Various Artists

The Newport Folk Festival 1963: The Evening Concerts, Vol. 1 [16 Tracks]

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One of six live albums issued to document the Newport Folk Festival that was staged July 26-28, 1963, The Evening Concerts, Vol. 1 effortlessly echoes the diversity of the festival itself. The recording is dominated by three performers: bluesman Mississippi John Hurt with four songs, Sam Hinton, and the queen of folk, Joan Baez, with three. It's a balance that seems peculiar today, all the more so since the highlighted performances aren't necessarily the best aired that weekend. Two of Baez's songs have since appeared on the Joan Baez at Newport anthology (from whence, it must be said, the straggling "Wagoner's Lad" is not sadly missed) and, while Hinton's set is entertaining, one must look elsewhere for his finest released performance, "Talking Atomic Blues," on the companion Newport Broadside album. Of the rest, a pre-Ramblin' Jack Elliott's "Diamond Joe" is a fairly desultory cowboy ballad; the Rooftop Singers' "Walk Right In" is as glibly insubstantial as its hit vinyl counterpart; and Ian & Sylvia's "Un Canadian Errant" has been utterly upstaged by the appearance of further material from the show on their own At Newport anthology. Elsewhere, the Freedom Singers might well have been a positive endorsement of the mood of the times, but their impassioned "Woke Up This Morning" is nevertheless redolent of an earlier age, at a time when American folk was hurtling itself into the future. Bob Dylan was also on the bill that night, closing his own set with "Blowing in the Wind," performed on a stage jammed with his fellow festival stars. Included here, it is as chaotic as it is celebratory, but it feeds so naturally into the spontaneous chorus of "We Shall Overcome," which closed both festival and album, that that particular anthem is itself immediately overcome. Looking out from Freebody Park, RI, that summer evening in 1963, protest music really did seem set to change the world. And one day, maybe it will.

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