Folk music has been a presence in Newport since 1959, when the Newport Folk Festival was founded by George Wein. Backed by board members Pete Seeger, Theodore Bikel, Oscar Brand, and Albert Grossman, the Festival became renowned for introducing a number of performers who went on to become major stars, most notably Joan Baez (who appeared as an unannounced guest of Bob Gibson in 1959), and Bob Dylan, whose first Newport appearance, as a guest of Joan Baez in 1963, is generally regarded as his premiere national performance.
Always a step ahead, the Festival cultivated a broad range of folk music, and continues to stretch the boundaries to this day. In the 1960s, there were famous performances by Johnny Cash and Howlin’ Wolf, artists usually described as representing country music and blues respectively. The festival was associated with the 1960s Blues Revival, where artists “lost” since the 1940s (e.g. Delta blues singers) were “rediscovered”. And in the 80’s and 90’s, the festival brought in reggae, rock, and indie artists to broaden the Americana landscape.
Much of the history of the Newport Folk Festival has been preserved through a rich source of recordings. Murray Lerner directed the 1967 film Festival based on the 1963-1965 festivals, and there are 15 recorded albums of the festival from 1959 through 1990. Most recently, NPR has been on site to capture live broadcasts and streaming performances from the web.
Since 1959, we have been serving true musical omnivores, fans who crave innovation but appreciate tradition. Newport Jazz and Newport Folk are the grandparents of the modern-day festival, and have left an indelible mark on the landscape of music history. A 56 year road has led us to the 2015 festival – a year that promises to expand on the recent successes of the festival, and promises to for years to come as a non-profit. To learn more about the Newport Festival Foundation, visit newportfestivalsfoundation.org. Not only are we preserving the legacy of the Folk Festival, we are also continuing the traditions of music education and collaboration for years to come.
Great Newport Folk Moments
George Wein starts the Newport Folk Festival
The Newport Folk Festival was founded in 1959 by George Wein, founder of the already-well-established Newport Jazz Festival, backed by its original board: Theodore Bikel, Oscar Brand, Pete Seeger and Albert Grossman.
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Dylan Arrives on the Scene
Bob Dylan’s first Newport appearance, as a guest of Joan Baez in 1963, is generally regarded as his premiere national performance.
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Dylan Goes Electric
Bob Dylan’s 1963 and 1964 performances had made him popular with the Newport crowd, but on July 25, 1965 Dylan was booed by some fans when he played with backing from Mike Bloomfield on Guitar and others from an electric blues/rock and roll band known as The Paul Butterfield Blues Band while headlining the festival. It is usually said that the reason for the crowd’s hostile reception was Dylan’s ‘abandoning’ of the folk orthodoxy, or poor sound quality on the night (or a combination of the two). This incident, Dylan’s first live ‘plugged-in’ set of his professional career, marked the shift in his artistic direction from folk to rock, and had wider implications for both styles of music.
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Johnny Cash Introduces Kris Kristofferson
While success at songwriting came easily, it wasn’t until Johnny Cash introduced Kristofferson at the Newport Folk Festival in 1969 that he gained a following as a performer. (Kristofferson had finally gotten Cash’s attention when he landed on his lawn and gave him some tapes.)
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The Pixies go acoustic
One of the most influential American bands of all time, The Pixies created the blueprint for alternative rock. In 2005, they reversed Dylan’s feat and played acoustic.
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The Felice Brothers play in the mud
In 2009, a huge storm knocked power out. The band jumped off stage and played acoustic in the mud for over an hour.
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Folk Festival 50
2009 marked 50 years since the first Newport Folk Festival. The weekend featured established folk artists like Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and Pete Seeger, along with newer musicians like The Decemberists, Fleet Foxes, The Avett Brothers, and Neko Case.
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My Morning Jacket and Brittany Howard
“This one’s for Levon, ” Jim James said after inviting Alabama Shakes front-woman Brittany Howard onstage to join My Morning Jacket in a beautiful version of the Band’s “Makes No Difference”. A recording of the song was released on Record Store Day Black Friday as a limited addition 10-inch, orange vinyl.
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Mavis Staples 75th
When asked how Mavis wanted to spend her 75th, she immediately responded “at Newport”. Every day of the 2014 festival, Mavis sat in on other artists sets – singing with Lucius, Lake Street Dive, Puss N Boots and Jeff Tweedy as well as being serenaded by Jack White. During Mavis’ own set, which closed the Sunday, she was joined by Jeff Tweedy, Nora Jones, Taylor Goldsmith and Trampled by Turtles.
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