December 19, 2013

Concert #194 - Newport Folk Festival (Various Artists) at the Greek Theatre (September 20, 1998)

Who would have thought that one day I could attend the Newport Folk Festival without having to leave the West Coast? Well, it happened, courtesy of some clever promoters who figured that it's more economical to bring a few musicians to Los Angeles, rather than fly five thousand fans to Newport, Rhode Island. The LA event was one of the thirteen stop of the touring festival, the first time such an unlikely tour actually took place. As it turned out, there wasn't much folk music in this seven-hour event, but we all had a grand time nonetheless.

This wasn't a typical Greek Theatre concert. The proceeding started at 3:00 PM sharp, with a short set delivered by Mark Eitzel, formerly of the American Music Club. He did not connect with me. Beausoleil's set of Cajun music was a bit longer, but just like Mark's set, it failed to grab me. Things weren't happening for me out there under LA's burning sun.

Then, as the theater was beginning to fill up, things started to improve rapidly. Bruce Cockburn, whose albums to this day I don't particularly enjoy, knocked me out with a powerful set that, as far as I was concerned, came out of nowhere. With his great songs, "Night Train" in particular, strong vocals and energetic guitar playing, Bruce's performance was a huge and totally unexpected revelation.

Bruce Cockburn's set list
Mistress Of Storms
Lovers In A Dangerous Time
Stolen Land
Night Train
Creation Dream

Bruce Cockburn
Richard Thompson's solo set was one of the highlights of this musical marathon. Not content with just playing crowd-pleasing old favorites, Richard threw into the mix three brand new songs from "Mock Tudor", his not-yet-released upcoming album. His passionate delivery of two of those songs, "Dry My Tears And Move On" and "Bathsheba Smiles" was something to behold and I will never forget how he kept the crowd of thousands under his spell with nothing but an acoustic guitar. But I was quite disappointed by the brevity of Richard's set - hard to believe, but the organizers had him on the stage for only twenty-five minutes.

Richard Thompson's set list
Sights And Sounds Of London Town
Bathsheba Smiles
I Feel So Good
The Ghost Of You Walks
1952 Vincent Black Lightning
Dry My Tears And Move On

Richard Thompson
John Hiatt was another huge revelation. In spite of his critical acclaim, I had had some trouble earlier embracing his recorded music, but his live performance that I witnessed at the Greek Theatre changed all that. Exuding joy and power, John made an instant fan out of me, and today, fifteen years later, I still am. I don't have a set list, but I recall "Thing Called Love" and "Cry Love" among the songs he played that night.

John Hiatt
Marc Cohn was yet another unexpected surprise. At the time of the show, I only knew "Walking In Memphis", his first hit, and I only knew it superficially. Marc's super-soulful delivery of that song took me by surprise and I've been a fan ever since.

Marc Cohn
There was no obvious connection between traditional folk music and the set performed by Bela Fleck & The Flecktones, but they were absolutely sensational. Individually and collectively, they were all brilliant. Bela was anything but an attention hog, as he gave plenty of time to his band mates to show what they could do. I was most impressed with bassist Victor Wooten, whose two extended solos brought us to our feet. Their high-tech songs, such as "Communication", were strikingly unconventional, yet instantly enjoyable.

Bela Fleck (2nd from right) & the Flecktones
Fronted by Jeff Tweedy, country-rock outfit Wilco delivered a surprisingly good set. Among others, they played "Christ For President" (music by Jeff Tweedy, words by Woody Guthrie). Wilco was yet another example of an act whose live performance appealed to me a lot better than their studio work.

Wilco's set list
 James Alley Blues
Christ For President
Hesitating Beauty
When The Roses Bloom Again
New Madrid
She's A Jar
Forget The Flowers
California Stars

Surprisingly, Joan Baez was not given the honor of closing the show, as I had thought would be the case. Her set included a few songs from the repertoire of much younger artists, such as Ireland's Sinead Lohan and the Indigo Girls, the American folk duo. She also sang "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot". 
Joan Baez
Closing the show, Nanci Griffith delivered an outstanding set that included Richard Thompson's "Wall Of Death", with the author watching from the wings, and an exhilarating rendition of "If I Had A Hammer", which quickly turned into a sing-along. Nanci's performance was exceptionally strong, which made me forgive the organizers for having chosen her as the final act of the evening.

Nanci Griffith
Overall, it was a fabulous evening that opened my appetite for a number of musicians who had previously not connected with me.

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