Newport Folk Festival wraps up with celebration of Dylan

28 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Newport Folk Festival Pays Tribute, With a Jolt, to Dylan and Seeger.

NEWPORT, R.I. — “This guitar that I’m holding has been on this stage before,” Taylor Goldsmith said at Fort Adams State Park during “ ’65 Revisited,” the grand finale of the Newport Folk Festival here on Sunday night. He was referring to the Fender Stratocaster played by Bob Dylan in a brief but rattling festival set 50 years ago, which delivered an electric jolt to the acoustic folk faithful, and one of the most fabled and contested moments in rock history.

But the organizers of the festival made sure that fans would leave buzzing from this year’s edition — the 50th anniversary of that historic event — by jam-packing the sold-out weekend with an embarrassment of eclectic riches. He was booed by some in the crowd — a topic of endless debate ever since — and a rift was torn in the folk continuum, leaving turbulence and ambiguity behind, and an uncertain road ahead. Goldsmith had every reason to make the song feel plainly exultant: He and his band, Dawes, were among the official celebrants in a cultural rite, joined by Al Kooper, who backed Mr. The splendid 75-minute hootenanny — which careened from tender acoustic ballads to rollicking rockers — featured a bevy of surprise artists and others who had played the festival, performing 13 of the songwriting icon’s classic tunes. Gillian Welch and David Rawlings kicked things off with an exquisite acoustic take of “Mr.Tambourine Man” and were slowly joined by an increasingly large number of friends including Willie Watson, Dawes — who served as something of the house band — Hozier, Klara Soderberg from First Aid Kit, John McCauley and Ian O’Neill of Deer Tick, Blake Mills, and Robyn Hitchcock, who performed “Visions of Johanna,” calling it “possibly the greatest song ever written.” In varying combinations they offered up “Maggie’s Farm,” “Just Like a Woman,” and “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues.” Although Dylan himself was not there, two key links to him did put in an appearance as Dawes’s leader Taylor Goldsmith briefly played Dylan’s guitar from that infamous show and, in a great musical coup, the legendary sideman Al Kooper — who was there that night — was on organ, imbuing songs like “Like a Rolling Stone” with their classic color.

The whole affair came to an ecstatic close with an all-hands version of “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35” complete with an assist from the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Other surprises abounded as My Morning Jacket pulled a double whammy Friday, showing up to play their own unannounced set and then serving as the backing band for headliner Roger Waters. Saturday’s treat came in the form of James Taylor, who played a late-afternoon set of beloved tracks like “Fire and Rain” and “You’ve Got a Friend” and charmed the crowd with the tale of his 1969 performance at the festival, which was interrupted by the moon landing. One such high was the Decemberists delightful headlining set Saturday, which included the signature, but site-appropriate, appearance of their giant prop whale on “The Mariner’s Revenge.” The band invited the ladies of Lucius, Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, Welch and Rawlings, and Brandi Carlile and others out for a night-closing take on Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” in a tribute to Pete Seeger. “We’re from Nashville, Tennessee, like a lot of people on this bill,” Nikki Lane proclaimed Saturday. Indeed, even if they weren’t strictly from Nashville, this year’s event brought the twang in a big way, from Lane’s brassy cowgirl sass — conjuring everyone from Loretta Lynn to Neko Case — to the blazing, peak form Isbell — blending southern rock, folk, and country — to Sturgill Simpson’s meta-modern sounds.

In addition to many festival alums — including Hozier who went from the smallest stage to the biggest in one year — several buzzed-about newcomers made their debuts, including Aussie indie rocker Courtney Barnett, and endearing mother-son duo Madisen Ward & Mama Bear who had folks hooting and hollering on Saturday for their dusky, roots soul gems. The core lineup featured a sturdy amalgam of thoughtfully inventive guitar-strummers, like Jason Isbell, Shakey Graves and Blake Mills; folk-rockish bands, like the Lone Bellow, Lord Huron and the Felice Brothers; and rootsy aces like Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn, who played their banjos with a cosmopolitan flair. The British folk singer Laura Marling fashioned a calm and captivating set on borrowed equipment, a result of travel difficulties that had also left her one member short of a full band. And there were collaborations aplenty: the off-the-cuff kind, involving hop-ons by, say, members of Lucius; and the preplanned sort, like an allegiance between Iron & Wine and Benjamin Bridwell, or the Watkins Family Hour, whose personnel includes Fiona Apple, mainly in an enthusiastic supporting role.

The unannounced headliner on Saturday was James Taylor, with a greatest-hits mini-set including “Carolina on My Mind,” which he had played on his only previous Newport festival appearance, in 1969. Unintentionally, this echoed the evening concert in 1965, which opened with Pete Seeger, the fatherly conscience of the Folk Festival, playing a recording of a crying baby, and asking the crowd to consider the world it would inhabit. More officially, there were tributes like For Pete’s Sake, in a museum on the festival grounds — the place to hear, say, Lorraine Hammond on lap dulcimer, reminiscing about her friendship with Jean Ritchie.

The event still attracts striving young troubadours like Christopher Paul Stelling, who ended his set with a marriage proposal to his singing partner, Julia Christgau.

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