They tell it now like the four evening concerts at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, culminating in Dylan's electrifying performance, represented the totality of the festival. Quite apart from the many workshop sessions, perhaps the most interesting and significant concert was the one that took place on Sunday afternoon. And one of the most memorable performances at that concert came from Richard and Mimi Fariņa--but let me set the scene.
The festival site had changed that year. No longer taking place at Freebody Park, within the town precincts, it had moved to Festival Field, a couple of miles or so out of town. The auditorium was a gently sloping hill, covered with rows and rows of wooden chairs (yes, chairs, just like a large concert hall, only outdoors). At the bottom of the hill, a stage had been erected--designed and lit by Chip Monck. The sound system, by modern standards, would be thought primitive, inadequate.
Sunday morning came. Some people had been there since Thursday; others had arrived over the weekend; more still were pouring into the site on the day. It had been hot and dusty, and it was an effort to get up in time for the 10:00 a.m. Sunday morning religious concert, but well worth it. Maybelle Carter, Gary Davis, Jean Ritchie, Chambers Brothers, Charles River Valley Boys and Son House. So few people came that the audience was invited to clamber over the barrier into the press/performers/hangers-on compound, right in front of the stage by Tiny, the rotund, bespectacled compere.
It was cloudy but, as Son House sang "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine," it did shine. The sun came out and flashed off the resonator of his National guitar. And this was but a prelude.
Just after 2:30 p.m., the New Performers Concert began. This was really what Newport was about, not headliners! A showcase for up and coming talent. The first artists were the Berlines--father Lou with his son, Berline, then just 21 years old, and fresh from appearances with the Dillards. They were backed by Bill Keith and Jim Rooney. Following them came Spider John Koerner, turning in the best version of "Duncan and Brady" he's probably ever done, chugging along and stomping it out in rare style. "More" "More" came the cries, but it was a tight schedule and the programme moved on. By now, the wind was beginning to get up. A girl folk duo called Kathy and Carol were completely lost as their vocals drifted away from the mikes on the wind. Mark Spoelstra, the Chambers Brothers (this time helped by Joan Baez). Pat Sky and Gordon Lightfoot fared much better, but the sky was really threatening as the next act walked on.
What a revelation! Richard and Mimi Fariņa, accompanied by Fritz Richmond, Bruce Langhorne, and, I think, Sebastion Dangerfield. Their music was a wondrous mixture of folk tunes, a light rock beat, a jingly-jangly eastern sound, and insistent vocals and harmonies. As they performed, the skies opened up. It bucketted. Did the crowd run for cover? Did they huddle down for protection? Did they hell! They stood up. They swayed to the music in the rain. They were drenched to the skin for their pains, but they didn't care. Some of the mikes went, shorting, I guess. As each song ended, the crowd just cheered for more, clapping and screaming, jumping up and down. It didn't matter that shoes were soggy, that hair hung limply on heads or that clothes stuck to bodies in the wet. They liked what they heard and they wanted more. The performers moved back out of the direct blast of the elements; the best was done to cover the remaining mikes. Joan Baez, Bernice Reagon and the Charles River Valley Boys came on stage to fill up the sound, as Pete Yarrow denied nature and said, "It is not raining," and the audience agreed. Mimi and Dick played on, even though rain was so bad that the Paul Butterfield Blues Band were not allowed to play as scheduled and were switched to the evening concert. If the audience had had its way, the Fariņas would haved played all afternoon and all night, whatever the weather.
The storm did pass and poor Bernice Reagon, now solo, was an anti-climax, but the magic of those few songs by the Fariņas still persists. Son House had sung "let it shine" and it had shone. The Fariņas had played the instrumental title track from their first album, Celebrations for a Grey Day, and depite the worst the elements could offer in mid-summer, the crowd and the performers had indeed celebrated on that Grey Day.
The Fariņas had spent much of the year in Cambridge, Mass., and had topped three categories in the Boston Broadside annual poll that year. They'd already decided to return to California to teach at Baez's new Institute for the Study of Non-Violence, and half of metropolitan Boston must have turned out to say goodbye in style. And no summer squall was gonna stop them.
The festival was over.
The books all say that Dylan's evening concert was the turning point, the time he turned his back on the folkies. They were wrong, of course. The old folkies/fogies might have found it difficult to take, but the young "mass" audience had made its choice already. And they made it six or seven hours before Dylan even stepped onto the Newport stage.
The illustration, shown right, is of the front cover from a small leaflet given away at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. On its inside page, it listed all the performers scheduled for the four evening concerts, plus the Sunday afternoon and the Sunday morning shows.
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