Wednesday, March 11, 2009
An 83 year old white knight
Two years ago under one of the side-stage tents at the Newport Folk Festival I heard the first rumors. The company which produced the Newport Folk and Jazz Festivals was being sold, and longtime producer George Wein was retiring.
"The new people want to turn the Folk Fest into Bonnaroo," a friend whispered. Bonaroo is the fabulously successful, multi-genre music fest held every June in the swampy heat of the Tennessee hills.
Wein, and his fellow producer Bob Jones had never ossified the festivals into something dusty and rigidly traditional. In fact they always took heat for bringing the new things along. Bob Dylan wasn't the first electric band at the 1964 edition of the Folk Festival, but he gets all the credit.
Well, the Newport Folk Festival wasn't quite Bonnaroo last year, but it did somehow yoke Jimmy Buffet's parrotheads, and the smoky inertia of Black Crow fans with the dreamy meanderings of Jim James. This strange lineup, along with the regional ambitions of Festival Networks put them deep in a hole, from which they apparently haven't climbed.
Re-enter George Wein. He's back. And he's ready to make the Newport Folk and Jazz Fests rise again. And there's no small sense of relief among folk fans who wondered if the Newport Folk Fest would disappear on it's 50th anniversary.
I hope I have half the energy and ambition Wein does when I'm his age.