait. Writer-actor-comedian Steve Martin also shows his commitment to serious banjo picking at this year’s festival where he’ll appear with his Steep Canyon Rangers.
Andrew Bird, who’s been engaging audiences throughout the country with his resourceful deployment of fiddling, picking and whistling makes his only 2010 U. S. festival appearance on the weekend bill. Another band, The Swell Season, puts forth a simmering, enrapturing spin on traditional Irish music with streaks of rock. It’s led by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, who won the hearts of moviegoers – and a 2007 Academy Award for Original Song – for their acting and singing in the movie, “Once.”
Singer Brandi Carlile, whose striking vocals and intimate compositions have won her plaudits and devotion from a growing number of fans, will appear at the festival as will the blazing-hot young singer Liz Longley. Rhode Island artists O’Death and The Low Anthem also will perform on one of the three stages at Fort Adams.
TICKETS & OTHER INFORMATION
All tickets for George Wein’s Newport Folk Festival go on sale Friday, March 26, at 10:00 am on-line, by phone and by mail. General admission tickets (single-day passes only) also can be purchased in person at the Newport Visitor Information Center, located at 23 America’s Cup Avenue.
There will be a festival office in the Newport area where tickets can be purchased in person at a later date. For general information, craft vendor information or to leave a message for festival staff, call the festival hotline at (401) 848-5055. For more information, log on to www.newportfolkfest.net.
A partial list of performers for George Wein’s 2010 Newport Folk Festival:
FRIDAY, JULY 30 ~ 8:00 pm
International Tennis Hall of Fame, 194 Bellevue Avenue
Steve Martin & The Steep Canyon Rangers
SATURDAY, JULY 31 ~ 11:30 am – 7:00 pm
Fort Adams State Park, Harrison Avenue
The Low Anthem
Yim Yames of My Morning Jacket
Doc Watson & David Holt
SUNDAY, AUGUST 1 ~ 11:30 am – 7:00 pm
Fort Adams State Park, Harrison Avenue
Levon Helm’s Ramble on the Road
The Swell Season
The Avett Brothers
Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings
Justin Townes Earle
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band
Punch Brothers with Chris Thile