Friday, April 18, 2008

Newport Folk lineup leans toward rock

The preliminary lineup for the Newport Folk Festival is raising some eyebrows among long-time attendees. Sure, the folk versus rock argument is beyond stale now that it is more than 40 years since Bob Dylan plugged in an amplifier at the hallowed festival. In recent years, the festival has featured big-name rock acts to top the lineup and attract ticket buyers, but the bulk of the program has maintained the its traditional focus on homemade music styles.

The lineup announced yesterday includes acts like The Black Crowes, Cat Power, Stephen Marley, Cowboy Junkies, Jimmy Buffet and others that seem to be shifting the focus towards roots rock. Faithful festival-goers are watching closely because of changes underway at the festival's production company, Festival Network, which acquired long-time producer Festival Productions Inc. last year.

Bob Jones, who has headed the festival for more than 40 years, is still nominally in charge, but associate producer Jay Sweet, an editor of Paste Magazine, seems to be putting his stamp on the historic event. In a recent interview with Fox25 News, Sweet said, "This year is going to be a lot different. We are trying to bring more youth into the festival, and let people know that in our own backyard in New England we have a really first-class festival."

Actually, the Sunday schedule trends toward somewhat folkier styles, with Jimmy Buffet, Levon Helm, Gillian Welch, and The Avett Brothers heading the bill. It may be that the festival programmers are setting up a schedule that will skew younger and rockier on Saturday and older and folkier on Sunday.

Or it may be too early to divine the producers' intentions. More artists are due to be announced soon.

One sign of the times is the scheduled appearance by Jakob Dylan, son of Bob, with his new band The Gold Mountain Rebels. Dylan is on a number of top festival lineups this summer, including Bonnaroo, Rothbury, and Austin City Limits, as well as Newport Folk.

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