Before Farm Aid, Telluride, or even Woodstock, there was the Newport Folk Festival. Begun in the late ’50s, this yearly gathering molded and defined a generation’s tastes in music. It was the all-star event of roots music. Vanguard’s just-released pair of three-CD sets, one for blues and one for bluegrass, let us hear what some of the greats sounded like when they were on top of their game.
The bluegrass box features Hylo Brown and the Timberliners, The Stanley Brothers with the Clinch Mountain Boys, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys, Jim and Jesse and the Virginia Boys, Don Stover, The Lilly Brothers with Don Stover and Tex Logan, Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard, and the father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe. The Bluegrass Boys who performed behind Bill for this 1965 set included Peter Rowan on guitar and lead vocals, Tex Logan on fiddle, Don Lineberger on banjo, and James Monroe on string bass.
While some of this material has been previously released, there are 16 tracks that have never seen the light of day. Since bluegrass is primarily ensemble music that makes extensive use of improvisation, studio albums (especially from the mid 60s) rarely capture the true spirit of the music. These Newport performances offer us a priceless glimpse of what these bluegrass pioneers could do when playing live before an appreciative audience.
If you’re a serious fan of bluegrass, you can’t consider your collection anywhere near complete without these CDs. They are as essential as air or water.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s July ’01 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.