Chris Smither’s folk blues set Sunday linked the New Orleans Jazz Fest back to its roots
By Alison Fenstersock, NOLA.com
One of the best pieces of writing about a music festival out there is the former New Yorker magazine pop critic Ellen Willis’ review of the 1968 Newport Folk Festival. Founded in 1959, by ’68, Willis wrote, the fest was too dominated by the big names — like Janis Joplin — that drew crowds, taking attention away from the authentic folk, roots and blues acts the festival had been started nine years earlier to celebrate.
(At Jazz Fest time, does that nearly 50-year-old complaint sound familiar?)
Newport Folk, of course, was conceived by New Orleans Jazz Fest founder George Wein. The festival was instrumental in propelling the early-’60s folk revival during which Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Dave van Ronk and many others nurtured their appreciation of deep American roots music. And one of those folkies who came of musical age in the Newport era was 69-year-old New Orleans native Chris Smither, a longtime veteran of the still-thriving Boston and Cambridge-based folk scene.
His set Sunday (April 27) in the Blues Tent at Jazz Fest felt like a living link, somehow, to the festival’s beginnings.