Way back some time in the last century, the Newport Folk Festival was scandalized when Bob Dylan used GASP! an electric guitar. You kids have heard of Bob Dylan. They made that movie about him. The one with Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale?
Anyway... I've seen the Newport Folk Festival from many angles: "covering" it for a rock radio station, "volunteering" by the recycling bins, sneaking in, and actually paying. And once, on a boat off Fort Adams. I never had any preconceptions that I would be hearing "folk" music at the Newport Folk Festival. I always assumed it was called "Folk" to differentiate it from the other, more important, festival: The Newport JAZZ Festival. (There were other names, but I hesitate to list them here, because my Mom's reading this.)
The only discussion of music I had at the Fest was when I started playing Can-You-Top-This with a smug Program Director from an "alternative adult" radio station with a Roky Ericson/13th Floor Elevators obsession. The rest of my time was spent "baking" in the sun, embarrassing myself by asking Indigo Girls Amy and Emily if they were "with the band," keeping friends from going into the the Port-A-Johns barefoot, and staying a discrete distance from the rainy Sunday Ani DiFranco all-empowered-womyn moshpit and mudwrestling. The "Folk" part of the Newport Folk Festival has always been a little shaky.
But now, the "organizer" (damn, that's an ironic title for a show like that) wants to turn the venerable Newport Folk Festival into something for "the kids." And by "kids," he means the 18+ disposable-income-spending crowd. Anybody feel offended yet?
Well, yes. Al Korolenko, who's been running New Bedford's Summerfest, is offended. Because he's one of those guys who thinks that words mean something.
Even words like "folk."
Summerfest is an old-timey folk fest, full of crafts and families and Celtic fiddlers and singer-songwriters. You know: "FOLK." No Burning Man, no Black Crowes, and no actresses trying on their folk cred. Sure, performers who play there would like mainstream exposure, aren't honing their craft just so they can play a "folk festival." I mean, there are some, but they have day jobs. As a performer, you can't afford to define yourself by the venues you play. Unless you define yourself as a "Singer-songwriter Guitarist Who Plays on Cheap Risers To Old Hippies on Folding Chairs in Parking Lots." See how you can back yourself into a corner with labels?
I had a girlfriend once who played guitar and sang protest songs. Her definition of folk is the one I still use: "It's the music the folk sing."
Which, I argue, means that "corporate" pop stars are folk artists because "the folk" crank up their XM radio in their SUVs and sing along.
Like these poor wretches:
I have two mental images of Parrot Heads, one is a recalled experience and the other is an image cobbled together from many remembrances:
- A bunch of pasty, over-Budweisered goons on their way from a Jimmy Buffett show in Illinois, trashing a convenience store with their styrofoam parrots, throwing up in the parking lot, and cursing loudly at the women I was with, and
- every marina I ever pulled into had some guy wallowing in his stink in the stern of a Port-a-Potty 28 cranking a cassette tape of Songs You Know By Heart at an inappropriate volume while I'm trying to either sleep or devise a means by which to fix a mast or re-rig a sheet.
What have you done?
Incidentally, if you can only afford one day, Saturday August Second is the day to go to Newport. For obvious reasons.