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Annual music event staged in Newport, Rhode Island at Fort Adams State Park

Okay, before you start rolling your eyes and saying to yourself, “jeez, folk music”, and conjuring up images of hippies parading through the streets saying thing like “Peace, man”, let me qualify a few things. Yes, I realize that while it may not be the most popular form of music these days, one shouldn’t underestimate the importance and influence of folk music on the music world in general. That being said, what say we have a look at what is probably the banner event in folk music, the Newport Folk Festival? Who knows, it might change your mind.

Founded in 1959 by a gentleman by the name of George Wein (who also brought us the Newport Jazz Festival), The Newport Folk Festival has been the jumping ground for many an artist. Who might they be? Well, how’s about James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez Janis Joplin and Peter, Paul and Mary to name a few. Its where Bob Dylan ruffled some feathers and raised some eyebrows when he took folk “electric" way back in 1965.

The festival ran annually until 1971 when it was cancelled due to the general feeling of social unrest that was spreading throughout colleges and America in general. The company that sponsored the event, Festival Productions, Inc, relocated from Newport to New York City where they continued to promote such gigs as the Kool Jazz Festival, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, the Newport Jazz Festival and the Grande Parade du Jazz held in Nice, France.

Let’s flash forward about 15 years. The time is 1986 and can be what can be defined as maybe a new brand of “folk” music seems to be making inroads in the music world. Besides the old stand bys such as Pete Seeger, Dylan, Baez, and Arlo Guthrie, new names were making important contributions to the world of “folk “ music. Names such as Alison Krauss, (only fourteen years old when she graced the stage at Newport) and Nanci Griffith now were also coming to the forefront

For the next couple of years, the Newport Folk Festival started to take on a different look. In an effort to appeal to a wider audience, older, “established” artists such as The Band, B.B.King. John Hiatt, Ry Cooder, John Lee Hooker, Dr. John Bonnie Raitt and Richard Thompson were now paired alongside relative “newcomers” such as Mary Chapin Carpenter, Joan Armatrading, Michelle Shocked, Suzanne Vega, the Violent Femmes, Bela Fleck, and the String Cheese Incident.

In 1988 sensing a good thing in the making, our good friends at Ben and Jerry’s started co-sponsoring the event. Current sponsors include Borders Books and Music and Gibson Guitar

As time moved on, the festival began to garner international acclaim. Media coverage, always extensive in New York and Boston, began to spread out to other cities on the East Coast. Portions of the festival can now be heard live on radio stations such as American Public Radio and National Public Radio (NPR). Recent live recordings are now available from both Alcazar and Red House Records. If you want the “vintage” stuff, Vanguard record label has recently released a huge collection from shows from the sixties.

I usually hate to drop names but here’s a few more talented folks who have made appearances at the Newport Folk Festival over the years.

The Indigo Girls
Van Morrison
Lyle Lovett
Willie Nelson
Natalie Merchant
Ani DiFranco

Let me close by saying that regardless of ones taste in music, you gotta be impressed (at least a little bit) by the array of talent that the Newport Folk Festival has managed to attract in the past and looks like will continue to attract in the future.

Oops! Let me add one last tidbit, the festival has recently been re-named the Apple & Eve Newport Folk Festival in honor of their number one sponsor, Apple and Eve Juices, purveyors of 100% natural fruit juices. Corporate sponsorship, what can ya say?

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