Any sampler worth its salt should leave the listener wanting to investigate further, and this introduction to the riches of Vanguard’s “Newport Folk Festival” set of albums does the job admirably. With one 13-track selection, it shows the quality and diversity of the music as it was presented at Newport from the first festival in 1959. The festival was founded under the guidance of a board of directors that originally included Theodore Bikel, Pete Seeger, Oscar Brand, Albert Grossman and George Wein, the latter having been the driving force of the well-established Newport Jazz Festival. The new festival arrived at a time when folk music was achieving mainstream popularity and much political relevance during the Cold War. It was a time when folk was seen as a very accessible musical form to play, sing along to or simply as a social unifier. The Newport Folk Festival was an annual event from 1959 through most of the 60s until it took a break from 1971 to 1985, when it successfully revived in a broader musical format. This sampler features music from the years up to the mid-60s, when it was at its most influential.
Johnny Cash’s ‘Big River’ makes a solid starting point and is followed by the Kingston Trio, the Staple Singers and Judy Collins, all cresting their particular waves of popularity. We then dip into bluegrass with the Stanley Brothers, blues with John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters and the folk music that lay at the heart of the festival with tracks from the New Lost City Ramblers, Doc Watson and Pete Seeger, whose version of ‘It Takes A Worried Man’ is an indicator of how solidly the crowd was behind him. As if this wasn’t enough to show the diversity, we can enjoy some Nashville links with Roy Acuff & His Smoky Mountain Boys, the West Coast-based Kentucky Colonels and the wonderful duo of Joan Baez and Donovan on the latter’s song ‘Colours’. By the time this duet happened, Joan Baez was an established star, owing much of her initial success to her early appearances atNewport, so her linking with Donovan was very much an endorsement of his recent arrival on the folk scene.