Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Newport Folk casts a wide net for 2007

The Newport Folk Festival has played a pivotal role in the history of American folk music, crystalizing important developments in the genre, such as Bob Dylan's introduction of electric instruments at the 1965 festival. In recent years, the festival has lost some of its cachet as the genre fractured into subcategories and many other festivals have competed with it for prominence.

Now presented under the banner of its lead sponsor, Dunkin' Donuts, a name that may undercut the festival's image as the home of uncompromised musical expression, the programming of recent festivals has aimed to broaden Newport's scope and lift its profile. Based on the lineup for the upcoming festival, held August 3-5 at Fort Adams State Park in Newport RI, the producers define folk music broadly to include rootsy rock and blues styles in addition to more traditional genres.

Among the possibly surprising names in the 2007 lineup are The Allman Brothers Band (scheduled for a double-length set), The North Mississippi All-Stars, jam-rock band Assembly of Dust, and Tom Morello, who is best known as the guitarist/vocalist for indie rockers Rage Against the Machine.

Understand that I have no objection to a more inclusive definition of folk. My favorite roots festivals are those that bring in an unexpected mix of styles. But it seems to be worth noting that the festival that was once considered to be the standard-setter for folk music now appears to be positioned as an eclectic roots festival.

Another notable trend in the lineup is the appearances by three prominent female vocalists, Linda Ronstadt (appearing at her first Newport in a featured opening-night concert), Emmylou Harris and Alison Krauss (who has been a frequent performer since debuting at Newport as a teenager).

Besides the headliners, some of the well established performers are Alejandro Escovedo, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Cheryl Wheeler, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals and Amos Lee. Among the promising debuts are Carolina Chocolate Drops, Elvis Perkins, John Butler and Madi Diaz.

Three members of the musical Wainwright family--Martha, Sloan and Lucy--will appear in a song circle. One of the side stages will feature music from the Canadian Maritimes. Appalachian music will be represented by the great Hazel Dickens and Diana Jones, while one of the greats of traditional bluegrass, Ralph Stanley, appears with his Clinch Mountain Boys.

I will be on hand for my very first Newport Folk Festival to give my first-hand impressions and perhaps do a few artist interviews. Till then....

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Speaking of "roots music festivals", the KBOO Pickathon in Boring, Oregon (close to Portland) is really shaping up as a wonderful event. Last year included CJ Chenier, Greg Brown, Iris Dement, Martha Scanlan, The Wilders, Danny Barnes, Darol Anger and many more. This year will see Martha return, plus The Gourds, Avett Brothers, Wood Brothers, Danny Barnes and plenty of others. Check out for more info.