The Newport Folk Festival begins today, and features current artists and new arrivals on the scene. It began as a counterpart to the Newport Jazz Festival in 1959. The first participants, playing on a single afternoon, were Odetta, Pete Seeger, the Weavers and the Kingston Trio.
As the afternoon program created quite a buzz, George Wein, founder of the Newport Jazz Festival collaborated with Albert Grossman and scheduled a longer festival with Pete Seeger, Earl Scruggs, the Kingston Trio, John Jacob Niles, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Odetta, The New Lost City Ramblers, and more, including the debut performance of a teen-age Joan Baez.
Folk festivals focus on folk; and along with ballads of murder and lost loves, protest songs are written and adopted. The Civil Rights movement was merged with the folk music community with performances by the Freedom Singers and Peter, Paul and Mary. After their performance of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” they were joined onstage by Dylan, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Theo Bikel and the Freedom Singers and sang a variation on the hymn “I’ll Overcome Some Day.” This developed into “We Shall Overcome,” anthem for the Civil Rights movement.
Now the history gets interesting. Dylan’s reputation was established and supported by the folk community, but in 1965 he went electric and premiered “Like a Rolling Stone”. He had recorded it as a single six weeks earlier, and released it five days before his appearance at the festival. There are mixed reports the jeers and boos were for the new electric medium, or the sound quality was poor. But as we know, the song made it to the top of the charts and became a breakthrough for Dylan personally from folk singer to rocker. I can’t imagine it being presented any other way and having the same impact with the small electric organ accompaniment.
I’m glad Dylan’s career evolved and survived his radical move over to electric. But, we have several titles by other artists that cover acoustic instruction as well as electric. Here are some titles with description of acoustic or electric or both.
While My Guitar Gently Weeps, (acoustic) DBM 02853
The Needle and the Damage Done (acoustic) DBM 02923
Cowgirl in the Sand (acoustic) DBM 02927
Change the World (acoustic) DBM 02996
Rain Song (acoustic and electric) DBM 03474
Route 90, Johnny Walker (acoustic and electric) DBM 03475
Love in the First Degree, (acoustic and electric) DBM 02475
Friends in Low Places, (acoustic and electric) DBM 02473
And here are some titles with folk songs and about folk artists.
The Joan Baez Songbook, BRM 24841, three volumes
Singer as Activist, DBM 00113
Positively 4th Street; the Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Fariña, and Richard Fariña, DB 52658
On the Road with Bob Dylan, DB 77606
And don’t forget, we shall overcome, some day.