September 20, 2014
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Folk moves over for jazz in Newport
Don Fowler

The Newport Folk and Jazz Festivals are “must do” items on my yearly calendar.

I love good jazz and anxiously anticipate this coming weekend, when jazz legends Joshua Redman, Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock join with new artists like the fabulous Esperanza Spalding, David Gilmore and others for two days of jazz heaven at Fort Adams.

Dave Brubeck will be sorely missed, but you’ll be able to catch the Brubeck Brothers Quartet when they perform a tribute to Dave Brubeck on Oct. 18 at Cranston’s Park Theatre.

Tickets are still available for the Jazz Festival, which has been losing ground to the Folk Festival the last few years. The Folk Festival has succeeded in attracting a younger crowd, whose musical tastes have changed the folk genre to a folk-rock genre.

Gone are the likes of Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Woody and Arlo Guthrie, Judy Collins and the legends of folk, only to be replaced by the more modern, plugged-in sounds of folk-rock.

The question keeps coming up at the festival: What is folk music? The answer is hard to grab a hold of, as young, emerging artists test the limits of roots, folk, rock and other basically American music. Whatever it is, it is attracting sold-out audiences to Newport with nary a ticket to be found months before the event took place last weekend.

The crowds were large, orderly and appreciative of the music. In a radical change, the festival promoters eliminated the coveted seating area in front of the stage, declaring it a standing and dancing zone. And they stood and danced, relegating the lawn chairs and blankets to the sides and back of the Fort Stage.

The Quad area inside the fort was filled with a large stage, beer garden, food and craft booths and what looked like as many people as were in the main stage area. The music was louder, faster and more upbeat than BDPI (Before Dylan Plugged In). The younger crowd sung along, cheered and danced to groups I had never heard of.

Yes, times they are a-changin,’ and that’s not all that bad. Folk music is still music to sing along to, dance to and understand the lyrics. While it is a new experience for the more traditional folkie, it is a heck of a lot better than the rap, heavy metal and pop junk.

So long live the Newport Folk Festival! And if you want to attend next year, order your tickets the day they go on sale. And while you’re at it, get to the Newport Jazz Festival this weekend. Jazz is another truly American genre, and Newport has some of the best talent – new and old – lined up for the weekend.


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