Rolling Stone writer David Fricke interviewed Chris at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival last weekend, and included the interview as one of his Top 10 highlights of the festival’s first weekend:
Chris Smither, Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage, April 26th, 12:30 P.M. I conducted this interview but was, in every other way, a magnetized fan in the audience. Smither, a folk-blues singer-songwriter admired and covered by vocalists such as Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou Harris, grew up in New Orleans and told illuminating stories about trying to be a solo cat in a saxophone and trombone city in the Sixties – learning from Lightnin’ Hopkins records and the New Orleans-based bluesman Babe Stovall – then running with fellow New Dylans like Townes Van Zandt. Smither illustrated each tale with brawny picking and the drawling emotion in his voice, in performances of “Devil Got Your Woman” and “Love You Like a Man.” Smither, based in Massachusetts, came home last year to cut a forthcoming two-CD retrospective, Still on the Levee (Signature Sounds). It sounds like he never left.
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.
Caffè Lena in Saratoga Springs, NY is widely recognized as America’s oldest continuously running folk music coffeehouse. The Library of Congress deemed it “a national treasure” and Chris is honored to be featured on a new Live from Caffe Lena CD. Get more information about the project, or order the CD online.