Though it was no condemning J. Tillman rant, 81-years-young Ramblin’ Jack Elliott took respectful reigns of the final day of the Newport Folk Festival, looping story after story after homage to festival icons past, the miner/musician he took his name from at the birth year of the fest, among myriad wanderlust anecdotes, tying everything together with a thousand-yard stare at the sailboats in the bay, and one in particular sailing backwards, chiming, “Glad to see there are other backwards sailors out there. That’s the best way to go,” and a perfect cover of his favorite Woody Guthrie tune, “Talking Sailor,” that did its own metaphor lacing: [LISTEN]
Take whatever lesson you want from that, but as folk and genres continue to dilute into hybrids and fads, Elliott’s rambles served as the binding to this year’s NFF book, while we wrestled with the thought of folk – could it be dead? Again, a conversation we’ll approach in finality come the full feature piece, after this post.
Of course there were plenty of beautiful distractions and equally beautiful artists as there were on Friday and Saturday to get lost while contemplating such a thought. From the field whiskey howls of The Felice Brothers to the lullaby Joni-isms of Beth Orton, cooing a heartbroken tale about wishing she never saw the sunshine, Black Prairie‘s tender ballad to the late Richard Emanuel of The Band, the group that “ruined the folk festival forever,” they joked, The Lumineers nailing a cover of Dylan‘s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” and how could we forget Beck, in his undertaker troubadour garb, inventing new genres, making Elliott come out and duet a Jimmie Rodgers tune.
Folk being dead or not, the NFF is aging quite gracefully, as it curtained with another year in its 50s. But stay tuned, friends, for the feature: