Over 40 years since they were recorded and 20 years since the recordings surfaced, 18 historic performances from the 1968-‘70 Newport Folk Festivals are finally available. Unlike the vinyl LPs of the 1960s or even the shiny CDs of the 1990s, however, this release is entirely digital download only. Lost Newport Treasures on Multicultural Media’s Rootstock Recordings label is available as an entire album with liner notes or as individual tracks from iTunes, Amazon, eMusic, Rhapsody and many other digital download sites.
The tapes of the complete 1968-70 festivals were discovered in a closet at event producer Festival Productions’ Manhattan offices in 1990. Greenberg was hired to log and evaluate the performances by Alcazar Records, of Waterbury, Vermont, which hoped to release several Newport compilations. Alcazar went out of business, however, before the project could be completed, and the release languished until Multicultural Media, excited by the collection’s musical and historical value, acquired permission to release it.
Lost Newport Treasures includes a rare, solo, acoustic performance by Chicago electric blues “father,” Muddy Waters. Mississippi Delta bluesman, Son House, Waters’ mentor and one of the legendary artists from the 1930s rediscovered in the 1960s, also provides a track. Sleepy John Estes, Jesse Fuller, Brownie McGhee, and Sonny Terry furnish other compelling examples of acoustic, country blues and related styles.
The Cook County Singers–a large, church group from Chicago–deliver a stirring example of African American shape note singing, while an a capella hymn from Doc Watson, Fred Price, and Clint Howard’s reflects the traditional singing of many white Southern Baptist churches.
The New Lost City Ramblers’ “In the Pines” represents bluegrass as it was emerging from old-time roots to become the genre performed here by first-generation masters Don Reno, Bill Harrell and the Tennessee Cut-Ups, and Mac (“The Voice with a Heart”) Wiseman.
Congolese Mwenda Jean Bosco and Kentuckian Ike Everly (father of rock-and-rollers Don and Phil) provide examples of distinct yet related fingerpicking guitar styles, while a whaling ballad from Scottish singer and weaver Norman Kennedy exemplifies one of the important sources of American vernacular music.
A children’s song from one-time radio and vaudeville performer Sam Hinton and a topical song by Folk Revival patriarch Pete Seeger round out Lost Newport Treasures.
The Newport Folk Festival turned 50 in 2009 (with a few hiatuses) and continues to present a wide range of American music. Yet the 1960s festivals remain unsurpassed in their combination of authentic vernacular musicians, revivalists, and popularizers. Many Newport performances from the first half of the 1960s have been available on several recordings and films. But the late ‘60s have been less well-documented, until now.
The on-line release of Lost Newport Treasures provides a testimonial to the timelessness of music that continues to inspire and delight even in a medium that would be unrecognizable to many of these Newport artists.