As is evidenced by the wide range of Vanguard CD compilations available on this Ace Records website, the Newport Folk Festival, Rhode Island, has a unique place in music history and its far reaching influences are still felt through the decades. Running annually from 1959 into the mid-sixties, the festivals featured a plethora of artists on stages of varying size, but also built up a reputation for the workshop performances where the accent was as much on sharing musical knowledge as it was on performance. These well-attended workshops often happened during mornings and afternoons, and appeared to have provided learning experiences for festival attendees to extend their appreciation of the various musical forms. This double CD is compiled from various such performances recorded at festivals between 1963 and 1966, apart from the two Muddy Waters tracks that date from 1968.
The first half of the sixties was a halcyon period for many of the older blues men, as they found a new audience, eager for their authentic blues. Many had been re-discovered by fans and musicologists who had heard their music on old 78 rpm records that they had cut for small labels in the twenties and thirties. These records had become rare and collectable, owing to their limited original distribution and often poor sales. Son House, Skip James and Mississippi John Hurt were all such bluesmen, with many more besides, and were the artists who were now tempted back to the the East Coast music scene and signed to Vanguard for new recordings. Others here are artists who got together at the festival, often spontaneously at the workshops, and Mississippi Fred McDowell, Annie Mae McDowell and Rev. Robert Wilkins' ‘What Do You Think About Jesus’ is a historic case in point. The first CD includes three strong tracks from Lightnin' Hopkins, including his ‘Baby Please Don't Go’ that was soon to become a much-covered rock track. Another three from Texan Mance Lipscomb offer us some folk blues, rather than the more traditional form, with Mance playing slide guitar with a kitchen knife.
The second CD widens the repertoire even more, including as it does some of the new young breed of white Greenwich Village blues players like Dave Van Ronk, John Hammond and 'Spider' John Koerner, very much representing the era depicted in the Coen Brothers film Inside Llewyn Davis. Also here are the Los Angeles-based Chambers Brothers playing their version of ‘See See Rider’ and three closing tracks from the highly influential Paul Butterfield Blues Band. With the tracks from John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters, this second discs charts how the blues became integrated into a more rock-based genre during the sixties, and when taken with the roots-based first disc, we have a wonderful historical overview lesson in the blues that is very much in keeping with the Newport Folk Festival's original instructional emphasis. As well as an overview it serves as a fabulous introduction to other great music in the Vanguard range.