Newport Folk Festival Turns 50 With Sets From Seeger, Baez, Decemberists and More

August 3rd, 2009 by Bret Gladstone Leave a reply »

Photo: Ufberg/WireImage

“Pete Seeger,” vaunted promoter George Wein said on Saturday, “is the Newport Folk Festival.” It’s hard to argue the point. Fifty years ago, Seeger co-founded the legendary event with Wein while headlining a bill featuring artists like Odetta, Memphis Slim and the Stanley Brothers. Saturday, the 90-year-old Seeger was back onstage leading a 50th anniversary sing-along that included the Decemberists, Gillian Welch, Fleet Foxes and his grandson, Tao. He even played a few solos. Times have changed. Seeger hasn’t.

One of Seeger’s clearest musical descendants, Billy Bragg began a Saturday set by dedicating two songs from his Wilco collaboration Mermaid Avenue to the late Jay Bennett, spinning an appropriate Woody Guthrie homage into a memorial. Characteristically, he fleshed the rest of the performance out with demagogic pleas for universal heath care, political oxymorons (”military intelligence,” “democratic capitalism”) and a promise to “chase all the neo-conservatives out of this country.” Not that the absurdity of the context was lost on him. “Now I want to play a song for all the people who couldn’t buy a ticket today,” Bragg said, gazing out from the ramparts of Fort Adams over a busy Newport Harbor. “For all the people who could only afford to pull their yachts up to hear us for free. It must be awful.”

At 50, Newport Folk isn’t without those kinds of ironies. Fittingly, then, the festival’s standout performance came from the Avett Brothers, a band whose sound — a mix of traditional bluegrass/folk signifiers, baby-faced sentiment, and punk abandon — so aptly represents those tensions. Judging by tunes like “Kick Drum Heart” and “A Perfect Space” the quartet refined the formula...

Article Source: Rolling Stone : Rock and Roll Daily


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