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article imageNewport Folk Festival Turns 50, Have a Listen

By Carol Forsloff     Aug 6, 2009 in Entertainment
It was 50 years ago. It was the beginning of the folk music movement, and a new, but old, genre of music came from the East Coast of the US to move throughout the country. Gradually those sounds created a folk music revolution.
I remember. I was there in Newport one year. I sat on the grass with others, with my long skirt spread around, long hair twisted in a braid, surrounded by friends as we listened to the waves of music come from all around. We had driven from New York in a big van, all eager to be in the moment at Newport. It was eight years after the birthday of folk wave, a time of peace, love and flowers in our hair. The songs were always fresh and clean, as the big waves of music moved, then subsided and transformed to newer sounds each year. Every summer was a special event.
In the 1960’s it was Arlo Guthrie, Buffy Saint Marie, Bob Dylan, Odetta, Joan Baez and Janis Joplin whose music captivated large crowds who sprawled bare-legged, bare-armed and almost-bare bosomed, wrapped around each other, listening to the beat while the heat of the sun shone down. It was a time for celebrating, as the music said the world was brand new, and we were marching to peace and victory because we had overcome, just as the music of the era proclaimed and the pictures reveal and the songs said.
Most historians trace the emergence of folk music to 1958 and the Kingston Trio. The song “Tom Dooley” was high on the charts that year. Woody Guthrie-type people, the folk musicians that followed him while he lived and after he died, went underground during the McCarthy era, just as Pete Seeger had done. Folk music historian Robert Cantwell writes the folk music rebirth came in reaction to the end of the McCarthy era, when they came back with the music that told the story of common working people. It was later some folksingers sang of war and protest, but Seeger and friends were primarily storytellers of plain folk who lived simply, worked hard and loved well.
This summer it’s Newport all over again. One of the original performers, Judy Collins was there this year. Arlo Guthrie was back. The old man Pete Seeger presided. Joan Baez re-established herself as grand dame of folk for many years. It was the 1960’s again, the news said. I wasn’t there, but I dreamed, as likely did others of those grand, old years and those great voices, now roughed by age but still delivering a message from the past that remains embodied in those who remember and those who wrote about it this year. NPR radio was there to bring those memories once again for all of us to hear.
Have a listen.
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