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Published: 2011/08/01

Newport Folk: Bonus Pete Seeger, Surprise Dawes, Double Decemberists

This past weekend marked the 52nd annual Newport Folk Festival, and for the first time in its history, the festival sold out in advance. Considering the big names on this year’s lineup, as well as the recent resurgence in the popularity of folk music among younger crowds, this wasn’t too surprising. The lineup itself—which consisted of folk greats alongside younger up-and-coming musicians—also reflected this revival: the audience greeted bands like The Felice Brothers, Delta Spirit, The Decemberists, Middle Brother, Gogol Bordello, The Civil Wars and The Head And The Heart with as much excitement as they did legends like Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris, Elvis Costello, Mavis Staples, Pete Seeger, Amos Lee, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Earl Scruggs.

And performers both young and old showed their passion and spirit for carrying on their music’s tradition, as seen in the numerous collaborations that took place throughout the weekend. On Saturday, Sara Watkins, who is currently touring with The Decemberists, joined Gillian Welch for “Go To Sleep You Little Baby.” Meanwhile, Colin Meloy of The Decemberists sat in with Mavis Staples for a cover of The Band’s “The Weight,” which Staples performed in The Last Waltz. Newport Folk veteran Pete Seeger was all over the place on Saturday, first playing a couple of solo songs in the Song Circle, then joining Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and finally joining The Decemberists on banjo.

Sunday saw its fair share of guest appearances as well. Perhaps the most noteworthy was when Pete Seeger, The Civil Wars, David Wax and others joined Emmylou Harris to play ‘60s folk classics “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?” and “Turn! Turn! Turn!” Laura and Lydia Rogers of The Secret Sisters sat in during Elvis Costello’s set. Costello had promised an acoustic show, but opened with The Imposters to play an electrifying version of “So You Wanna Be A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star.” Mountain Man made a surprise appearances during Middle Brother’s set and, at one point, Middle Brother’s Taylor Goldsmith brought out the rest of his main band Dawes for a surprise mini-set. Though not booked to play Newport Folk, Dawes also backed singer-songwriter M. Ward. Dawes

In addition to all of the guest appearances, covers heard throughout the weekend also reflected the festival’s spirit for sharing and celebrating music. Gillian Welch played a number of songs from her new album The Harrow & the Harvest, but also fan favorites such as “Miss Ohio” and “Orphan Girl,” the latter of which would be covered by Emmylou Harris the next day. Mountain Man covered the Kate Bush song “Rivers of Babylon.” Trampled By Turtles covered The Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?” combining the raw energy of punk with the finger-pickin’ technicality of bluegrass.

To see both young and seasoned musicians sharing a profound appreciation for the same type of music is nothing but uplifting. It would be erroneous to call it a “passing of the torch,” since the old-timers performed with as much energy as ever. But there was nonetheless a transmission of sorts, a continuation of a musical tradition that will undoubtedly go on for years to come.

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