Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Jay Sweet of Folk Festival 50: The Well-Rounded Radio Interview

The Newport Jazz Festival started in 1954 by George Wein and is celebrating its 55th anniversary on August 8th and 9th in Newport, Rhode Island.

It's slightly younger sibling, long known as the Newport Folk Festival and going by the name George Wein's Folk Festival 50 this year, is celebrating its 50th anniversary on August 1st and 2nd. The folk festival was started by Theodore Bikel, Oscar Brand, Albert Grossman, Pete Seeger and George Wein.

Jay Sweet (pictured with founder George Wein) has been producing the festival for the last few years and you may also know his name as Editor-at-large for Paste magazine. Sweet also co-owns a music services company called Sweet & Doggett.

This year's line-up includes The Avett Brothers, Balfa Toujours, Joan Baez, Billy Bragg, The Campbell Brothers, Neko Case, Guy Clark, Judy Collins, Dala, Dear Tick, The Decemberists, Brett Dennen, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Elvis Perkins in Dearland, Tim Eriksen and the Shape Note Singers, Fleet Foxes, Arlo Guthrie, Iron and Wine, Ben Kweller, Langhorne Slim, The Low Anthem, Del McCoury, Tift Merritt, Tom Morello: The Nightwatchmen, Joe Pug, David Rawlings Machine, Josh Ritter (listen to the Well-Rounded Radio interview with Josh Ritter), Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, Pete Seeger, Mavis Staples, and Gillian Welch. You'll hear some highlights from many of these artists woven into my conversation with Sweet.

You can buy tickets to next weekend's festival at folkfestival50.com and if you can't make it to Newport, listen to NPR Music's webcasts.

It's safe to say most people know about the festival because of a single event: the time Bob Dylan plugged in and allegedly got booed by fans of his acoustic music, but when you think about it, that's kind of silly. Newport has been going for all these years bringing new talent to their stages long before and after Bob Dylan was booed (or not).

I've attended the festival several times in the past and it's always great fun. It's a beautiful venue at Fort Adams State Park surrounded by Newport Harbor and Narragansett Bay and the mood feels more like a gathering of friends than it does like many big music festivals these days.

To learn more about the spirit and performances of the mid-1960s version of the festival, there's a 1967 documentary film entitled Festival based on the 1963-1965 festivals out on DVD.

With Boston's Summer of 2009 non-stop rain ceasing for a little while, we took advantage of it and did the interview in Sweet's backyard on Boston's north shore. There’s a bit of wind hitting the microphones at the beginning, but it doesn't last. And so when you hear birds, now you’ll know they are the real thing.

I sat down with Sweet to discuss:
* how and why the festival has kept its loyal audience over the years while also keeping up with times
* how they curate the festival with both familiar and unfamiliar names on the bill
* why playing the festival is a seminal moment for so many artists in their careers

Music featured in the episode from artists performing at the George Wein's Folk Festival 50 in 2009 include:
1) Langhorne Slim: Rebel Side of Heaven
2) Josh Ritter: To the Dogs or Whoever
3) Pete Seeger: The Wreck of the Old 97
4) Tift Merritt: Broken
5) Arlo Guthrie: Grand Coulee Dam
6) Iron and Wine: White Tooth Man
7) Ben Kweller: Things I Like to Do
8) Neko Case: Don't Forget Me
9) Fleet Foxes: Mykonos
10) Del McCoury: I'm Bound for the Land of Canaan
11) Dear Tick: Friday XIII
12) Dala: Lonely Girl
13) Tao Rodriguez-Seeger:
14) Mavis Staples: Freedom Highway (live)
15) Billy Bragg: The Beach is Free
16) The Decemberists: The Hazards of Love 2
17) Joe Pug: Hymn #101
18) The Campbell Brothers: Good all the Time
19) Ramblin' Jack Elliott: Sowing on the Mountain
20) Balfa Toujours: J'au vu le loup, le r
21) Tim Eriksen and the Shape Note Singers: The Maid Freed From the Gallows
22) The Low Anthem: Charlie Darwin
23) Gillian Welch: My First Lover
24) Joan Baez: God is God
25) The Avett Brothers: I and Love and You

Jay recommends Bonnaroo, Telluride Bluegrass Festival, and The Forecastle Festival.

Charlie recommends Bumbershoot and Green River Festival.