Along with “Newport Broadside” (also available from Ace), this collection documents some of the key moments of the famed Newport Folk Festival of 1963. While “Newport Broadside” concentrates on politically important moments of that year, “The Evening Concerts” presents more of the wide variety of the music that made up the festival. It is important to stress just how important the festival quickly became to the US folk world in the few short years since its start in 1959. The scene then was primarily centred on the main towns and cities of the East: New York, Cambridge, Philadelphia and Boston. The Newport Folk Festival rapidly became the key event of the year: a place to showcase significant singers and groups, and for music business insiders to congregate. Managers, promoters, writers and scene-makers all gathered to make deals, catch new acts and discuss trends among the 37,000 folk fans who turned out for what was the biggest bash on Rhode Island so far. It was an accolade for any artist to receive an invitation to perform at the festival, which was run by a board that included key performers from the folk world.
The evening concerts on the various stages were perhaps the most enjoyable and anticipated, featuring as they did the biggest acts. This compilation captures firsthand the enthusiasm and feel of the evenings, and the close relationship between artists and audience. Sam Hinton, a semi-professional West-Coaster, opens proceedings with the lighter side of folk in the form of ‘The Barnyard Song’, the lullaby ‘Must I Go Bound’ and the humorous ‘The Arkansas Traveller’, which describes the timed-honoured story of a city slicker being outwitted. Bluesman Mississippi John Hurt follows with four traditional songs not always associated with the blues, showing off some fine finger-picking. Jack Elliott also displays guitar skills on the story of ‘Diamond Joe’ and his lawless cowboy world. The Rooftop Singers sing their recent hit ‘Walk Right In’, a remake of a bawdy old house song that introduced the 12-string guitar to a much wider audience. The popular Canadian duo Ian & Sylvia bring gentle cross-border influences to the table with the French language ‘Un Canadian Errant’, before we are reminded of the political activism of folk via the Freedom Singers’ a cappella ‘Woke Up This Morning’, one of the most popular new freedom songs. Festival favourite Joan Baez follows with ‘Oh Freedom’, two Portuguese love songs and well-known ballad ‘Wagoner’s Lad’. Along with other performers she then joins Bob Dylan on ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’, a recent major hit for him that received a huge reaction from the crowd. The Freedom Singers return to lead everyone on the anthemic ‘We Shall Overcome’.
Some would say you had to be there; with this great CD you can be.