Newport Folk Festival
LA, September 20, 1998

Richard did a wonderful albeit abbreviated set

at the Newport Folk Festival in Los Angeles on September 20. He opened with "Londontown" and "Bathsheba Smiles", and closed with a lovely "If You Don't Want Me". In between were the usual suspects: "I Feel So Good", "1952 Vincent Black Lightning", and "Ghost of You Walks".

The festival was pretty sparsely attended, and suffered from the cancellations of Loudon Wainwright III and Lucinda Williams, both of whom had originally been scheduled. Richard came on very early (after Mark Eitzel and Beausoleil) and got only 25 minutes. Less time than Bruce Cockburn and Marc Cohn got--and this is RT's second home town!

Wilco were great as well.


I just caught 25 precious minutes of RT

at the L.A. leg of the Newport Folk Festival, and he started his short set with a song that seemed to be called "The Sights and Sounds of London Town." I hadn't heard it before and can't find it anywhere. Am I being incredibly ignorant? I've been a fan for a long time, but I've only been obsessed since I saw him open for Joan Armatrading in 1996. Any help or advice is much appreciated. Thanks.

Incidentally, Aron's Records in L.A. has a few copies of "Mirror Blue," for whoever wanted to know.

Judith Lewis

Great! I loved it.

Can't wait until he records it [Sights and Sounds ...] so I can play it over and over and over again.

Richard's time was way too short (someone else has provided the set list already), but he did manage a few good jokes. Like, "They should never use 'folk' in the title of any show. It guarantees rain." (It *was* drizzly.) He performed a particularly passionate "I Feel So Good" and "1952 Vincent" had people on their feet at the end.

Bruce Cockburn was lame, Marc Cohn Ok, Wilco great, John Hiatt a absolute wonder -- the only performer to rival Thompson in entertainment value and musicianship. (I'm not huge follower of Hiatt's, but he was an unexpected treat.)

I left after Joan Baez. I couldn't keep a straight face through her classic, "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." Maybe it was Thompson's whimsical-but cynical-influence over me . . .

Judith Lewis

LA Times Review of Newport Folk in LA

Pop Music Review

Folk Music Renews Its Political Message at Festival

By STEVE HOCHMAN, Special to The Times

You'd expect a festival of modern American folk music to touch on issues of the day, and two songs performed at the Newport Folk Festival tour's Greek Theatre stop on Sunday commented on the current White House scandal. Just one thing: Both were written more than 40 years ago.

Nanci Griffith tweaked a sing-along of the Weavers' anthem "If I Had a Hammer" to today's headlines by admonishing the crowd to "think about justice" while watching the video of President Clinton's grand jury testimony. Earlier, country-rock band Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, after singing Woody Guthrie's wry "Christ for President" lyric, noted, "I'm sure [Guthrie] had no idea" what would plague that office today. This seven-hour event could have used a little more of that kind of pointed timeliness. Still, there was considerable depth in the highlights. Michael Doucet, leader of the Cajun band Beausoleil, commented during a blistering set of dance tunes that theirs was "the most apolitical" music on the bill. But the very act of preserving and reinvigorating the music of a culture that not long ago was on the verge of extinction is a political act.

And Joan Baez, a veteran of the tour's namesake Rhode Island festival, showed a commitment to refueling the folk repertoire with songs by such young artists as Irish singer Sinead Lohan and the Indigo Girls.

The best of the non-topical artists offered highly personal takes on the human condition, Richard Thompson and John Hiatt in particular representing the cream of the crop of modern singer-songwriters.

Thompson introduced three new songs that confirmed his status as the preeminent practitioner of English-derived balladry and sharp portraits of the human heart and soul, and Hiatt, in a boisterous crowd-pleasing mood, showed equal depth in the rich American country-folk traditions. They rendered lesser sets by Marc Cohn and Bruce Cockburn largely unnecessary, and Thompson's guitar prowess outshone the out-of-place flashiness of banjo player Bela Fleck and his gimmicky jazz-fusion group.

Griffith focused on material from her two "Other Voices" albums honoring fellow songsmiths but with a personal twist. Her vivacious performance of Thompson's "Wall of Death," a song about living life to its fullest, took on extra meaning given that Griffith is being treated for thyroid cancer. That's powerful testimony itself.

Dwight Weideman