Back to roots for Newport festivals
Folk, jazz events spotlight legendsLineups for the Newport folk and jazz festivals indicate both are returning to their roots.
Joan Baez and Pete Seeger, who played the first Newport festival in 1959 and remain vital figures in the folk genre, are scheduled to perform again this year. Judy Collins and Arlo Guthrie also are on the bill, along with more contemporary acts like the Decemberists and Iron and Wine.
"The whole concept of the folk festival is a reunion of the old people to celebrate 50 years of folk music in Newport -- and to show how many young people are involved with folk music," said 83-year-old George Wein, who founded both festivals a half-century ago.
He stepped forward to produce them again this year as they lost the backing of their longtime sponsor amid a flagging economy that's made people think twice about traveling and spending money.
The jazz festival, meanwhile, will feature singers Tony Bennett and Etta James, saxophonist Branford Marsalis and the Dave Brubeck Quartet -- a fixture at Newport.
The folk festival, which this year is formally known as George Wein's Folk Festival 50, is scheduled for July 31-Aug. 2. And George Wein's Jazz Festival 55 is scheduled for the following weekend. Both events will take place at Fort Adams State Park in Newport.
Both shows have a heralded history. Bob Dylan stunned the folk world in 1965 when he performed with an electric guitar, and the jazz festival has hosted Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Frank Sinatra, among others.
Wein hadn't planned to produce the festivals again this year. He sold his production company in 2007 to the New York-based Festival Network, though he stayed on with the new owners.
But Festival Network was found in default of its contract with the state of Rhode Island earlier this year, and suddenly the future of the festivals was hazy. Wein said he came forward to "save" them.
"This is my life. To me, it's not business anymore," he said. "I'm not doing this to make money."
A phone message left for Festival Network was not returned Thursday. But the company still lists the Newport festivals on its Web site and has previously indicated that it plans to be involved in producing shows in Rhode Island this summer.
Wein is proceeding without the festivals' longtime sponsor, the JVC electronics company, which he said pulled out after running into financial troubles. He is bankrolling the concerts and expects to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on them.
"I've been spoiled all my life," Wein said. "Sponsors have come to me. Now I just hope they'll come again. They have to feel that what you're doing has some significance and has some meaning."
Wein said he doesn't know what effect the economy will have on the events, but he promises that the quality won't suffer.
"I have to put on my festival. It has to be a quality event," he said. "It has to take care of the crowd."